Zuppa d’Orzo

When I found out that my Nonna would be spending a few months with us here in Italy, one of the first things I wanted to do was learn how to make fresh pasta with her – Sicilian Maccheroni to be precise. She was excited about this and even brought her “ferri” – iron rods from London made from broken umbrella wire. Finally, this week, we were able to give this a go! Asking her what we needed to make the pasta dough her response: “Eh, you know that flour…not “00” [plain], the heavier one…” – Eventually figured this is “grano duro” and we ideally needed semola flour and lukewarm water. No measurements, no timings nothing. This was going to be fun!

Problem number one – our beloved Eurospin didn’t have semola flour, and Nonna said that this wasn’t a problem as the semola was just to help it have a bit of crunch. Fine, off we went. Problem number two – the dough just wasn’t playing nice and kept sticking to the ferri making it impossible for Nonna to get them off once formed. In the end, the dough continued to misbehave, but Nonna, my Mum and I finally managed after a good few hours to make enough Maccheroni for dinner. Unfortunately, at this point the sun had gone to sleep so good photographs were a no-go, but I can tell you that they were delicious and I look forward to giving them another go with the right flour next time! Here’s some pictures of the day anyway – we had fun!

And now to today’s dish – sorry I went totally off track – Zuppa d’Orzo or Pearl Barley soup. This is traditionally from the Alto Adige region which isn’t too far from me in NE Italy and whenever I went skiing in Corvara, this would almost always be available in the restaurants on the mountains and in the hotels at dinner time. It’s full of flavour, warms you up and certainly keeps you full for the remainder of the skiing day. I have used speck here, but I know this can be a bit tricky to come by in the UK, so you can use pancetta in its place. You can also find Pearl Barley in the big supermarkets, I have bought it in Sainsbury’s before see here!

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 25 minutes


30g Butter

1 Medium Red Onion, diced

1 Large Carrot, peeled & diced

2 Celery Sticks, diced

1 Garlic Clove, roughly chopped

150g Speck, diced

280g Orzo Perlato (Pearl Barley), rinsed

1 Litre Beef stock + additional 1L boiled water

2-3 Sprigs Thyme

1 Medium Potato, diced

1 Tsp Salt

1 Tsp Pepper

Optional: Chives, thinly chopped


  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add onions and fry on low heat until almost translucent.

  2. Add carrots and celery and fry for a further 5 minutes.

  3. Add garlic and fry for 1 more minute until fragrant before adding the thyme and half of the speck. Fry for a couple minutes and then add the orzo. Stir well to combine for 2 minutes.

  4. Pour in the beef stock, bring to boil and simmer for around 15 minutes.

  5. Add the remaining speck and the potatoes, salt and pepper and cook for a further 45 minutes.

  6. Stir occasionally and top up with additional water as and when required. You ideally want there to be some liquid to get a soupy feel.

  7. Serve with a sprinkle of chives and parmesan if desired.


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© 2021 by The Rosemary Thymes. Cooked with a pinch of love from Italy & the UK 🇬🇧🇮🇹