If you are in Italy and see a soup with orzo on the menu, then you are likely to have come to one of the two northeast regions, Trentino or Friuli, where barley, orzo in Italian, is a popular soup ingredient. Don’t mistake it for the pasta shape by the same name, which is more common in Middle Eastern than in Italian cooking.
I have based this chard and barley soup on various models, all from Friuli. Some may have had spinach instead of chard or cranberry beans instead of cannellini, or omitted the tomatoes, or added garlic—all of them choices that you too can make. I am happy with my version: I like tomatoes in a soup—they add a fresh, sharp taste—and although I certainly don’t shrink from using garlic, I don’t have to have it always. It’s possible, too, to substitute rice for barley, but I would miss the barley if it weren’t there. There is such a satisfyingly chewy quality to barley, and moreover there is something about its pearl-like shape that feels very good in the mouth. It takes a long while to cook, between 40 and 45 minutes, although you can cook it less if you want it firmer. Be careful, however; don’t go overboard on firmness, because the tenderness of fully cooked barley is very appealing.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.