Friday, January 23, 2015

Wild Mushroom and Farro Soup

by Sheila Connolly

Here’s another recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbook, Make It Ahead. Let’s start with that farro—what the heck is it? No, we’re not talking about the 17th-century French gambling card game. But nobody seems quite sure what it is. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

There is some confusion as to what farro is. Spelt (Triticum spelta), Emmer (Triticum dicoccum), and einkorn (Triticum monococcum), are called farro in Italy, sometimes (but not always) distinguished as farro grande, farro medio, and farro piccolo, respectively. Emmer grown in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany is known as farro, and can receive an IGP designation (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), which by law guarantees its geographic origin. Emmer is by far the most common variety grown in Italy, in certain mountain regions of Tuscany and Abruzzo. It is also considered to be of a higher quality for cooking than the other two grains and is sometimes called "true" farro.

Yeah, sure, okay (Ina, what have you gotten me into?). Simple solution for the rest of us cooks: go to your grocery store or health food store and buy a bag of the stuff, or order it on line. Bob’s Red Mill has it. (And I daresay you could substitute any of the other grains mentioned if you can’t find farro.)

Then there are the mushrooms. Ina wanted me to use dried crimini mushrooms. My local grocery lacks imagination, so they had only one kind of dried mushroom, and it was not crimini. So I used porcini mushrooms. They worked fine. Likewise, there was little choice in fresh mushrooms, so I used sliced shitake mushrooms. Use whatever sturdy mushrooms you can find at your own store (but not the more delicate ones like oyster mushrooms).

Dried porcini mushrooms

Mushroom and Farro Soup

1-1/2 oz dried wild mushrooms

3 Tblsp olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
3 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups diced carrots

4 tsp minced garlic
3/4 cup farro (or other grain of the wheat family)
12 oz fresh mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
4 cups beef broth
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
kosher salt and pepper

Cover the dried mushrooms with 6 cups water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside for at least 20 minutes. Longer is fine.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the pancetta and let the fat render for a few minutes, over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots, coat well with the oil, and continue to cook until the carrots are tender.

Add the garlic and the farro and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to release some liquid.

Strain the dried/soaked mushrooms through cheesecloth to remove any lingering grit (saving the liquid!). Chop them coarsely and add them to the pot, along with the strained liquid, the beef broth, thyme, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, until the farro is tender. Discard the thyme.

2 Tblsp flour
2 Tblsp unsalted butter, room temp
4 oz creme fraiche
1/4 cup minced parsley

In a small bowl, mash the flour and butter together to form a paste, then stir by spoonfuls into the hot soup. Simmer for 5 minutes (to cook the flour), then stir in the creme fraiche and taste for seasoning.

Serve hot.

The result is a very tasty soup, hearty but not heavy. Serve with a wholegrain bread and you’ll have a nice meal for a winter’s evening. (And this recipe makes plenty of leftovers!)

All right, I know I've told you more than once that the next book in my County Cork Mystery series is coming out soon (February 3rd! at bookstores everywhere!). I was trying to figure out an appropriate way to go from exotic mushrooms to Ireland--and then I realized that on one trip to West Cork I had taken a lot of mushroom pictures. I was there at the beginning of December, and there were still mushrooms everywhere--and here they are.

Yes, that first one really is purple!

And here's the book. In An Early Wake, Maura brings music back to Sullivan's, and someone dies. But the music lives on!


  1. The soup looks great! Thank you fro the recipe. :)

  2. This looks perfect for a cold winter's evening! I haven't tried farro yet but have been meaning to.

    1. Actually I was happily surprised by farro. It doesn't take forever to cook, and it had a nice, mildly nutty flavor. Kind of a cross between wheat and rice, maybe. Let's see, what other grains haven't I tried?

  3. That does sound warming and tasty.
    Aren't mushrooms amazing? They can add such mystery to a dish. That delicious "what is that"?
    We were really lucky for a few years. There were morel mushrooms growing in the woods behind my mother's house. When we visited for Mother's Day we would find them. What a flavor treat! And then they disappeared. Ah well.

    1. I am so jealous, Libby! I love morels. And chanterelles. I've never been in the right place at the right time to collect any, partly because I don't know when they're in season (not to mention which ones are poisonous!).

    2. Morels are hard to mistake for anything else. And they were lovely.
      I'd only consider wild mushroom foraging if 1-I were after morels or 2-I were with an authority.

  4. I had never heard of farro. The soup looks very good! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  5. THIS is why I want a mushroom vendor at my farmers market. Dang it. Must go to grocery store... must have this soup...... and book.

    1. I stumbled on a farmers' market in Northampton, MA one fall where there was a vendor with piles of nothing but mushrooms. I walked up to him and said, "I want a pound of everything!" I settled for only four kinds, though. I passed on the puffball the size of a softball because I had no idea what to do with it.

  6. Not only will I be ordering An Early Wake, I am getting my list together for the mushrooms (I checked my supply and they are used up already as I use wild dried mushrooms in a lot of food, esp. my meat loaf!!!). I hope to make the soup tomorrow while the snow is coming down and I won't want to go out but would like something yummy. I am the big mushroom fan so cannot wait to make it.
    And I sure do not want to be a purple cow. Nothing like drawing attention!!!! I hardly need that with my year long weight gain. :) .

    Thank you so much for the recipe and the reminder of the book. I have the first book in Sheila's Country Cork series already and it was so good. Looking forward to another.


    1. Thank you! I did buy some edible mushrooms and used them in Ireland, but I was amazed at the variety of wild ones. The ones pictured here are only about half of what I saw. I need to find more dried ones around here. Wegman's and Whole Foods often have nice ones, but neither one is close. Good luck with the soup--and the snow!

    2. There is always the internet for dried mushrooms. They travel well.

  7. At my market, they sell the puffballs in big slices. That doesn't help me know what to do with them, though. We usually get a few in our woods, but I'm a big chicken about picking my own mushrooms. Love that purple one.

    You've inspired me to look for farro. I've been eyeing a bag of curious grains at my health food store but I don't know quite what to do with it. Maybe I'll buy it and give it a shot.

  8. Oh my! I want to visit your market. I'd say I'd move there, but my heart is in Skibbereen, where they have wild game on Saturdays (mind the buckshot!) and freshly-baked bread daily.

    I'm amazed at the range of grains Bob's Red Mill has. They sound so poetic--farro and emmer and spelt. And I love name amaranth. Obviously this soup could vary widely depending on what you can find.