If I were an Olympic long jumper- with a head for heights, curves and a certain degree of insanity– and I was perched on our windowsill, I could probably be at our local market in about 3 seconds. I am however not blessed with any kind of vaguely sporting talent and struggle to jump over even small puddles. So I am forced to take the more conventional walking option which takes about 57 seconds, (I could run but I am mildly allergic to such activity) to get myself and my shopping bag to Testaccio market.
The market is very much the beating, shouting, gloriously chaotic heart of Testaccio, a quarter of Rome I wandered into nearly four years ago, guide book in hand, as lost as a very small needle in a very big thingystack and thought “nothing to see here then…”
I did of course eat my words, with plenty of freshly grated pecorino romano on top. A week later I paid a deposit on a very small room and two years later, when I had happily doubled into we, we look out a very large mortgage on a very small flat – cat, swing, NO.
Testaccio may not boast Renaissance palazzi, Baroque fountains or Colosseum shaped marvels, but it has an irresistible charm, soul and the wiff of something I imagine to be true, honest, workaday Rome. It is a bustling, proud and earthy quarter, still largely inhabited by those who were born here. It has an extraordinary sense of community, for the town planners amongst us, a pleasingly symmetrical form and best of all, it is an Aladdin’s cave when its comes to food of the honest and very best kind.
The market is one of the liveliest and nicest in Rome, a joyous and abundant little carnival of fresh, local, seasonal produce each morning. Local shops still rule, the bakery is baking, the pasta shops rolling and cutting, the cheese shop reeking, the fish in the fish shop has sparkly eyes and the Butchers, 15 of them if you include the market, make my pulse race.
I won’t talk about the bars, the pizzerie, trattorie, osterie, gelaterie, restaraunts today, but I will say one thing, if you like good food you might get quite excited and plan a visit asap.
Well, I didn’t imagine I would write all that, when I sat down reluctantly at my slowly dying computer which is pressed up against the wall to procure our neighbours internet broadband.
So lets get to the point shall we, the soup, the whole point of this post, the winter minestrone with farro and beans which will warm your cockles in a hearty, fortifying and downright tasty way. I love the word Minestrone, I am also rather fond of a large bowl of the stuff, if minestrone could talk, I am convinced it would purr like a streetwise tom cat, this is no refined sofa feline, and say ‘there, there, that’s better.’ There are no surprises or anything clever about this recipe, its pleasingly straightforward and a bit like Testaccio, workday, nothing fancy, a bit rough even, but irresistible.
Farro, an ancient form of wheat which reputedly kept the Roman legions sustained, lends its firm, chewy and robust texture to this particular minestrone but if you can’t find farro, barley makes a good substitute.
This is a recipe from the Riverford Farm Cookbook, my christmas present from my brother Ben – a bloody great book, which your should put on your “I need this book now” list, a book already so full of post its with MAKE THIS scrawled on them, that it is actually proving rather difficult to use. I am however, overcoming the post it disability and using my new favorite book alot, so far this soup is my best and most successful yield.
So walk, jump or shimmy your way to your local market and buy yourself a leek, 2 carrots, a nice pair of turnips, some celery and then find yourself some fortifying farro, dig out a tin of good plum tomatoes and another of borlotti from your well stocked larder!( yes of course you can soak your beans) and get chopping and cookin.
I use water for this soup and I always add a parmesan rind, one of my supply kept in a tupperware box in the freezer, to this soup while it bubbles away.
Do allow the soup to rest a little between making and serving, it allows the flavours to develop, while you are at it save yourself a bowl for the next day, the farro will be very swollen, but the soup even more delicious.
Serve warm, but not too hot as to obscure the hearty flavours.
Winter Minestrone with Farro and Beans
- 5 tbsp good olive oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 leek finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk finely chopped
- 2 carrots peeled and chopped into small dice
- 2 turnips peeled and chopped into small dice
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, crushed with back of knife and chopped
- 400g tin of plum tomatoes
- 425g borlotti or cannellini beans drained
- 200g farro soaked in cold water for 1 hour and drained
- water or stock
- a parmesan rind
- salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Good olive oil and freshly grated parmesan to serve.
Gently warm the olive oil in a large heavy based pan and add the chopped vegetables (onion,celery, leek, carrots, turnips but NOT garlic yet) add a sprinkle of salt, stir well to coat the vegetables in oil, cover the pan. Cook slowly for about 30mins or until the vegetables are soft and slightly caramelised.
Add the garlic and cook for another 2 min’s.
Stir in the tomatoes and then allow everything to bubble away for about 10 minutes.
Add the beans, farro and parmesan rind, cover with water (or stock if you so wish) and bring the pan to a gentle boil. Reduce the pan to a lively simmer and leave bubbling away for 30minutes or until the farro is tender.
Season the minestrone and add more water if you feel it is too thick.
Allow the minestrone to rest for at least 30 minutes, allowing the flavours to mingle and develop before very gently reheating and serving minestrone in warm bowls with a dribble of raw oil and freshly grated parmesan.