One of my favorite dishes to serve in the wintertime is Cranberry Bean and Farro Soup - nourishing and fragrant with fresh herbs. I place the steaming pot on the table and ladle the soup into bowls before breaking open a loaf of no-knead sourdough to serve with it.
There’s nothing particularly fancy or complicated about the soup. It’s a straightforward pot of beans, heritage grain, and broth. Like most bean dishes, it’s mercifully light on the budget. But beyond filling bellies, this soup, brimming with creamy beans, fragrant herbs, and winter vegetables, offers deep nourishment.
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What Are Cranberry Beans and Farro
Cranberry beans are plump, tan-colored beans riddled by deep maroon streaks. These heirloom beans are popular in Italian cooking, where they’re also known as Borlotti or Saluggia beans.
They have a creamy texture and delicate flavor that’s both earthy and nutty. Like many other pulses, Cranberry beans blend beautifully with rich flavors like cured pork, olive oil and herbs. Flavors that are both vibrant and rich tend to lighten and lift up the earthy flavor of beans.
Farro, like cranberry beans, is a food steeped in deep heritage. It’s an Italian word that identifies three varieties of heritage wheat: einkorn, spelt and emmer. These grains are further clarified by terms like farro piccolo for einkorn, farro grande for spelt and farro media for emmer.
Most farro you purchase in the U.S. is pearled or semi-pearled, which means part of its bran layer is gently rubbed away. This traditional practice makes grains easier to store and quicker to cook, and it also makes soaking them in advance unnecessary.
There’s a distinct charm in the preservation of heirloom foods, and in the pursuit of heritage cooking. Without the dedicated love of farmers and home cooks, these foods that once nourished generation upon generations of healthy families would be lost to time. That’s one reason that I enjoy working with brands like Bob’s Red Mill who are committed to not only preserving these heirloom varietals, but to making them available for home cooks. They have a wide variety of heritage beans and grains, that you can purchase at many natural grocers or online here.
What Makes Cranberry Bean and Farro Soup Good for You
Pulses, like these Cranberry beans tend to feature prominently in the diets of some of the longest lived peoples on earth, and with good reason, too. They’re inexpensive, filling, and deeply nourishing. They’re particularly rich in fiber that helps to nourish a healthy gut microbiome. And when you prepare them properly, with a good soak overnight or by sprouting, they’re also a good source of various minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium as well as vitamins like thiamin, B6 and folate.
To make this Cranberry Bean and Farro Soup, you’ll also add plenty of nourishing, protein-rich bone broth which complements the amino acids in the beans for a fuller and more complete profile. Tomatoes, vegetables and fresh herbs contribute plenty of micronutrients, like antioxidants, dietary fiber and minerals that help to further amplify the goodness in this soup.
Why We Soak Cranberry Beans for Soup
Cranberry beans, like most other pulses, benefit from soaking. Soaking the beans in advance helps to shorten their cooking time, ensuring they also cook evenly once you boil them. While beans are a mineral-rich food, many of those minerals are bound and are not otherwise bioavailable - that is your body has trouble absorbing them. But if you soak the beans in hot water overnight, an enzymatic reaction occurs that helps to make them more easily and readily absorbed by your body.
In addition to soaking the beans, you’ll want to add two things to the soak water: sea salt and baking soda. Sea salt helps to flavor the beans, not just superficially, but deep inside while baking soda helps to release raffinose, a complex carbohydrate that can make beans and other pulses difficult to digest.
Cranberry Bean and Farro Soup
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Cranberry Beans
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons finely ground real salt
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 sprigs fresh sage
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 oz bacon chopped
- 1 yellow onion minced
- 3 carrots minced
- 4 celery ribs minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 6 cups bone broth
- 1 diced tomatoes
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Organic Farro
- 1 bunch basil thinly sliced
- The night before you plan to cook the soup, pour the beans into a medium mixing bowl and cover them with hot water by two inches. Stir in the baking soda and sea salt, and allow the beans to soak overnight, at least 8 and up to 12 hours. The next day, drain and rinse the beans well.
- Pour the beans into a medium sauce pan, and cover them with 1 quart water, and bring them to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to medium low and simmer them until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain the beans and set them aside.
- Take an 8-inch length of cooking twine and tie the thyme, sage and bay together. Set the bundle of herbs on the counter while you prepare the soup.
- Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the bacon and allow it to cook in the hot oil until it renders its fat and becomes crispy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic to the hot fat, stirring them occasionally until the vegetables release their fragrance and the onions turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Pour in the chicken bone broth, and then stir in the farro, reserved cranberry beans and tomatoes. Drop in the bundle of herbs and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until the farro blooms and is tender.
- Once the farro softens and becomes tender, turn off the heat, and then remove the bundle of herbs. Taste the soup’s broth, and then add salt as you like it. Serve hot with finely sliced basil.
Where to Find Cranberry Beans and Farro
As an heirloom varietal, cranberry beans can be a little more difficult to find than more common beans. You can often find them in specialty markets and natural foods stores. One of the best ways to get a hold of cranberry beans, and other heirloom beans and grains, is simply to order them online.
Bob’s Red Mill specializes in many of these heirloom varietals of both beans and grain, and you can shop for cranberry beans and farro online here.
If you like Cranberry Bean Soup, try these.
Beans, broth and vegetables are a natural match. They’re inexpensive, wholesome and make for a delicious, no-fuss supper or lunch. You can make large batches to freeze and, like most soups, there’s plenty of room for invention, adjustments and opportunity to make the dish truly your own.
Kale and White Bean Soup is a classic soup that combines Italian beans with kale, good broth and herbs.
Marrow Bean Soup with Pale Vegetables is delicate owing to its use of marrow beans which offer a creamy texture and a flavor reminiscent of bacon.
Kidney Bean and Vegetable Soup is a classic, and super easy to make in the Instant Pot.