Umbrian Barley, Cavolo Nero and Lemon Soup with Pesto alla Genovese

High up in the hills of Umbria, winters can be long and very cold. A chilled silence wraps itself around the small towns and villages like a damp white cloak and the region falls into a kind of reflective slumber until Easter. Restaurants – at least those that choose to remain open after the feasting of Christmas – are cozy with open fires and menus featuring regional comfort foods like fresh egg tagliatelle topped with rich sauces, heirloom legume  soups and earthy mushroom and truffle-based dishes all of which are designed to sustain you ahead of a long walk in the the countryside. This soup, a beautiful melange of deeply comforting barley gently cooked with a few winter vegetables and stirred through with a bright squeeze of lemon and a slick of rich oily pesto, is just perfect for a snow day such as today providing you with the self love that you so richly deserve.

Serves 4


2 good quality vegetable stock cubes
160g pearl barley, rinsed
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, sliced 
350g pack diced butternut squash
100g cavolo nero, central stalk removed and leaves shredded
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Pesto alla genovese, to serve

How I make it

Dissolve the vegetable cubes in 1.5 litres of freshly boiled water. Pour into a medium pan and add the barley. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, heat a large pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Gently fry the chilli, fennel seeds and garlic for three to four minutes until fragrant. Add the leeks and butternut squash and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally to make sure that nothing catches on the bottom of the pan.

Add the barley and the stock and cook for a further 15 minutes until everything has cooked thorough. Add the lemon juice and season to your taste. Remove from the heat and add the shredded cavolo nero. Cover and leave to stand for five minutes. Stir in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto and scatter the lemon zest over the top.

Serve with freshly baked rustic bread (I added a couple of halved artichokes here as I had them knocking around in the fridge).

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