Try this cool riff on the classic Italian vegetable and bean soup using barley instead of pasta. Simmering a piece of the rind from Parmigiano-Reggiano in the soup is a traditional way of adding flavor—we always keep a stash of rinds in the freezer for moments such as this.
The list of ingredients may seem long, but the number of steps to make this wonderful soup are few. That said, I made numerous changes all of which are indicated below. Because we had just enough Napa cabbage on hand, I used that instead of Savoy. Then I doubled the pancetta, the garlic and the pearl barley; used fire-roasted diced tomatoes; omitted the last can of water; and finished with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
Although barley may not be as popular as other whole grains like oats, wheat, or even the grain-of-the-moment quinoa, barley has some impressive health benefits. A very high fiber content, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, heart health and diabetes protection are just some of the nutrition benefits that make barley one of the best whole grain choices.
BTW, pearl barley is the most common form of barley. It’s chewy and nutritious, but less so than hulled barley because the outer husk and bran layers have been removed. The polished grains are also softer and take less time to cook. A one-cup serving of cooked barley has less calories, but more fiber, than an equal serving of quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet or wild rice.
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely diced pancetta (about 2 ounces)
- 2 cups large diced Savoy (or Napa) cabbage
- 1 cup medium diced yellow onion
- 1 cup sliced carrot (1/4 inch thick)
- 1/4 cup medium diced celery
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 quarts homemade or low-salt chicken broth
- 1 14-1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with their juices
- 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2-inch square Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup rinsed and drained canned kidney beans
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
- Heat the oil in a heavy 6-quart or larger pot over medium heat.
- Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until it becomes ever so slightly golden, 2 to 3 min.
- Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 6 min.
- Add the broth, the tomatoes with their juices, the barley, rosemary, Parmigiano rind (if using), 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 cup water (which I omitted). Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the barley and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Discard the rosemary sprigs and Parmigiano rind. Stir in the vinegar and beans and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the grated Parmigiano.
Adapted from a recipe by