Farro, cabbage and fennel soup with rosemary + roasted sweet potato croutons

If there’s one thing I love about working from home most days, it’s enjoying a fresh, homemade lunch that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for at that moment. As much as I appreciate the quick lunch options around NYC, especially those places that lean towards the health-conscious, if I never see another Pret a Manger salad-to-go that would be fine by me.

A home-base lunch in winter usually means something warm: leftover or freshly made soup or stew, a Buddha bowl featuring whatever vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds I have on hand, or simply eggs and sautéed or braised kale with buttered sourdough toast (that last one’s so ridiculously quick and easy, and yet a tough one to beat).

After picking up a bag of pearled farro at Citarella recently, I’ve gotten really into this grain, which is an ancient variety of wheat, similar to spelt. Nutty, chewy, and mildly sweet, it’s great in soups, salads and grain bowls. I’ve been making a batch over the weekend to use in meals throughout the week, and I might even try making a breakfast porridge with it soon, because as much as I love steel-cut oats sometimes you just need to mix things up a little.

This farro soup is simple peasant fare — always the best kind of comfort food — and that is a wonderful thing. A humble trio of onion, green cabbage, and fennel make for a fragrant counterpoint to the nutty farro, which becomes plump, tender and luscious after simmering in its flavorful rosemary-accented broth. Finished with lemon and grana padano, and garnished with crispy, golden sweet potato croutons, a luxurious seven-minute egg, fresh parsley, and pumpkin seeds, this soup becomes something really special. I made a large batch in the interest of leftovers, and found that the next day’s bowl was even better: the broth was silkier, and the farro had taken on a risotto-like consistency. Make a pot and enjoy it for days.

Farro, cabbage and fennel soup with rosemary + roasted sweet potato croutons
Serves 4 to 6

1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
kosher or Celtic salt, as needed
1/4 head of green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 cup pearled farro, rinsed and drained
6 cups broth / stock of your choice OR 6 cups water + 2 vegetable bouillon cubes*
1 sprig fresh rosemary
pinch of red chile flakes
juice of 1/2 lemon
grated grana padano

garnishes (optional)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

*I’ve been using Rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes lately and love them. Heidi Swanson recommends this brand in her Super Natural cookbooks, and I decided to give them a try after spotting them in the natural foods section of my local grocery (Fairway market). They are made with organic ingredients and have a very balanced flavor (i.e., they don’t scream of dried celery or any one ingredient), plus they are available in both salted and unsalted options. I used the salted variety here and found it to be pleasantly seasoned and not too salty.

Heat oven to 400F.

Place sweet potato on a sheet tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, spread the cubes into a single layer and roast until golden-edged and tender, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway through for even cooking. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add cabbage, onion and fennel and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add farro to pot and stir for a couple of minutes to lightly toast it. Add stock or water, rosemary, pinch of salt, and a pinch of chile flakes and bring to a simmer. If using water, ladle 1 cup of the hot liquid into a heatproof pyrex bowl or measuring cup and stir in vegetable bouillon cubes. When bouillon is dissolved pour liquid back into pot.

Simmer until farro and vegetables are tender and flavors have melded, about 30 minutes. If serving with eggs, cook them while the soup simmers (see below). Stir in lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of grated grand padano. Season with salt to your taste, if needed.

For the 7-minute eggs: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gently lower eggs into water using a slotted spoon. Cook for 7 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to halt cooking, or run under cold water for about a minute. Peel when cool enough to handle.

Ladle soup into warmed bowls and garnish with sweet potato croutons, egg, parsley, pumpkin seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

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