A nourishing soup is a welcome and restorative timeout during a busy week. This warming soup brims with harvest vegetables and grains mingling in a tomato-based broth fortified with cheese. Butternut squash and leafy kale contribute a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants to the pot; their sweet earthiness balances the tomato’s acidity. Farro, a nutty ancient grain, provides fiber and a boost of protein. (If desired, barley may be substituted for the farro.)
A hunk of a cheese rind is the surprise — and key — ingredient, which provides depth of flavor and body to the broth. That’s right: The cheese rind will break down and infuse its essence into the broth while it simmers, providing lip-smacking umami flavor and thickening the soup. It’s also a handy no-waste use for any odd cheese ends you may have lurking in your refrigerator. Choose a hard Italian cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano for this recipe.
Harvest Vegetable Soup With Farro
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup semi-pearled farro
6 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth or more as needed
2 heaping cups diced butternut squash
1 (15-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (2- to 3-inch) chunk of rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped curly green kale leaves with any tough ribs removed
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for sprinkling
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and saute until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 15 seconds, then stir in the farro. Stir to coat and lightly toast the grains, about 30 seconds more.
Add the stock, butternut squash, tomatoes, cheese chunk, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the squash and farro are tender, about 30 minutes. (If the soup is too thick, add a little more stock.)
Stir in the kale leaves and simmer until the kale brightens in color and wilts, about 2 minutes.
Discard the cheese rind and bay leaf and taste for seasoning.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with grated cheese for sprinkling.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.