Variations on Hugh’s Beef and Farro Soup

Sheila and Rick on Vacation

Rick and Sheila enjoying winter!

Mayor De Blasio of NYC has been hyping the “Blizzard of 2015″ aka ” winter storm Juno,” which – if true – would be the first thing he has gotten right since he assumed office over a year ago.   Personally, I am always interested in how many snowplows the labor unions in NYC can mobilize for a winter storm or how many tons of salt will be spread on New York streets to make sure  auto commuters (and to a lesser extent: pedestrians) are not inconvenienced.    I don’t mean to trivialize the seriousness of a winter storm, but I am terribly disappointed that the YMCA will be closed tomorrow so I won’t be able to enjoy my daily sauna.   (Editor’s Note:  As the picture to the left suggests, the “California Dreamers” still believe they are on vacation.)

In any event, Sheila and I braved the crowds by elbowing our way through Whole Foods to stock up for a particularly bitter winter storm.  We opted for Hugh Acheson’s “Beef and Farro Soup” which was recently featured in  Food and Wine.   While this is more of a stew than a soup, Sheila decided to make several modifications to give the stew (sic soup) more flavor.  Personally, I am glad that she did.

Variations on Hugh’s Beef and Farro Soup

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces  (Editor’s Note:  Sheila recommends a mixture of 50% boned short ribs and 50% chuck for more taste.  Chuck is too dry!)
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 9 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 head of garlic, pierced all over with a knife
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 leek, light green and white parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 small bunch Tuscan kale, chopped (3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons white miso (Editor’s Note:  This adds nothing to the taste – eliminate!)
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika  (Editor’s Note:  Make this a Tablespoon, a teaspoon is useless!)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish (Editor’s Note:  The photograph shows shaved parmesan – grated is better!)


  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the meat with salt and pepper, add half to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned, about 5 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate. Repeat with the remaining meat.
  2. Pour off all of the oil from the casserole. Add 1 cup of the stock and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Add the remaining 8 cups of stock along with the meat, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Stir in the farro and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over moderate heat until the farro is almost tender, 20 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, leek, celery, carrots, kale, miso and paprika. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Discard the garlic and herb sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with cheese and serve.

Again, this is a hearty stew more than a soup.  Enjoy on a cold winter’s day.

Getty and San Diego

Sheila and I were sorry to leave behind idyllic San Luis Obispo, but we needed to time our push south to avoid the infernal Los Angeles traffic.   One of our goals this trip was to visit the magnificent Getty Museum.  We had visited the Getty Villa in Malibu some years ago, but the new museum was supposed to be an architectural wonder overlooking sprawling LA.  The ride down Highway 101 (including a short stretch of Interstate 405) took us about 3 and a half hours.

Now, my primary goal was to see the Getty’s remarkable collection of illustrated manuscripts. Sure, there were some lovely Monet’s and Van Gogh’s but, in my opinion, nothing can compare to the breathtaking beauty of these divine treasures. I was not disappointed.

Parking at the Getty is $15 but entrance to the museum is free. We took a cable tram from the parking facilities to the museum, but walked down (about a 15 to 20 minute leisurely walk). Given our time constraints, we only visited two of the five large buildings in the Getty complex, but I would certainly allocate an entire day to explore their lovely gardens and other exhibition halls. Pleased to see so many children exposed to such great art. In honor of being in California, I dined at the Getty cafeteria on the traditional tofu quesadilla and washed it down with a pomegranate and kale smoothie. Good Lord!

Following our abbreviated visit to the Getty, we dashed down to the John Wayne International airport where we met sister Leslie and her husband Paul. Paul had just gotten back from a fishing trip in Patagonia with my brother Jon where they fished for giant rainbow trout in (you have got to be kidding!) Jurassic Lake. Frankly, I have never seen trout this large.

Leslie and Paul were delightful hosts and escorted us around San Diego. They live just north in Carlsbad and we took daily walks along the beach along with the other health freaks that populate this delightful stretch of California. The weather is so perfect that it is almost boring, but we weren’t there long enough to get bored. Having lived in Mediterranean countries for so many years, there is something to be said for the importance of sunshine on one’s attitude. Indeed, everyone seemed quite happy and relaxed.

As it was a long weekend (celebrating Martin Luther King day), most of the traditional attractions were packed and there was quite a bit of traffic congestion. We visited the famed Hotel Coronado (see below) which is the largest wood hotel in the United States.

Coronado Hotel in San Diego California

On the way back, we even managed to stop by the famed Torrey Pines golf course which will be hosting a major golfing event in February. I even managed to have my picture taken by a sign showing the more difficult South Course against a beautiful blue sky. The only reason I had a smile on my face was that I didn’t have a chance to play. At 7,600 yards and a slope of 144, it does seem to be a bit of a difficult course for an amateur.

I hadn’t seen Leslie and Paul in quite sometime and it was wonderful catching up again on each other’s lives. Can’t wait to visit California again. If I can lower my handicap a bit this year, I would be thrilled to play both Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. These California Dreamers were sad to be leaving balmy San Diego to return to the chill and snow in Connecticut.

San Luis Obispo

Sheila and I decided to take a 2 night break from our road trip in San Luis Obispo.  While San Luis Obispo is clearly a Spanish name, the locals would have no idea that you were talking about their town if you were pronouncing it properly.  Rather than butcher another language (the English still haven’t quite forgiven us for ruining theirs), I simply avoided referring to it as “San Looie.”


We stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast recommended by sister Leslie called Petit Soleil, which is run by a charming couple interested in recreating some European hospitality.   They succeeded brilliantly!   We were greeted with a lovely wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres in the evening and a delicious home-cooked breakfast in the morning.  Furthermore, we received useful information on nearby vineyards and the local dining scene.  We were not misled. I would certainly recommend Petit Soleil if you happen to be in this neck of the woods.

We arrived rather late in the afternoon after our leisurely drive down the Pacific Coast Highway and opted to dine at Sidecar, which was about a 20 minute walk from the bed and breakfast.   (Editor’s Note:  For Christmas I received one of those bracelets that records your sleep patterns and monitors the number of steps you take each day.  It even shocks you if you have been inactive for more than 30 minutes.   I feel closer to the Terminator each day!)  Sidecar is a relatively funky but low-key restaurant and we had some delicious Brussels sprouts (blue cheese, aioli and a balsamic reduction) and sampled a few local wines.

After lunch the following day at Luna Red, we visited several local vineyards and discovered that our favorites wines were a local Riesling and a Grüner Veltlinier from the Zöcker and Claiborne & Churchill wineries.

That evening we were thrilled to get a chance to attend the local market.  They close down about 6 blocks on the main street of town and you can find everything from BBQ to farm vegetables and kettle popcorn to Tibetan incense.  Quite an experience.

Lamb Biriyiani at Foremost Wine Restaurant

Lamb Biriyiani at Foremost Wine Restaurant

That evening, we visited Foremost Restaurant which had just opened in November.   The chef is a young French woman and the cuisine was most interesting.   We sampled a number of “small” plates which could easily have served two and clearly ordered far too much.  The “Serrano” (burrata and jamon serrano) could easily have served four.    The sweetbreads were OK, the grilled octopus had a bit too much chorizo for my taste, but the lamb biryani was exceptional.   This is clearly an excellent restaurant and I am quite sure that it will prosper as long as the chef stays engaged.  A very nice treat.

Needless to say, we walked to and fro to make sure that I met my quota of steps each day (Editor’s Note:  I am doing quite well with my sleeping goals.  Having to send a weekly “progress” report to my daughters makes me feel like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

California Dreamers off to La La Land and then San Diego.