Our favourite time to visit Italy is during late Spring just before the searing heat of the summer. Not that I’m averse to sitting in shady cloisters with an icy beer, it’s just that we can do so much more when we’re not overcome with the heat. Even in the summer though, the clouds above Assisi gather ominously over the surrounding mountains and we quickly learned that is the time to seek shelter before the torrential storm hits. Then, be prepared to sit it out for at least an afternoon as the temperature tumbles to early spring lows. At times like this, I make this sunny Tuscan soup – even though we are in Umbria – to sustain us and warm our hearts. It’s perfect with chunks of crusty bread, a drizzle of freshly made pesto and a glass of hearty Umbrian red.
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 large leek, finely sliced
900ml vegetable stock 900ml
1 tbsp tomato purée 1 tbsp
2 handfuls of pearl barley
1 x400g tin of borlotti beans, drained
Spring greens, finely shredded
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
100g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Freshly made pesto (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
Heat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a large pan then add the garlic, carrots, celery and leeks. Cover and gently cook until softened (around 10 minutes).
Add the stock, tomato purée and barley. Bring to a simmer then cook for 20 minutes until barley is tender but with a little bite.
Add the beans, greens, tomatoes and chilli flakes (if using) and simmer for five more minutes.
Season to taste, stir in the pesto (if using) and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.