HOME WITH THE LOST ITALIAN: Warm up winter with hearty beef and barley soup
In my previous life as a cruise director with Clipper Cruise Line, one of my very favorite dishes was the Beef with Barley Soup. Since retiring from shipboard life 17 years ago, I have regretted not leaving with a copy of that recipe.
Unlike the canned the variety, where all of the ingredients – beef, barley and vegetables – tend to have the same, soft texture, this soup had great texture and chunks of savory roast beef. After half a dozen attempts, I have finally developed a recipe that satisfies both my cravings and my memories.
I wanted a cut of meat that would be tender after cooking in liquid for two hours, while still retaining its shape instead of dissolving into soggy shreds of beef. After sampling several different cuts, including short ribs and two types of boneless chuck roast, the unanimous choice in our kitchen is the shoulder cut of a boneless beef chuck roast, also the choice among the butchers I consulted. I use two pounds of chuck roast, which I have the butcher cut into two 1 1/2-inch-thick steaks.
For this soup, how the beef is cooked is just as important as the cut you choose. I’ve found that browning the steaks in one or two large pieces helps prevent the meat from becoming tough and dry, as it can often do when browned in smaller chunks. Once well-browned, I let the meat rest until cool and then slice it into bite-size cubes. This process ensures that my soup is filled with savory, tender morsels of roast beef.
After removing the beef from the pot, a medley of diced carrots, celery, onion, leeks and garlic are added and cooked in the savory brown beef bits. To ensure that the veggies have great texture once the soup is finished, I only cook them for about 6 to 7 minutes, just until they start to soften and become lightly browned. I then transfer them to a heatproof bowl , to be added to the soup later.
Even though this is a beef-based soup, my recipe calls for two quarts of chicken stock and just one quart of beef stock. Chicken stock (last week’s featured recipe), especially homemade, has superior flavor to store-bought beef stock, which is made mostly with yeast proteins.
Before adding the stock, I deglaze the pot with dry sherry or a dry red wine. The alcohol cooks off completely as the sherry reduces, and this added step brings wonderful depth of flavor to the soup. I also add two beef bones when cooking the stock, which ensure a strong beef flavor to the broth.
Barley has a lovely texture similar to pasta, and this cereal grain makes this soup both hearty and filling. For this recipe I use a cup of pearl barley, which I cook in chicken stock for added flavor.
This Beef with Barley Soup is warm, delicious and comforting, and I can’t imagine a better dish to serve at what ended up being the final shoot of Dave Wallis’s esteemed 40-year career as a Forum photographer. Dave is a photojournalist extraordinaire and a true artist who always strived to make our food look its very best. Tony, Gio and I are honored to have worked with him over the past five years and grateful for his dedication, professionalism, and most of all, his friendship. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Dave, we wish you all the best.
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni.
Beef with Barley Soup
Makes 3 quarts
2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, shoulder cut, cut into 1 1/2-inch thick steaks
1 pound beef bones, roasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced or cut into half-moons
2 cups leeks, white and light green part only, cut into half-moons or large diced (freeze leaves and ends to make homemade chicken stock)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1 /2 cups dry sherry or red wine, optional
3 quarts stock (I prefer 2 quarts chicken and 1 quart beef)
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
1 cup pearled barley
4 cups chicken stock or water
Kitchen twine or string
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
Grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beef bones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 30 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Create the herb sachet by placing the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and black peppercorns in the center of a square of cheesecloth (about 8×8 inches), then gather the ends together and secure with twine; set aside.
Season beef with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until lightly smoking. Cut each steak in half and add to the pot and cook, turning every 2 minutes, until well browned on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Turn heat off and transfer beef to a sheet pan or baking dish and let cool for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Return pot to burner and add the carrot, onion, celery, leeks and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until lightly browned, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, about 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a heatproof bowl and set aside.
If using, add dry sherry or red wine to the pot and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced by half, about 8 minute, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
Cut beef into ½-inch to ¾-inch cubes. Once the stock has reached a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting and add the beef chunks to the stock, along with the roasted bones and herb sachet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to a low and simmer gently until beef is tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Use a large spoon to skim any foam that rises to the top.
Meanwhile, in a smaller pot, bring 4 cups chicken stock or water to a boil and add the barley. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, drain well and transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool until ready to use.
Once the soup has simmered for at least an hour, discard the bones and herb sachet. Turn heat off, and let soup rest for 30 minutes, uncovered, to allow the fat to solidify at the surface for easy removal.
Once the fat has been skimmed off, add the cooked barley and vegetables and simmer gently over medium-low heat until barley and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Taste soup and season with salt and pepper as desired, in half-teaspoon increments. If soup appears too dry, add more stock or water to achieve desired consistency.
Garnish with fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese.
To store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Barley absorbs liquid and will expand when frozen, so for best results, freeze the soup without the barley and add later before serving.