Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Minestra di Fagioli e Orzo

Once again today is cool, gray and rainy day. It is one of those days where all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a fuzzy throw and read a book and sip hot tea. When the weather is cold and gray I always seem to crave soup. Since we are going out for dinner tonight I also need to make something for the hubby’s lunch tomorrow.

Last weekend I had cooked a half-pound of mini fava beans to use this week. Obviously those fava beans became the basis of my soup today. I love to make soups that include beans since they seem to be more filling and include a nice dose of needed protein.

There are so many Italian vegetables soups but they all fall into a few categories. Zuppa is a broth based vegetable soup always includes bread or croutons. Minestra is a vegetable soup that includes a grain like rice or pasta. Minestroni is a thicker more substantial soup that is often served as a meal. Orzo in Italian means barley. That is why the small pasta is named orzo, after barley. I personally think that orzo pasta looks more like rice than barley, but what do I know.

The name of this soup in Italian means vegetable soup (minestra) with beans (fagioli) and barley (orzo). I make variations of this soup all winter long. Vegetable soup with beans has always been a favorite of mine. Now I make it as healthy as possible by not adding unnecessary oil to sauté the vegetables, adding whole grains (barley), and kale to maximize the nutrition. Every ingredient in this soup is good for you. Here is what I made today.

Minestra di Fagioli e Orzo
Makes 6 – 2 cup servings


1 red onion, peeled and finely minced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (allow to stand 10 minutes before cooking so allicin can develop)
½ cup water
14 ounces tomato sauce
14 ounces tomatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
½ cup barley, dry
2 cups of water (or what is necessary to cover the soup ingredients by an inch add as necessary)
1 pinch Italian Finishing Salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
10 fresh sage leaves, finely minced
4 cups fava beans, cooked
6 cups kale, stems removed and finely minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Water sauté the red onion and garlic until tender. Then add the remaining ingredients, except the kale, and simmer until the barley is tender (about 45 minutes). Remove the bay leaves. Add the kale and cook until it is wilted (about 5 minutes). Add the red wine vinegar just before serving. The vinegar helps to lift the flavor with out adding salt and is reported to lower the glycemic index of food. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve hot.

Nutritional Information:

Amount Per Serving
Calories - 256.91
Calories From Fat (5%) - 12.18

Total Fat - 1.45g
Saturated Fat - 0.22g
Cholesterol - 0mg
Sodium - 437.09mg
Potassium - 1042.19mg
Total Carbohydrates - 50.79g
Fiber - 12.31g
Sugar - 6.78g
Protein - 14.37g


In my opinion this is a great rainy weather meal. Like all soups and stews it gets better as it sits in the refrigerator. Because kale is a cruciferous vegetable I cooked it as little as possible so it would retain more nutrition.

Italians like to add a little drizzle of fresh extra virgin olive oil to dishes like this. They keep a bottle of oil on the table with the salt and pepper. If you use a flavorful unfiltered oil a half or quarter teaspoon of oil is enough to really change the character of the dish. I didn’t add it this time, but it would have been a wonderful finish to the dish.

Each serving of this soup contains 11,100IU of vitamin A, 90mg of vitamin C, 160mg of calcium, 150mcg of folate, 550mcg of vitamin K, 250mg of phosphorus, 100mg of magnesium, and 10mcg of selenium. That is a ton of nutrition for 250 calories. This is definitely my kind of meal.


  1. Very nice. It's a fancier version of the minestrone I threw together last week and have been eating on about every other day. :-)

  2. Cindy,

    Thanks! I make a lot of soups like this in the fall and winter. There is just something about cold weather that seems to call for soup to me.


  3. What a beautiful soup! I love veggie soup with beans too. Last night, I put white beans and egg noodles in my vegetable soup, my family loved it!

  4. Oraphan,


    I love white beans in soup too....all beans really. Don't think I have actually met a bean I didn't like.

    talk to you later,

  5. Yum! I was looking for a new way to eat kale, so I'll have to try this. I love seeing all your Italian recipes. I lived in Italy for just six months, but I miss it terribly and am always looking for ways to keep it in my life.

  6. Possibly the most gorgeous name for soup ever! I want to hear someone say it that can get the accent right and everything :)

    This has a lot of similarities to a nameless soup I made a few nights ago, with cannelli beans, baby spinach, fire roasted tomatoes, and barley being the key players. I'm super intrigued by your choice of spices, namely the fennel seeds and fresh sage. This is a combination I must try.

    Also I've never heard of this technique of allowing minced garlic to stand for 10 minutes before cooking. Great tip!

  7. Brigid,

    I am always looking for more ways to add kale to our diet too. It is such a healthy vegetable that I don't think we can eat too much.

    I have spent many months in Italy on vacation so I can only imagine how much you miss it. I miss it and I didn't live there. Although I would love to live there!

    Where were you living in Italy? Did you get to the amalfi coast? Ravello is one of my favorite places in Italy.


  8. Sarah,

    I love the Italian language too, it is beautiful when spoken by natives.

    The fennel is a nod to my Southern Italian heritage, they put fennel and hot peppers in almost everything. The Tuscans frequently put sage in beans which I think is a magical combination.

    The garlic trick is something I read about probably 10 years ago and have seen it mentioned recently by Dr. Oz. From what I remember the act of crushing or mincing the garlic is what activitates the production of allicin. This process takes 10 minutes and won't happen if you immediately heat it. I actually smash the garlic and set a timer for 10 minutes and then come back and start dinner.



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