There are one million and one delicious versions of an Italian style bean soup that it is almost impossible to narrow down a favorite. So the best thing to do, in my opinion, is to start from scratch, and that is what I’ve done here. I don’t really know if this is technically a minestrone, a pasta e fagioli or what, all I do know is that it is really delicious. I have become a huge fan of farro as I work to add whole grains to my diet, and decided it would be an interesting replacement for pasta in a brothy soup. The nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture make it hearty and interesting.
Let me explain my process. Cooking the farro separately keeps the soup from becoming thick or pasty. I love the herbal flavor of this soup – I think that’s what makes it more than broth with beans – but I find chopped rosemary can be too woody in a soup, so I like to simply infuse the broth with rosemary (and crisp celery leaves) then add the other freshly chopped soft herbs at the end so they are bright. I read for years about using a parmigiana cheese rind in soup and thought it was some sort of trendy, over the top silliness, but turns out it is really a great idea. It adds some depth and saltiness, and a hint of nuttiness that goes so well with the farro. Buy a wedge of real parmigiana for the fricos and cut off the rind. But you can (and should) save the rind of any wedge in a Ziploc in the freezer, though I have now found that the better cheese counters at the grocery now sell rinds. I love Italian borlotti beans, and sometimes find them at stores or online, most easily at Hispanic markets where they are labeled Roman beans. If you can’t find them, lovely white cannellini are perfect. Topping this soup with crispy cheese fricos is pretty and interesting, but feel free to just grate some cheese directly over the bowl.