Tomato and Farro Soup


Tomato-Farro Soup-282-14242


Back in 2001, when we were working on our cookbook, farro was still rare.  If you went to the right restaurants, if you frequented the vortices of culinary hipness.  Italian delis, in New York or San Francisco maybe.  Specialty food stores, the occasional sighting.  How the world has turned in a dozen years!  Now you can often buy farro in grocery stores, which is a good thing if you want to make this week’s Tomato – Farro Soup.

If you were only 10 back in 2001 or you’ve lead a grain-deprived life, here’s a farro primer.  Italians know farro as three different grains–einkorn, emmer and spelt–referred to as farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande.  Emmer, the farro imported from Italy you’re likely to encounter in specialty stores, has a delicious nutty flavor and a satisfying, mildly chewy texture, as long as it’s not overcooked. Once cooked it resembles barley in appearance, although without barley’s tendency to expand and turn mushy after sitting in liquid.  If you’ve ever had a pot of barley soup turn into a splodgy mass after a sleepover in the refrigerator you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Almost all imported Italian farro is emmer that has been semi-pearled and parboiled to reduce cooking time for the export market.  It requires no soaking and generally cooks in less than 25 minutes.  But beware.  Some groceries with a more organic or whole food outlook, including Whole Foods, now sell spelt farro, which takes much longer to cook than emmer (think wheat berries vs. barley).   And they have dramatically different tastes and textures.  If spelt and emmer were both communists, spelt would come off as stiffly doctrinaire, whereas emmer would be the Italian intellectual lingering over lunch, understanding that even the revolution must defer to a bowl of excellent soup.  Locally, Formaggio’s in Cambridge carries imported emmer farro.  If you’re reading this from afar, you may have to do a little culinary sleuthing to make sure you get the right product.  Look for emmer or triticum dicoccom, and semi-pearled or pearled (Italian: semi-perlato and perlato/decorticato) on the label.  If the product is Italian, it will almost certainly be emmer, which is what you want.

Where were we?

Right, Tomato-Farro Soup.  Despite all the technical grief I’ve just put you through, farro–and this soup–is simple.  (So simple I had trouble finding new things to photograph.)  In our cookbook we made the soup with plum tomatoes scorched under the broiler, but high-quality canned tomatoes will get the job done in less time with greater ease.  As New England enters the season of freezing rains, and worse, you can use the extra time to relax with a glass of wine, savoring the aroma of simmering soup as nature batters fruitlessly against your windows.  And when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll still have soup leftovers in the fridge, not splodge.  Enjoy.  Ken

Tomato-Farro Soup 2-1-2  


Makes 4 to 6 servings


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 small onion, chopped into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 medium leek, white part only, trimmed of roots and tough outer leaves, chopped into ½-inch dice and swirled vigorously in a bowl of cold water to remove any grit
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup farro, rinsed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5-6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 14-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, pulsed in food processor until coarsely pureed
  • 2 pepperoncini, thinly sliced and seeds removed, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves cut into thin strips, for garnish
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, as needed


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and cook until the fat starts to render, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the celery, onion and leeks and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until tender, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add the farro, bay leaves, thyme, oregano.  Stir.  Add 5 cups of chicken stock, sugar and tomatoes.   Add optional cheese rinds.
  2. Cook uncovered until the farro is tender (not mushy), about 30 minutes.  If the liquid gets too thick, add more stock.  When the farro is done the soup base should be thick but not pasty.
  3. Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Remove the bay leaves and any cheese rinds.  Ladle the soup into warm bowls.  Garnish each bowl with pepperoncini and basil.  Add a generous grating of Parmesan and then drizzle each serving with extra virgin olive oil.


Tomato-Farro Soup 3-1-2

Tomato-Farro Soup-79-14039

Tomato-Farro Soup 3-2-2

Tomato-Farro Soup-128-14088

Tomato-Farro Soup-257-14217

Tomato-Farro Soup 2-2-2

Tomato-Farro Soup-160-14120

Jody Notes:

This soup came knocking on The Garum Factory door.  Last week Stacy, veteran server at Rialto, said, “You should put the Tomato – Farro soup back on the menu.”  And then Ken brought it up a week later.  He must have had farro on the brain after our recent cabbage post.  So here it is.  

The original recipe calls for broiling 4 pounds of plum tomatoes, but as I’m watching the first snow flakes of the the season this morning, with a long day ahead of me, I’m thinking that any decent canned are a fine alternative.  (I used Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.)  This recipe is a good opportunity to cull the cheese drawer in your refrigerator for leftover rinds of grating cheese.  Throw them in while the soup is cooking; they add body and flavor.  Remove any undissolved pieces before serving.

We eat Tomato-Farro Soup all winter.  And of course, in our household, a poached egg will find it’s way into a bowl at breakfast time.




71 thoughts

  1. A note on barley – the key is to purchase hulled barley, not pearled barley. Hulled barley is not processed, beyond having the hull removed, and it will not disintegrate. Plus, it’s healthier. Love this soup. I got the cookbook!

    • Good tip! But hulled barley, also known as “barley groats,” is a different eating experience–a lot chewier and a much longer cooking time. We use the latter as an alternative to wheat berries (for adding to salads or adding contrast to steel-cut oats for breakfast), whereas we add pearled barley to soup when we don’t anticipate leftovers. Nutritionally speaking, you definitely get more bang for your barley with groats rather than pearled. Thanks for bringing it up. Oh, and enjoy the book–I was thinner then. :-) Ken

  2. Now I know what I will make tonight..have houseguests with a fuzzy timeline for showing up..simple and yummy! Ken, your pictures are terrific as usual!

  3. Absolutely breathtaking photos. I am fast becoming your biggest fan and not only because your photos are always stunning, also your recipes always give me the urge to run out and gather all the ingredients needed to prepare it now. Yes, I will be making this tonight too.

      • I just remembered when I just read your Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup post I never did come back and comment after preparing this soup. It was absolutely wonderful Ken. We enjoyed it so much and finding the farro was easy! I have since prepared farro a couple more times. It is so wonderfully chewy! Thank you for this wonderful soup recipe. We will be making it again…and again…

      • We’ve been working our way through various brands–pearled, semi-pearled, and not pearled at all. All, with a bit of patience, are good. I have to admit I’m beginning to think I like the least pearled ones the best. They are, however, the least convenient. Ken

  4. Oh how delicious! I hardly ever think of using grains in soup, and this one sounds and looks very comforting and full of flavor.
    Thank you for the explanations about farro, emmer, and spelt. Here in France, only two kinds are available (and then only in “organic” shops): “petit” épeautre and “grand” épeautre. I was always confused about the translations… Grand épeautre is spelt, that is clear. But petit épeautre is BOTH einkorn and emmer according to dictionaries… And neither is perlato or semi-perlato, and both take a painfully long time to cook! Oh well, at least we can find “farro” in Italian delis! :)

    • How interesting! Something I didn’t go into in the post is that all three kinds of farro are grown in the US now, by people dedicated to producing high-quality organic grains. A cursory look at their websites shows whole grain farro, but I haven’t yet had time to see if any of them offer a pearled product. Spelt definitely requires a commitment to cook. Once I’m in that realm I definitely soak things ahead of time. I don’t know what the texture of unpearled emmer would be like because I’ve never cooked it–a topic for investigation! Thanks for stopping by. Ken

  5. Another beautiful recipe. Adding grains to soup is a great way to add protein and other nutrients. It’s really funny that these ancient grains are only now coming to be popular. In NYC you can find almost all of these in the more hip stores. As always the photos are vibrant and beautiful and this soup is something I’d be happy to sit down to over and over again! Thanks for sharing.

      • Hi Ken. I actually don’t have much experience using spelt, but a lot of the blogs I read use spelt in their recipes. I use a lot of millet and quinoa, but I’m definitely interested in Italian farro. I had no idea there were so many subcategories. Thanks for this post.

    • Also wanted to tellyou, I forwarded your Boletus post from last week to my brother, a longtime international journalist who for many years lived and reported on Central America–and who, unlike me, speaks reliably good Spanish. I may even try the recipe through Google Translator. :-) Ken

      • I hope I’m not putting you on the spot, but have you cooked your local emmer farro before? None of the American I found looked like it was pearled, hence really long cooking times. Is that what yours is like–and you just factor it in–or is it pearled? Thanks. Ken

      • Turns out, it’s not pearled. I discovered that when I made the soup (yummy) tonight and the cooking time was much longer than in your recipe. My farro comes from Bluebird Grain Farms ( I’d remembered the long cooking times from when I’d used it before. Didn’t understand the pearled distinction till I read your blog. Do you think precooking, partial cooking or soaking the non-pearled farro is the way to go with your recipe? Otherwise the broth cooks down considerably.

      • Since the post I’ve discovered that Bob’s Red Mill has started making farro that’s pearled emmer. Supposedly it only take 25 minutes to cook. If you look on FB today I posted (under Ken Rivard) a photo of Rustichella d’Abruzzo Farro (emmer intero, i.e. pearled). It requires 25 minutes of soaking, then about 20 minutes of cooking (the package says 25 minutes, but I stopped at 20 and could have probably stopped somewhere between 15 and 18). I found the R d’A Farro at Whole Foods. They carry a lot of R d’A artisan pasta. To answer your question regarding the Bluebird Farms (they were one of the American companies I looked at) it almost certainly would reduce cooking time if you soaked it overnight. Do you know which grain you got? Ken

    • Oh, well. I suspect your worst soup weather will be about where our soup weather is now, but in New England, as the scarecrow observed, “I’m not sure, but I think it’s going to get much much darker.” Ken

    • Tout vrais, sans doute c’est aussi delicieux, mais il y a deux genres d’épeautre en France, le petit et le grand, et ni l’un ni l’autre est typiquement d’écortiqué. Par conséquence ca va prendre des heures pour le preparer. Si tu le fasse, ecrit moi pour décrire comment ca marche. Merci, Lydie. Ken

  6. Herrlich da sind wir uns wieder einig :-) , Nur wenn ich mal vorbeikomme lasst das Huhn am Leben, (aber das wisst Ihr ja bereits. Köstlich, your matai :-)))

  7. “emmer would be the Italian intellectual lingering over lunch, understanding that even the revolution must defer to a bowl of excellent soup.” Where do you come up with this stuff Ken?
    I’m on a soup bender these days–just re-stocked my stock. Everything is in place. This is next on my list, can’t wait. Thanks!

  8. Such a hearty soup, and it’s perfect for the oncoming winter season! Boston still has pretty warm weather; so will put this on my to-cook list :)

  9. Wise and relevant insight, indeed! I’m currently based in Boston; and, was visiting Asia and Australia earlier this year for vacation. Boston’s autumn is gorgeous, just too short-lived.

  10. You wrote a cookbook? Where is it? Do you have a link to it? I’d love to read it. I don’t know how you manage to instruct and educate me every week – I didn’t know I didn’t know so much (little?). Farro is one I will seek out. By the way – have you read The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester? You must. It is one of the funniest books I have ever read; it’s about food and murder. And I learned a lot about both. Sophie

    • Hi, Sophie–I have read A DEBT TO PLEASURE and have not been able to look at a photo of Mont St. Michel the same way ever since. I tried to interest fellow industry people in it when it came out, but for some reason a lot of the people i know just found the narrator more repellant than amusing (I loved it). Our cookbook is out of print unless you order a new copy directly from Rialto (we periodically order a run from the publisher so people can buy it at the restaurant). Amazon has used copies for not much more than the cost of shipping. IN THE HANDS OF A CHEF by Jody Adams and Ken Rivard. I hope you didn’t learn too much from Lanchester. :-) Ken P.S. I just found, contrary to recent experience, a package of Rustichella d’Abbruzo (emmer) Farro at WFM; I’ve also ordered a package of Bob’s Red Mill online. I’m going to cook both (both packages say 25 minutes) and append a farro update some time over the next couple of weeks. K.

  11. I can make this soup. I can! But…celery makes me want to punch holes in plaster walls. Can I omit it or substitute with a less noxious ingredient and maintain the overall deliciousness of your recipe?

    • Yes, there is a solution. Replace the celery with an equivalent amount of diced fennel. The taste won’t be the same, but it will be good. Or just omit it altogether. Let us know what you do–and for the sake of your new house–how it turns out. Ken

    • Thanks, Steve. We’ve been on a pretty steady diet of farro these past few weeks, first for the soup, then just out of curiosity to see how different brands and degree of pearl change the experience. Definitely good stuff, and going forward a regular staple at our house. Ken

  12. Pingback: Tomato and Farro Soup | goodthingsfromitaly

  13. Hi Jody & Ken. My name is Joseph and I work at Bluebird Grain Farms. I really love this blog – great recipe too! Regarding your conversation related to our grains. I wanted to mention that we do not sell pearled emmer or einkorn farro because the nutritional value is destroyed when you pearl it. I recognize that life is busy and when it comes to the business of getting food on the table time is of essence. So to that end, I’d like to suggest two ways to cut down on the cooking time with our Einkorn and Emmer Farro: 1.) Try using our Einkorn (which we call Einka). It is the petite Farro and cooks pretty quick. 2.) The uniqueness of farro is that it retains its consistency. So what I do is dump a bag of farro in a big bowl, fill the bowl up with water (covering the farro) and then let it sit in the refrigerator over night (you could do this in the morning before heading off to work too). Then, cook it al dente or add the soaked farro to your soup. Whatever you don’t use can go into the refrigerator for the other dishes throughout the week or put it in the freezer. It keeps perfectly. It just doesn’t get mushy. Thanks and a BIG thank you to Slice of Mid-Life for buying our grains/flours!

  14. Pingback: Refine That Palate: Chef Jody Adams Dishes Cooking Tips at the Boston Wine Expo | Rue La La

  15. Love this soup Ken. I can no longer find Muir Glen whole plain fire roasted tomatoes around Cambridge or online; wondering if you’ve found a good alternative brand (I can’t find one)? To roast my own, some blogs say cut side up, some say down. One says an hour at 400°F. Another says under the broiler for about 15 minutes. Some say get rid of the skins (especially if they’re late season tomatoes) and seeds; others say blend them up. Your advice, please?

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