grandma’s minestrone

There’s a market about 10 minutes from my house that’s a grocery shopping adventure unlike any other. A trip there is a total sensory experience; from the Benetton ads worth of languages being spoken, to the enormous varieties of produce being sold (some completely exotic and unfamiliar). From the olive bar, fish market and cheese counter (which on any given day may include a sweet little old man making fresh mozzarella) to the fresh “you name it-they’ll make it” smoothie stand and united nations of a bread aisle. And let us not forget the bakery and chocolate department; an enormous chocolate fountain, hand dipped fruit, and chocolate Easter eggs the size of a small child’s head— Yeah they have it. Sounds like a crazy place, right? It is, but it’s also such an interesting no-two-visits-are-the-same kinda place that my kids actually jump at the chance to go. Even the NY Times has written about the experience of shopping there: “It’s mid afternoon, and as usual, Corrado’s is thronged with customers. In front of the deli counter, two women chat in Italian as they wait to buy sausage. A woman in a diaphanous pink sari prowls the spice aisle. In the produce section, a young Chinese man examines huge papery heads of garlic. ‘We cater to everybody and everybody comes to us,’ said Joe Corrado of Corrado’s Family Affair, one of the Northeast’s largest ethnic markets.” Don’t you wish you lived near me? Anyway, on to the point of my story…

Corrados has an entire aisle dedicated to pasta and grains. Seriously, an entire aisle! I’ll be honest with you, typically when I buy pasta I buy the brown rice type— it is after all the healthier and less filling option. But when I’m at Corrados all bets are off. You’ll find pastas there in shapes, sizes and varieties that you never imagined existed. How could I possibly walk away from such an amazing selection?!? On a recent shopping trip I loaded my cart with enormous rigatoni, spaghetti the thickness of no. 2 pencils and a couple of bags of pearled Italian Farro. In case you’re unfamiliar with Farro I’ll give you a quick primer: Farro is an ancient grain that’s steadily gaining in popularity. It can be made into hot cereal, served as a cold or warm side dish, turned into a risotto of sorts and even be served as a warm dessert with a little crumbled fresh ricotta and a drizzle of honey. However when I bought those bags of Farro I didn’t really have any of those uses in mind. In fact I didn’t really have anything in mind, I just thought I’d buy it now and figure things out later. The Farro sat in my cabinet for a while just waiting to be used until one day I found myself thinking of my little Italian grandmother. Not for any particular reason or of any particular memory, just thinking of her.

Grandma Perrone was the littlest of ladies, sweet and soft spoken and an amazing cook. She could take the simplest of ingredients and turn them into a feast. I can’t think about her without remembering the delicious soups she used to make; pasta fagioli, chicken with pastina and tiny meatballs and a hearty minestrone… and suddenly I found my inspiration.

Minestrone with Chicken Sausage + Farro (á la Grandma Perrone)
This is a wonderfully hearty soup that works equally well with escarole, kale or spinach. And while I prefer to use chicken sausage you can certainly use spicy pork if that’s more your thing.

farro soup

7 oz. pearled Italian Farro
2 tbsp. olive oil
14 oz. chicken sausage, broken up
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
1 1/2 cups diced onion
4-6 garlic cloves, grated
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup red wine
2 14.5 oz. cans fire roasted tomatoes (with their juice)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups low-sodium beef broth*
1 medium head fresh escarole, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish

  1. The night before you plan to make the soup place the dry farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight. The following morning drain, rinse and set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the sausage pieces and allow to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add to the pot the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook 5-6 minutes or until everything begins to soften. Add the mushrooms, salt and black pepper and cook until the mushroom have released all their liquid.
  3. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Then add the tomatoes, broth, farro and reserved sausage. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Add the escarole and crushed red pepper and allow to simmer for 3 more minutes or until the escarole is tender.
  4. Adjust seasonings and serve garnished with additional crushed red pepper and a healthy sprinkle of grade cheese.

*I realize this seems like a lot of broth, but the longer the soup sits the more liquid the farro absorbs.