Fall is finally upon us. Mellow, sunny and dry as a bone. We’ve had hardly any rain in more than two months.
It’s funny how rain has a completely different effect on those who live and work in the countryside. City people look outside their windows to decide on their day’s outfit or to figure if they’ll be able to have an aperitivo at the outdoor café downstairs.
We country folk are worry about the vegetable world. That even goes for those of us who only have few trees and don’t make a living out of the earth. Without rain, there’s no grass, figs disappear after the first week of production, and the wine, we know, will be too sweet.
Heaven forbid if the olives fall on the ground before we can manage to harvest them.
Olive oil, our green fragrant liquid gold, is a big deal here in Umbria. Almost every family has olive trees, some of them hundreds of years old. In October, people all are around ready the harvest. They repair nets, buy new crates, clear ground around the olive trees.
Then one day the nets come out all at once. You can see them flapping under the trees. Everyone’s out. The older women wear flower patterned pinafores and headscarves while the younger ones don hiking attire. The men suit up in blue overalls. It’s a concerted, almost ritualized effort to bring the olives to the mill as soon as possible. In fact, only relatively unripe olives, the ones whose trees haven’t been battered by rain, make high quality olive oil. Olive harvest is a party, a worry, a rush, a thrill.
Soon, we’re all standing in line outside the mill, stomping our feet. It’s suddenly cold but we’re happy. We’ve made it. The liquid gold fills our stainless steel tanks and tins.
We go home to enjoy an earthy soup drizzled of our self-produced ambrosia. Winter is invited to officially begin.
Farro and spelt soup
- 1 large onion, sliced thin.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger.
- 1 cup/250 gr. small brown whole lentils (from Castelluccio, for example).
- 1 cup/250 gr. farro (spelt).
- Parsley, finely chopped.
- 4 cups/1 lt. water or vegetable or chicken stock.
- 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise.
- 1/2 slice toasted Italian crusty bread per person.
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino per person.
Some brands of farro might need overnight soaking in cold water (though most farro sold these days is pearled, making soaking unnecessary.)
— In a 4-quart heavy saucepan make a soffritto (sautèed chopped vegetables) by softening the onion in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden. Add ginger and stir for 1 minute.
— Add lentils and spelt, hot water or stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup is thickened and lentils are soft but still retain their shape, about 30 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper, but only when cooked.
— At this stage the cooled soup can be frozen. When ready to serve, defrost, add some water — it will be quite solid — and bring to a low boil.
— Toast bread slices, rub generously with fresh garlic and then cut them into small cubes. Ladle the soup into soup bowels; scatter over each bowl the chopped parsley, bread cubes, a teaspoon of a new harvest extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese. Serve immediately.