Rosemary White Bean Soup with Barley

This smoky soup is a riff on a minestrone, with pearled barley taking the place of the pasta. I used my own homemade vegetable stock, but the rich flavors come from just a touch of bacon and a burst of fresh garlic on the finish. Even if you skip the bacon, you’ll have a beautiful bowl of soup packed with high fiber, lean protein and vegetables.

  • 1/2 cup pearled barley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz. bacon, finely diced (see tips)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 28 oz. can peeled whole plum tomatoes
  • Pesto, for serving (see tips)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

  • In a small skillet, toast the barley over medium low heat until lightly browned and aromatic, about 15 minutes. The barley should have a warm, nutty smell. Remove it from the heat and set aside.
  • In a large stock pot, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic along with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir the vegetables to coat with oil, cooking them until they are softened and starting to brown slightly, another 5 minutes. Add the white wine to the pot and increase the heat to high. Cook for a minute or so while the wine cooks off, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bay leaf and rosemary to the pot along with the toasted pearled barley. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat for 20 minutes. The barley should be just barely tender. Add the beans and tomatoes with their juice, using the back of a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. You can also use clean hands to squeeze the tomatoes to break them up a bit. Cook for another 5 minutes on low until heated through.
  • Remove the bay leave and the rosemary stem (the leaves will have fallen off into the soup at this point). Ladle the soup into bowls, then top with a small dollop of pesto and some grated Parmesan. Serve.
  • Quick Tips
  • 1. I hardly ever use bacon, so I get annoyed when a recipe calls for bacon and I have to buy a whole 12 oz. package. What am I supposed to do with all that? I recently found the perfect solution. I freeze the entire package, then use a sharp knife to cut off only what I need. For this recipe, I cut across the strips (which were all frozen together and unable to be pried apart) an inch at a time until I had 2 oz. I used a kitchen scale to measure, but you can estimate about an ounce per inch of bacon you cut across a full package. You can dice up the bacon very nicely while it’s still frozen solid, then put the package back into the freezer until the next time you need just a little bit.
  • 2. You can use any pesto you like. I tried a very garlicky variety that was the perfect finish to the dish. If you don’t have any pesto on hand, you can throw together a hand-chopped pesto very easily. Roughly chop 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts and a few tablespoons of basil or flat-leaf parsley. Toss in 2 pressed garlic cloves and a pinch of salt. Mash with a spoon, then drizzle a little olive oil until it’s formed a thick paste. This will give a nice garlicky bite.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

4 responses to “Rosemary White Bean Soup with Barley”

  1. This looks like a perfect dinner for me for Sunday! I fell in love with barley last winter, and this looks like a perfect combo for it in a soup. Thanks!!

  2. Jean says:

    I made this soup last night and am undecided about whether I’ll make it again. It was straightforward to prepare, but I had some quibbles with the recipe. First, I undercooked the barley just a bit, so next time would give it longer to cook than the 20 minutes suggested for the initial phase. Second, although I liked the sweet/smoky taste of the bacon infused in the soup, I didn’t like the texture of the little cooked bits that were left in it. I’d either leave out the bacon all together or remove the bits before adding the stock. Finally, I’d opt next time for chopped tomato vs. whole, because my 2-year-old and I both found the larger globs difficult to eat.

    • Alicia says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jean. You made me realize I forgot a step in the instructions. I used the back of a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. You can also use your hands to squeeze them one by one. Sorry about that! Your idea for diced tomatoes is also a good one. Updating the instructions now…thanks for pointing this out.

  3. Talia says:

    Great taste but I would really double the cooking time for the barley, I let it simmer for an extra 20 minutes

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