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Zuppa di Farro e Fagioli (Tuscan Bean Soup with Farro)


Man in red car waving

During the 1980s, a lot of my friends would spend their vacations in New York. They loved the big city life, especially after San Francisco, which although romantic and sophisticated is also pretty small, which means you run into the same people wherever you go. I thought it sounded like fun, but for a few dollars more, Europe seemed like better value, so I spent almost every free minute in Italy.

I was lucky enough to have friends there, from Rome to Florence to the Italian Riviera, and it was in Florence in 1986 or so that I met Judy Witts Francini. It was through Judy (and the books of Marcella Hazan, and others) that I discovered that the essence of Italian cooking wasn’t pasta in fabulous cream sauce but rather simple ingredients thrown together in a thoughtful way, yielding results that are out of this world. Judy taught me to stop thinking in terms of one dish; it was the progression of the meal that mattered, and balance and simplicity were just as important as technique. I think this recipe sums up Judy’s way of cooking perfectly.

  • 11/2 cups dried white beans such as Cassoulet or Royal Corona (Pinto or Cranberry beans would work, too), picked over and rinsed 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 fresh sage sprig
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup semi-pearled farro 
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons dried Tuscan herbs such as rosemary and sage

Serves 6 to 8

  1. In a large pot, combine the beans, oil, garlic, sage, and water and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 2–3 hours. Do not allow the water to boil and add more water as needed to keep the beans covered by 2 inches of water. The only way to know when the beans are done is to taste them. Add the salt during the last 10 minutes of cooking. 
  2. About 30 minutes before the beans are ready, bring a saucepan filled with salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the farro and cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the farro and reserve.
  3. When the beans are ready, remove from the heat. Transfer half of the beans and bean broth to a clean soup pot. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the remaining beans and bean broth to a blender and puree until smooth. Add the puree to the soup pot and stir to mix well, then stir in the tomato paste, if using. 
  4. Place the pot over medium heat and heat, adding water if the soup is too thick and stirring often, until the soup is piping hot. Add the farro and heat through. 
  5. To prepare the garnish, in a small skillet or saucepan, warm the oil and herbs over low heat until the herbs are fragrant. Remove from the heat.
  6. Ladle the soup into warmed shallow individual bowls and drizzle an equal amount of the oil-herb mixture over each serving. Serve immediately.


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