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This delicate, brothy grain soup manages to be comforting and fortifying—but without requiring a nap afterward. If you have really good homemade stock on hand, you can use it instead of the water called for here; the soup will only benefit from the addition. But even if you don’t, the flavors will get richer and more concentrated the longer it sits, which means it’s a great make-ahead recipe for a weekday lunch or dinner. This dish is part of the Bon Appétit Guide to Actually Enjoying Your Lunch at Work. Find more recipes, tips, and tricks here.
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup unhulled farro or spelt
- ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
- 4 cups torn escarole or kale
- 1 oz. finely grated Parmesan (about ¼ cup)
Cook garlic, capers, and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until garlic is golden, 4–6 minutes. Add onion, farro, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
Add 6 cups cold water to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until farro is tender, 20–25 minutes. Add celery and cook, uncovered, until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Stir escarole and Parmesan into soup and continue to cook until escarole is wilted, another 4 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt.
Do Ahead: Soup can be made 4 days ahead. Transfer to an airtight container and chill.
We hope you’re enjoying the new ‘Back to the Cutting Board’ TV series with Christina on public television and Create TV. We’re excited to let you know we just completed production of 13 new episodes to begin airing in January 2022.
In the current two series, Christina continues the journey of taking you back to simple times and to the idea that whole, fresh food can be delicious.
With more than 285 episodes of Christina Cooks produced since 1997, Christina’s message is clear and still unique: what we choose to eat has a big impact on how we look, feel, age and move through this challenging world.
So what’s so different about the ‘Back to the Cutting Board’ series of Christina Cooks? Christina is still the same funny, engaging, well-informed host she always has been but her message takes on a new…directness, an urgency if you will, as she hopes to inspire us to change how we think about food.
Drawing on her Traditional Chinese Medicine, her Master’s Degree in Food Science and Nutrition and plain old common sense, Christina takes the viewer on a journey to re-engage with the soul of cooking, from the slice of the knife to the aroma of steam rising from a perfectly cooked dish. Using plant-based recipes and the freshest seasonal ingredients along with simple techniques designed to optimize food’s natural flavors, Christina reintroduces the viewer to the creative potential of cooking and transforms the kitchen into the most delicious, nurturing sanctuary.
With easy to prepare recipes made from accessible ingredients from her new book, “Back to the Cutting Board,” in a theatrical setting of an imagined European courtyard, Christina invites you to take a step back and truly enjoy every step of the process of cooking great food. Finding the joy in cooking has never been so simple…or delicious!
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped (white, cremini, shiitake, oyster, etc.)
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, with their liquid
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 2 1/2 cups mushroom broth
- Crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
- 7 ounces uncooked farro, rinsed and soaked for several hours or overnight
- 1/2 pound escarole, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped thyme
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Don’t be fooled by escarole’s lettuce appearance, it’s more bitter than you think! Part of the Chicory family, including endive, radicchio and other bitter greens, it has a more bitter flavor than it’s sweeter look alike, lettuce.
The sharp flavor comes from the outside leaves, which are darker and tougher, whereas the inside leaves are lighter in color and more tender.
You can eat escarole raw, but it is better cooked, sauteed with olive oil or tossed in a soup.
In soups escarole cooks down quickly while maintaining its bite without the flavor being too intense or being lost in the dish.
Store like all greens, in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator.
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Small pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 head escarole, well rinsed (and still a little wet), leaves removed from core, torn or chopped into 3 to 4 pieces
White Bean and Escarole Soup with Chicken Meatballs
This recipe is a mashup of three of my favorite soups – white bean and escarole, Italian wedding soup, and good old chicken noodle. The idea came about a few weeks ago, when I had a craving for a big bowl of homemade soup but couldn’t decide which one to make. Why not combine a few of my favorites into one super-soup?! This one’s got everything I want in a soup – tender chicken meatballs, veggies, creamy white beans, and a rich broth flavored with a Parmesan rind. It’s a real “meal” of a soup and one perfectly suited to these chilly, darkening days of late fall.
The chicken meatballs could be a meal on their own. In fact, I make them on their own (a little bit larger) all the time – they’re great with marinara, served over pasta or polenta. Made with chicken sausage, prosciutto, Parmesan, panko, and fresh parsley, they’re incredibly moist and flavorful. They’re also a cinch to make, and if you can convince a friend or family member to help shape the meatballs, the whole process won’t take more than twenty minutes.
While I try not to be overly fussy about ingredients, there are a few important ones in this recipe that I think deserve a special note. First, the key ingredient in these meatballs is the chicken sausage. I’m not talking about the flavored, precooked chicken sausages sold with hot dogs and brats, but raw chicken sausage, sold in links or loose in a package. Whole Foods 365 brand and Stop & Shop’s store-brand “Nature’s Promise” are great options. (Links aren’t sponsored, just trying to help!) Raw chicken sausage is also commonly available at butchers and specialty grocery stores. You could use turkey sausage or ground chicken (dark meat!!) in a pinch, and add your own seasonings – garlic, salt, pepper, maybe a little oregano, paprika, etc.- but using the sausage is a great shortcut because it’s already seasoned and ready to go.
The second important ingredient here is the chicken broth. While adding chicken broth is an afterthought in a lot of soups, the flavor and richness of the broth is crucial in this one. If you have homemade broth in your freezer, by all means, use it. Or, you can do what I do and fake it. I always have a bunch of containers of organic low-sodium chicken broth in my pantry. It can’t hold a candle to homemade broth, but for most things, it works just fine. And when I want a more flavorful broth, as I do here, I pour a few quarts into a pot, bring it to a boil, and then simmer the chicken broth, tasting every once in a while, until it has reduced (and therefore concentrated) by about 50%. Just make sure you’re using low-sodium broth – otherwise you’re going to end up with a very salty broth. I taste as I go, because every brand of chicken broth is different, and when the broth has reduced to my liking, I’ll season it with a bit of kosher salt. This is a great little trick, and while it’s more expensive than using broth right out of the box, it’s well worth it the extra cost.
Finally, the Parmesan rind. You could make this soup without it… but as long you’re buying Parmesan for grating, you might as well make sure the piece has some rind on it. Simmering a Parmesan rind in the soup gives the broth great depth of flavor and richness and is a great use of something you might otherwise unknowingly toss!
As we head towards the end of this long, stressful, and sometimes scary year, this is the kind of food I want. It’s comforting and cozy, like a warm hug (with lots of grated Parmesan cheese on top) and the recipe also makes a big pot of soup… plenty to freeze for later or share with friends. If you’re feeling like I’m feeling, I hope you’ll give this one a go !
Throughout the cooking process, the broth gets enriched with all the wonderful nutrients and depth of flavor from the escarole. If you’ve never tried escarole before, it’s a lovely dark leafy green that needs a good rinsing before being cooked to rid it of the sandy soil that is lodged between the leaves. Maybe that doesn’t sell it very well, but trust me, it’s a powerhouse green that doesn’t get enough credit!
1 large head escarole, leaves separated and rinsed well
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter
3 cups veggie broth, separated
1 cup small pasta
salt and pepper to taste
Croutons to serve, optional
Slice rinsed escarole leaves into 1 inch strips. Let drain in a colander and set aside. In a large sauce pan or soup pot, melt butter over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown. Add escarole and 1 cup broth, cover, and cook on low for about 15-20 minutes or until the escarole is wilted fully and a darker green color (this could take longer depending on the freshness of the escarole). Add the remaining broth and the pasta and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for about 10 minutes or until pasta noodles are al dente. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with croutons.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 5 cups chopped escarole
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup canned cannellini beans or other white beans, drained
- ½ cup uncooked pearl barley
- 1 beef-flavored bouillon cube
Put the oil and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in rosemary, escarole, salt, and pepper cook until escarole wilts and all the liquid has evaporated. Add water, beans, barley, and bouillon. Bring to a boil reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the barley is tender.
Wine Note: A classic Tuscan comfort food such as this dish calls for Tuscany's famous comfort wine: Chianti. Brolio's affordable 1997 Chianti Classico ($16) befits the humbleness of this soup.
Mushroom and farro soup
Barely two weeks ago, I used the following phrases to describe soup: “vegetables boiled to death,” “assaulted with too much cream,” “whatever healthy things in there cannot be tasted,” and even “what must have been a practical joke” about an especially awful one I’d ordered recently. I admitted that I found soup boring, and my relationship to it has been on especially unstable terms this year after repeated disappointments.
We then proceeded to eat soup for dinner for the next 14 days. What happened? It turns out that baked potato soup is a gateway drug, in that when we finished it, we wanted more soup. Different soup. We swore we could stop any time we wanted, but three batches of soup later, we realize we might have underestimated the power of good soup, the kind that is filling but also freeing of the nightly “What’s for dinner?” because, it’s already made and only needs to be reheated. I’ll admit that the fear of The Swimsuit when we go on vacation in a few weeks may have also egged on this habit, but it was the soup — come on, you know you wanna! — that really kept us engaged.
After the potato soup, we moved onto a tomato-y cabbage soup that we enjoyed, but I can assure you that the recipe isn’t ready for prime time and black bean pumpkin soup, one of our all-time favorites from the archives. And then this weekend, I attempted to recreated the kind of mushroom barley soup I grew up eating. Except, no offense ma, this is much much bolder.
It starts with soaking dried porcini, which, understandably, is the start of something wonderful as they pack so much flavor in what looks in the store like wood chips. I blame my German half for my affection for beef broth (I don’t think my grandmother used chicken broth once in her life, even for matzo ball soup), and the combination of beef broth, porcinis, their soaking liquid, brown mushrooms and the tomato paste I snuck in there makes for a soup that literally smacks you in the face (or perhaps knocks you off your stool) with flavor. The farro (which I used because I was out of barley, but either work, as will spelt) gives you something nice to bite into, and gives it more of a main-course feel and should I want to make more of a stew-type soup, I might even double it next time.
Mushroom Farro Soup
Adapted from Marian Burros’ mama, via The New York Times
Alas, a puddle of brown soup is hard to make look like anything but. I was very tempted to swirl in a sherry cream or a dollop of dilled sour cream to pretty it up, and were I serving this for a dinner party or guests, I might. But there’s so much flavor, it doesn’t need it.
For the mushrooms, you can use white, brown/cremini, shiitake or a mixture thereof. But I use all brown/cremini almost every time.
1/3 cup dried mushrooms like porcini
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms (you’ll prepare them shortly)
1/2 cup farro, pearled barley, or spelt, rinsed
6 cups low sodium or salt-free beef broth or stock (vegetable, mushroom or chicken stock can be swapped)
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Cover dried mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water, and set aside for 20 minutes, or while you prepare the rest of the soup.
Trim and slice fresh mushrooms, then give them a rough chop to your desired texture.
Heat oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onions and carrots over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Add fresh mushrooms, and cook until they begin to release liquid, about 5 to 10 minutes. Raise heat and add barley sauté until it begins to color (this didn’t really happen for me, because the mushroom liquid was still sloshing about). Add broth, sherry and tomato paste. Scoop the porcinis out of their soaking liquid (hang onto the liquid) and finely chop them. Strain the soaking liquid to remove any grit and add both this liquid and the chopped porcinis to pot. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer for about 40 minutes, until grains are tender. Stir in sherry vinegar adjust seasonings and serve.
Easy, Creamy Parmesan Farro
I am a farro true believer. Less familiar than, say, rice or pasta, farro boasts all the satisfying goodness of a starchy side, but with the added boost of texture, nutty flavor, and a whole-grain seal of approval. There are many good ways to prepare farro. But my absolute favorite is this creamy parmesan farro recipe: a stovetop dish cooked with garlic, onion, and broth, finished with cheese and fresh parsley.
What Is Farro? Is Farro Healthy?
Farro is an ancient grain filled with health benefits. Farro describe either einkorn, emmer, or spelt ancient wheat grains. Emmer wheat farro is the most common type of farro in this part of the world.
Like other whole grains, farro boasts several important health benefits absent in processed, simple grains or starches like plain pasta or white rice (both of which I love — don’t get me wrong). Chief among farro’s health benefits:
Now widely available in most supermarkets, farro is very easy to cook. In its simplest form, farro gets cooked in a pot with lightly-salted liquid (water, broth) until soft but still al dente, the liquid absorbed into the grain.
But the better way to cook farro — like here — is to incorporate other ingredients into the pot and let it all cook together to creamy deliciousness.
Origin Story: Inspired by a Favorite Brooklyn Restaurant
One of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn (and therefore, in general) is Frankies Spuntino. Situated in the far reaches of Court Street in Carroll Gardens, Frankies is the type of Italian home-cooking restaurant you can wander into any time of day and get an honest bowl of unpretentious dishes. Think: escarole and beans, gnocchi marinara, meatballs.
Once upon a time, Frankies served a small, unassuming side dish: a bowl of hot farro cooked in broth with generous amount of butter, cheese, onion, and a bit of parsley. Alas, the farro went off the menu at some point, seemingly never to return.
Haunted by its absence, I set about trying to recreate it at home. Happily, Frankies’s food veers uncomplicated, so I was able to construct a version at home that is every bit as tasty and satisfying.
Recipe Notes: Creamy Parmesan Farro Recipe
This farro recipe is very straightforward. The directions are essentially to put everything in a pot and cook it, then fold in some butter, cheese, and parsley. Easy enough. But a few tasting notes will ensure that this achieves real greatness.
- The finished consistency should be creamy, and maybe even slightly broth-y. The finished farro should be soft, but still a little al dente.
- The grated cheeses contain a fair amount of salt, so do not adjust the final seasoning until the cheese has been added. This recipe calls for a combination of Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino-Romano. But if you choose one, go with the pecorino.
- The parsley may appear superfluous. It is not. The minced parsley brightens the deeply savory, even umami, quality and adds a welcome pop of color.
Enjoy this ultra-satisfying new side: inspired by a Brooklyn restaurant, now in your home kitchen.
Farro and Escarole Soup - Recipes
Here's another good use for farro, the chewy having-a-moment wheat grain. This recipe makes a simple pilaf perfect for a side dish to a meat or other vegetable entree. I've paired the farro with brichetti, a stubby pasta that resembles broken spaghetti.
Farro Pilaf with Escarole
Elements adapted from Herbed Farro Pilaf, Food Network
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup brichetti pasta (may substitute spaghetti broken into 3/4-inch pieces)
1 cup farro
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 head of escarole, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup roughly chopped parsley
1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the farro and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth, stir to scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove lid and stir in the escarole. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley and serve.