When I brought fesols de Santa Pau home from Spain, my friend who lives on the bluff took a handful and said she’d like to try and grow them. Not on the bluff, but in Mexico where she lives part of the time and tends a food garden. She planted the beans and – in the miraculous way of seeds – harvested five pounds late this summer, and brought a vacuum-packed stash home to Washington.
My friend and her husband invited us to dinner to celebrate their recent birthday trip to Tuscany, featuring bounty brought home in suitcases. (No matter our global import culture, something warms the heart about purchases from a faraway place, hand-carried to share.) On a dark October evening we walked by flashlight down our little road. In a house glowing with light and warmth, their three dogs dozed by the fire, each in its own round bed.
After bruschetta starters, our hosts served soup made with their well-travelled fesols and also farro – that ancient grain rediscovered in Italy (and here). In this Italian meal of proper courses, we next ate pasta with sauce savory with spices from Campo di Fiore Market in Rome. Then green salad (lovely and local). We drank wine from Tuscan grapes and heard stories of countryside biking and agriturismo farms. As a finale – contucci – the Tuscan name for biscotti, and vin santo.
My friend found Washington-grown farro (from Bluebird Grain Farms in Eastern Washington). It’s an ancient grain, looking a little like spelt and said to be the original grain from which all others derive. It retains a chewy texture even after soaking and cooking – a great taste to encounter in soup or salad.
Later, with the fesols my friend brought me, I made the soup like she did, using Bittman’s recipe for “Farro Soup” from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” In a quarter cup of olive oil, cook one large sliced onion, two chopped celery stalks, and two chopped carrots, until the onion softens. Add a tablespoon of minced garlic, a cup of farro soaked (between four and nine hours is recommended) and a cup of dried white beans soaked (I did the quick soak with boiling water). Also add a small can of undrained chopped tomatoes, and six cups of stock.
It will take at least an hour (mine took longer) for the farro and beans to be tender. Add additional stock or water if needed.
The soup is hearty – a small bowl was perfect before the pasta at the Tuscan feast, but on an ordinary winter night, a bigger bowl makes a whole meal. A little Italy in a bowl – along with fesols – this time fesols de Baja!