February 28th, 2012

Five Allium Farro Soup, and Spoonbread


The Onion Family
garlic, scallions, onions, leeks, shallots, chives

I credit this humble tribe for waking me up, turning me around, and nudging me in the right culinary direction, oh-so many years ago. Once an affirmed picky eater, I had disliked ‘most everything. I had heaped onions and their ilk into my big pile of things never-ever to eat.

It wasn’t until I lived in Holland that I became enlightened to their beneficent ways.


I was an exchange student, just out of high school. Gert, my Dutch mother, was a kind and patient woman who allowed me to accompany her on her daily round of shopping for the meals. Together we’d choose vegetables, a bit of meat, potatoes–of course!–and a hearty loaf of bread. I would help her wash and cut carrots, peel the spuds, trim the white endive.

She understood that I was picky, and that I was trying to push past the barriers I’d long entrenched for myself. Working together on the meals not only helped me to better learn the language and culture, indeed it forged a loving bond, easing me into the fold of her family.

Maybe she sensed that, deep inside me, there was a burgeoning chef, the anti-picky eater.


In any case, it was her skillet thick with sliced onions, simmering in butter, softening, then gaining that rich caramel glaze that I recognize as my revelatory moment: what my writing teacher calls a “Shimmering Image.”

I had come home from a class late one afternoon, and Gert had already done most of the dinner preparations. I don’t remember what the skillet of caramelized onions was for–could have been a base for a soup or stew. It doesn’t–and didn’t– matter. What mattered was the smell. It filled the kitchen with a pungency that was heady and earthy and sweet and compelling. It touched on something–a memory? a desire?

I wasn’t sure. It was nothing I would ever have attributed to onions. I had to have a taste, pickyness be damned!

I grabbed a spoon and dug in. Mercy, what had I been missing?


It’s funny how change occurs. Often it is slow, almost imperceptible in its unfolding. And then there are those Great A-Ha’s! A dramatic turn, where nothing is the same as before. After my indulgent spoonful of sweet sauteed onions, I opened my senses to the world of food.

In no time, the disdained became the embraced.

This simple hearty soup is a celebration of that first skillet of Genus Allium. I’ve put in most of the family—I love ’em all—each contributing a lush layer of savory-sweet bite. It’s vegetarian, although you could make it with chicken or beef stock, if you like. I prefer the straightforward vegetable. Delete the butter, and it becomes vegan.

Farro, that wonderful nutritious and nutlike grain, cooks up beautifully in the soup. It adds body, and a pleasant chewiness. Serve the soup with crusty bread—or try this easy, airy spoonbread. Essentially, it’s a cornmeal mush souffle—and it is divine.


2 medium Yellow Onions, sliced “pole to pole”
2 Leeks, cleaned, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 large Green Onions or 1 bundle thin green onions, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 large or 2 medium Shallots, diced
5-6 cloves Garlic, chopped
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Butter
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
a few sprigs fresh Thyme (optional)
a few sprigs of Chives, finely chopped
1 quart Vegetable Stock
1 cup Farro, briefly soaked in water and drained

Heat a stockpot and add olive oil and butter. Add your cut onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic. Stir well to coat the pieces. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes (or so), the onions will begin to release their natural sugars and caramelize.

Pour in vegetable stock and stir well, scraping any browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Add the farro. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

If the soup get too thick, add water–2 cups–to thin. You will not sacrifice flavor. Check seasoning—add some red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme at the end of the cooking cycle, if you like.

Spoon into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

Serves 4


Have you ever eaten spoonbread?

It is a Southern delicacy, light–airy—so like a souffle.


Some recipes call for separating the eggs, beating the whites and yolks separately, and folding into the mix, just as you would for a souffle. This recipe, based on the famous one served at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, calls for whole eggs, beaten into the cornmeal mush for a long time.


It, too, results in a Grand Puff.

You’ll enjoy dipping your spoon into this special treat–a bit elegant, but rustic at its roots.



2 cups Lowfat MIlk
1 cup Yellow Corn Meal
1 t. Salt
3 T. Unsalted Butter, plus 1 T. for coating baking dish
3 lightly beaten Eggs
1 t. Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, heat milk. Stir in cornmeal and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, but becomes smooth—corn meal mush. Stir in butter until it is melted. Remove from heat.

Place eggs into a stand mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Begin beating. Gradually add cornmeal mush. Keep beating—up to 15 minutes total. This seems long—but it beats sufficient air into the batter, which will make a delectably light spoonbread.

Pour batter into buttered baking dish or casserole.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until spoonbread has risen, with a browned top, and a toothpick, once insert, removes clean.

Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.


Posted in Breads, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes

38 Responses to “Five Allium Farro Soup, and Spoonbread”
  1. Tracy Says:

    Great story, Nancy. I really enjoyed it. I often cringe when I hear that people don’t love onions. How can they not?

  2. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I know, Tracy–our food would be quite bland and boring with any of the Onion family to enliven it. And, yet, I was there–once upon a time.

  3. Madeleine Says:

    I love this story. I love that I was eating onions in Holland earlier today– albetit at the Schiphol airport– and thinking of you (all before this post was posted). Most of all, I love you!

  4. Christy Says:

    Ooooh, this looks like a lovely soup!!:) I am sure it is a bowl of delightful tastes; with such nice ingredients in it:D

  5. Beth Says:

    Your soup looks wonderful, and I loved the story behind it. It’s funny how sometimes we think we dislike a certain food, only to find out that we actually love it. When I was a kid, I was sure I hated sweet potatoes. But as an adult, it’s one of my favorites!

  6. Epicurea Says:

    simply wonderful post – love the photo of all the different kinds of onions, love your story, love the description of how they taste and love the idea of a super-onion soup!

  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I love that you were eating onions in Holland earlier today while I was posting about eating onions in Holland 40 years ago. I love the wondrous confluence of all things. Most of all I love you. And I’m happy you are back safe from Tanzania

  8. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    You have the best hearty and savory recipes. Corn meal mush sounds so comforting. I love how the caramelizing process transforms those pungent onions into a sweet jam base for the soup.

  9. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    I,too, love the story behind this soup. But, how did I ever miss having spoonbread? Yours looks delicious, and I can’t wait to try it.

  10. rhonda Says:

    I Love the recipes, the story and the synchronicity all folded in to this one page. Thanks Nancy, and Madeleine!

  11. Barbara Says:

    Love that you’ve used farro in this soup, Nancy. I’ve never done that. Fun to use a variety of onions too. This looks delish!
    I love spoon bread…my recipe folds in egg whites so it’s lighter. But spoon bread of any kind is always on my radar.

  12. Teresa/foodonfifth.com Says:

    Spoon Breads are one of my most beloved dishes and as you know they are a staple in the South. I have never had a spoon bread in Holland but I will try to get Wouter to make one for me. On my next trip I must hunt out a classic Dutch spoon bread as well. In the meantime I’ll try out this wonderful recipe you have shared with me. Lovely blend of flavors and textures.

  13. Laura Says:

    In a word… delightful!!! The stories both old and new and food that warms the heart and soul. I can’t wait to try it!

  14. gg loyd Says:

    This recipe is a balm for my soul this rainy late- winter morning, thank you! xoxo

  15. Wendy Says:

    YAY, Madeleine is on her way home! Aren’t we such fortunate mothers.
    I loved these recipes–I could smell those simmering onions in Gert’s kitchen and taste the creamy spoonbread of my youth. Thanks for such an evocative post.

  16. Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb Says:

    You wont believe me but I was pretty much the same, could swallow onion, the smell alone was making me feel disgusted, but I had my aha experience and then I became addicted to french onion soup. lol

    Your soup is new to me, I d give it surely a try!
    Spoonbread never heard either, but it looks like a souffle, so I guesse I d love it.

    Learned a bunch of new things here. thx for sharing!

  17. Barbara Says:

    Hi Nance-I too love your onion story and I too was once an onion hater. We do need to point at that our father–who has loved onions so much, I can remember him eating them raw with left over beef for breakfast! I guess it is in our DNA.
    Love the soup recipe and want to try it soon.

  18. Nancy Says:

    aw, love your story about Gert and the delectable caramelized onions. as a life-long allium lover i am putting this soup at the top of my must-make list, with that gorgeous spoon bread by its side.

  19. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Barbara—you are so right about our father, the greatest onion lover of ’em all!! Ha! It’s gotta be in the DNA!!!

  20. Faith Says:

    What a meal! It looks so cozy and comforting. My mom isn’t a fan of onion but I bet this would convert her!

  21. Angie@Angie's Recipes Says:

    We love onions. The farro stew looks droolworthy. A satisfying and wonderful meal.

  22. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    What a beautiful soup! The weather in Sydney has been soup weather for the past couple of days. Will need to make this on the weekend. So comforting

  23. Robin Says:

    All-Yum! on All-ium accounts.
    (sorry, couldn’t help it) :) xo

  24. Caroline Says:

    Mmmm both the soup and bread sound fantastic! I used to be one of the pickiest eaters as well, but I’ve definitely moved past that! Though, you still won’t find me trying octopus, frog legs or something like that. That kind of food stillll freaks me out. ;)

  25. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    you have done what I have been meaning to do all winter and that is spoonbread. One of my favorite things in the world and yours looks utterly delicious! I love the name of this soup. I am wishing I had a big bowl right now!

  26. Maggie Says:

    This looks so yummy and easy, Nance!!! Love your story, too! I can relate; I was eighteen before I would even try Mama’s fabulous homemade soup! I wonder if behind every picky eater there lurks a foodie!

  27. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I think there’s some real truth in that, Mag!

  28. Katie@Cozydelicious Says:

    Oooh, that soup looks awesome! I have got to make that recipe ASAP! I think my husband would love it too – and it is healthy!

  29. FOODESSA Says:

    Elegant and rustic sing together with this meal.

    Ohh…how I wish some of us lived closer. Our meals grouped together would place permanent palate and tummy smiles at every seating.

    Have a fabulous weekend Nancy.

    Ciao for now,

  30. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    What a wonderful meal for this time of the year. I don’t know what I would do if I could not use various alliums in my cooking. They contribute so much to a recipe.

  31. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com Says:

    Spoon bread or souffle, that looks amazing!! And I need to try farro soon — it’s been calling my name far(ro) too long ;)

  32. Chris and Amy Says:

    The story, the soup, the spoon bread. It all looks and sounds delicious!!!

  33. Juliana Says:

    Nancy, I like the idea of different variety of allium…must really taste delicious. Spoonbread? This is new to me, and I already like it :)
    Hope you are have a wonderful week ahead!

  34. Simply Life Says:

    I have yet to cook with farro but really want to try- this looks fabulous!

  35. Mary Says:

    Wow. You really did put a whole lot of onions in that soup. I bet the layers of different flavors were just wonderful!

  36. anh@anhsfoodblog.com Says:

    What a meal! The soup and corn bread sound absolutely delicious.

  37. Rach Says:

    My kind of soup. And spoon bread – part from having such a wonderful name – sounds fab.

  38. Amber Says:

    This recipe sounds lovely. I think that it’s not possible to have too many Alliums in a dish. :) I’ll modify it when I make it though, because farro is definitely not gluten-free.

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