20150709-SoupChicken Farro Soup
july 10, 2015

I've been feeding my kids Chicken Rice Soup for as long as they've been eating food. It is an easy double win for me: quick to make out of leftovers and they will always have a bowl. But this time I changed it up and used farro instead of rice.

 To my great surprise, nobody said a thing at dinner time. Both kids and my husband ate it up, no questions asked or arguments made. I'll call that a great success and add this soup to the list of whole grain recipes I've been trying out recently, in hopes of finding some that my kids will eat. 

Whole grains are often the less processed versions of common favorite foods, for example brown rice is the whole grain version of white rice. By leaving all parts of the grain intact (whole), they contain more nutrition than processed versions, usually more vitamins and minerals, protein and fiber. That also leaves more flavor and texture, which I tend to like, but most kids don't. They seem to prefer smooth foods with mild flavors (except when it comes to candy and chips, I just can't figure out why Doritos and SourPatch Kids are so appealing). And so you can see why feeding whole grains to kids can be problematic.

My favorite farro dish so far has been Molly Watson's Braised Chicken with Farro, though I'm having trouble getting the chicken and the grain to cook at the same speed. Usually, the chicken is finished before the farro turns soft. Molly tweeted me that there is no need to soak the farro in advance, and her book explains that products labeled "wheat berries" are not always farro. So I sent my husband to the store to buy "farro" and tried again, with the same, crunchy result.

By then it was obvious that I must be using a different type of farro than she is. My own trip to the grocery store confirmed this: our best local bulk section stocks three different kinds!


 If you can make out the text on those labels, you'll also see that the cooking time is dramatically different: 30 minutes verses 1-2 hours! You'll also notice that one is "Semi-pearled," which basically means that some of the external coating (or whole-ness) of the grain has been rubbed off. And so the same grain, pearled, cooks more quickly than the un-pearled version. 

In an attempt to stuff my kids full of as much healthy food as they will tolerate, I purchased the un-pearled version, and soaked in in water the night before I planned to make the Braised Chicken with Farro. But, fearing that the great farro debacle might happen again and leave me with braying kids who were still hungry at bedtime, I lost my nerve and at the last minute put potatoes under the chicken instead of farro.

Which left me with a bowl of wet farro waiting in the fridge. So I simmered it for about half an hour the next morning and added it to soup made from the leftover chicken. It worked like a charm!

Chicken Farro Soup: 

This recipe relies on leftovers from a roast chicken and stock made from the bones, which should be made in a crockpot the night after the chicken is roasted. Once the chicken has been eaten and the stock is made, the soup takes about 30 minutes to prepare. This recipe will feed 2 adults and 2 children. It makes a light one pot meal as is or can be served with salad, bread and cheese for larger appetites.

1 quart (or so) chicken stock, instructions for making stock are below
1-2 cups cooked, chopped leftover roast chicken, instructions for roasting a chicken are below
2 cups cooked farro (follow packages directions to cook it, there are different kinds!)
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks or 4 chard stems, diced
handful of parsley and/or celery leaves, finely chopped

Start by making the farro. You can do this the morning of or the evening before. Cover 1 cup of farro with two inches of water in a pot and simmer until soft. This can take anywhere from half an hour to two hours, read your package directions to find out which kind you've got.

Put the stock in a pot, thaw it if it is frozen (mine usually is). Or just pour it in if it is fresh. Add the carrots, celery or chard stems and some salt. I like to start with 1/2 teaspoon and go from there, but if your stock is already salty I'd start with none. Bring to a boil and simmer until the veggies are soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the leftover chicken meat and continue to simmer until the meat is warmed.

To serve, put a scoop of farro in each bowl and ladle soup on top. Put the celery/parsley leaves in a bowl on the table along with a pepper grinder and salt shaker and allow everyone to season and garnish their own bowl.

To make the stock:

You'll need to start the stock at least the evening before you want to make the soup.

Remove any remaining meat from the roasted chicken bones, store it in the fridge and put the bones in your crockpot. You can also throw in the chicken neck and any other bones that may have come with the bird, even if they are not roasted. Peel and quarter an onion and add it to the pot, then fill the pot with water to about an inch below the rim. Cover and cook on low overnight.

In the morning, the stock should smell good, like chicken soup. If it seems undercooked, let it continue to simmer on low. It can continue simmering for most of the day. Strain the stock into a fat separator. Discard the bones, then pour it into containers and discard most of the fat floating at the top. The stock will get bitter if cooled with the bones and onion, so resist the temptation to put the entire pot in the fridge before straining.

 Let the stock cool and then refrigerate or freeze it. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week, after that it can last indefinitely in the freezer. I like to freeze mine in glass jars, they don't break as long as I leave about an inch of empty space at the top and the width of the jar is not narrower at the top than the bottom (no neck). My favorite jars for freezing are 1/2 liter Weck mold jars, though Le Parfait Terrine jars also work well. Wide mouth canning jars work too, though many of them contain the chemical bisphenol A in the plastic coating of the lids, which is something I prefer to avoid.  

To roast the chicken:
Instructions for roasting a chicken are here on this blog or in The Joy of Cooking, p. 579 of the 1997 edition. To summarize: bring the chicken to room temperature, remove the bag of organs and neck from the cavity (if there is one, sometimes there is not), preheat the oven to 400°, put the chicken in a roasting pan, rub it with salt,  roast it until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180° on a meat thermometer, usually 45 minutes to an hour for a 4-ish pound bird.


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