A bowl of soup’s got it all: Simplicity, comfort, joy, nourishment and togetherness. 

Yes, it’s togetherness season. With family coming to visit for the holidays—not to mention those hockey games and holiday parties that eat in to dinner-making time—one soup recipe can go a long way towards feeding a lot of people, or your own family over a couple of nights. 

A soup can be made ahead, you can scale it to the number of people sitting around the table, and, best of all, picky eaters will almost always eat soup. Soup can be lunch or dinner, and it’s the easiest meal to serve and clean up. And I find making soup to be relaxing; think of it as I do, as an antidote to the stress of the season. 

For this time of year, one of my favorites is this Beef, Farro and Vegetable Soup—a healthier riff on the classic beef and barley. It’s definitely a meal–in-one with slow-cooked chuck beef, cut into small melt-in-your-mouth cubes, whole grain farro and lots of vegetables. 

The secret to tender beef—the heart of this soup—starts with the cut. From exhaustive tests done by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I learned long ago this means using a chuck roast not only for the best flavor but for the way it tenderizes with cooking. (Reliable and Shiretown Meats are good sources for chuck roast.) This means avoiding the pre-cut “stew” meat, which is often a mix of different cuts that produce uneven, sometimes tougher results. It’s a bit more time-consuming to cut up a chuck roast, but definitely worth the effort. Browning the meat at the start ultimately gives the soup a deeper flavor.

The grain, farro, is a type of wheat with a nice, chewy texture and earthy flavor. Farro originates from Italy where it is used most often in soups. Farro is available locally (look for farro labeled “semi-pearled”), but barley makes a fine substitute. 

The bulk of the soup comes from a nice list of vegetables: onions, leeks, carrots, celery, green beans and corn. I usually buy these locally at farms like Morning Glory in Edgartown or Ghost Island in West Tisbury because I love the flavor of freshly picked. Like any soup, you can add or substitute any of your other favorite veggies, such as mushrooms or kale, or seasonal root vegetables like Cape turnips or rutabagas. Check out the winter farmers’ market for veggie options, as well.

The soup calls for chicken stock, but a nice turkey stock at this time of year would also work perfectly. (And you can certainly use store-bought chicken broth as well.) The beef flavor ends up dominating, but the underlying stock makes a contribution.

A final tip for this soup, and any other soup, is to make sure it is seasoned with the right amount of salt. Most soups need more salt than you think. Salt coaxes out and heightens the flavors of the various ingredients. Sometimes a soup will taste bland even though it has a pile of ingredients, and all that’s missing is a little additional salt to make it a flavorful bowl. Add it in stages as you’re cooking, and then at the end, taste, season with just a little salt, and taste again. By adding a bit at a time and tasting as you go, you’ll begin to understand the simple transformation salt can make. 

Catherine Walthers is the author of several cookbooks, including Kale, Glorious Kale, Soups and Sides, and Raising the Salad Bar. Visit her at catherinewalthers.com.

 

Beef, Farro and Vegetable Soup

With a loaf of crusty local bread, this hearty soup from Catherine Walthers is all you need for a weeknight or Sunday supper.

Serves 8 to 10

 

1 (2½- to 3½-pound) piece of chuck roast, cut into (roughly) ¾-inch pieces, cutting around and discarding any solid fat

Salt and pepper

1½ tablespoons flour, for dredging 

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup red wine

8 cups homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey stock or broth

4 cups water

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 large onion, diced

1 whole leek, trimmed, cut lengthwise, rinsed and sliced 1/4 -inch thick 

4 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices

²/³ cup farro*, rinsed

½ cup minced fresh parsley

1 cup green beans, diced small

Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn (approximately 1 cup)

 

 

1. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper and dust lightly with the flour. 

2. In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat and brown half of the beef, using a spatula to turn the pieces to brown on several sides, about 5-6 minutes. Set aside the first batch and brown the second. (I often use a second skillet to brown half the beef to save time and to capture the additional flavor.) 

3. Add the first batch of meat back into the pot, and add the wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up flavorful brown bits, and bring to a boil. Stir in the stock or broth, water, Worcestershire sauce and onion. Bring to a boil, skimming any impurities (foam) that rise to the top. (Continue to skim occasionally as soup cooks; it results in a clearer broth.) 

4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook at a bubbling simmer (not a boil) for 40 minutes. While the beef is cooking, you can cut and add (at any point) the leeks, carrots, celery and thyme.

5. After 40 minutes, add the tomato, farro, half of the parsley and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the green beans and corn and continue cooking until the farro, which has a similar texture to barley, is cooked and the meat is very tender, another 10 to 15 minutes. (The soup typically cooks a total of approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to yield tender beef.) 

6. Add the remainder of the parsley and season to taste with additional salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper. 

*If farro is unavailable, substitute 1/2 cup barley and add when you add the carrots and celery and cook for a longer cooking time, 45-50 minutes, or until the barley is tender.