Most of time, I riff in the kitchen. I read cookbooks in bed, and I’m all over the Times food section, and I love Smitten Kitchen, but when it comes right down to it, I rarely make a recipe as printed.
Not long ago, a friend posted something on Facebook, wondering if she could substitute farro for barley in a hamburger soup that she was making. I looked at her recipe and thought, eh, not hamburger, how about sausage? But other than using less of a different meat, and adding a piece of parmesan rind, I pretty much followed the recipe, and wow – it was really good. That little bit of barley gives the soup a certain unctuousness. There’s so little meat in it that the meat becomes more like a condiment, but the little chunks you pick up are delicious. And, parmesan rinds are a wee bit of magic – turning trash into goodness. Keep them in a bag in the freezer, and throw one into a soup. Like this one:
Sausage and Barley Soup
½ pound sweet Italian sausage, out of its casing (if it was in links to begin with)
A glug of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 big red skinned potato, raw & unpeeled, in ½” cubes.
1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
1-2 cups shredded cabbage
½ of a 28oz can of whole plum tomatoes
Piece of parmesan rind (optional)
28oz of water
1 bay leaf
½ t. dried thyme
½ t. dried basil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup barley
In a nice soup pot (I think mine is 6 quarts), sauté the sausage and onions in the olive oil until the sausage looks cooked through and the onions are translucent. Add the potato, carrots, and celery. Add the tomatoes, squeezing the whole ones through your fingers as you add them to the pot. Fill the tomato can with water and add the tomato tinged water to the pot. If you have a parm rind in the freezer, add it. It’ll add a certain funkiness to the soup. Add bay leaf, thyme and basil, and salt & pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a boil, then cover & simmer for a ½ hour. Check the liquid level and add more water if you think it needs it. Add the barley and simmer, covered, for another ½ hour or so.
When it’s done, fish out the parmesan rind, and chill the soup overnight. Like so many things, it’ll be better tomorrow. Serve hot, and bring the leftovers to work.