I made this soup for my son who had gotten sick this past week. As I served it to him still sleepy at 2pm, he devoured it but was confused about what the round starchy orbs in the soup were.
I told him it was Fregola, which is an Italian semolina based pasta that has been toasted. “Yum”, he said!
These tiny pasta rounds are a must have in soups adding a wonderful toasty flavor and texture. It sometimes can be hard to find so you can substitute farro or another grain. Adding a chunk of Parmesan rind while the soup is simmering also adds so much flavor. You can then finish the soup with a splash of olive oil, sherry vinegar and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven over a medium-high heat. Add the pancetta if using and cook, stirring occasionally until it begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes.
Make a little space in the pan and add a bit more olive oil. Add the garlic to the oil and stir for a minute. Add the bay leaf, canned tomatoes with the juices, scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with pinch of salt and pepper. Let the tomatoes cook down for about 5 minutes and then add the beans, cheese rind and stock or water. Bring the soup to a simmer, adding more water or stock if needed. Add the kale leaves and the fregola and let the soup simmer for about 20-30 minutes. The pasta will cook in the broth.
When the soup is just about done remove the parmesan rind and bay leaf. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar and freshly grated parmesan cheese. This soup stores well in the refrigerator for about 5 days. If will require more liquid when you re-heat it. It freezes well too.