Our favourite time to visit Umbria is in the early summer, 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 – our favourite town on Earth – 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 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.
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 carrots 2, diced small
2 celery sticks, diced small
1 large leek, finely sliced
900ml vegetable stock 900ml
1tbsp 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
Fresh basil pesto (optional)
Heat 2tbsp 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 presto and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.