Italian barley soup – Zuppa di orzo gardenese

Italian barley soup


Barley soup is one of the most traditional dishes of the Alto Adige. This zuppa di orzo gardenese (from the Val Gardena) is a thick, nutritious and healthy winter soup, making an ideal, warming, one-pot meal after a day on the ski slopes.

Barley is a cereal grain, member of the grass family, that has been known for centuries for its nutritious and healing qualities. In the 11th century the Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna already wrote of the healing effects of barley soup for fevers in his work The Canon of Medicine. Barley contains essential vitamins and minerals, calms the stomach and helps to stimulate the digestive system. It is also said to increase vitality.

It is a typical Slow Italy dish as it takes a relatively long preparation time, during which the vegetables and cereal grains are slowly cooked until the vegetables become tender and the barley grains doughy and glutinous.


Ingredients for 4 persons (or for 2 persons as a main dish):

3.5 oz./100 gr of pearl barley (orzo perlato), preferably organic
3.5 oz./100 gr of Speck (smoked Tyrol ham) or smoked ham, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 small potato, diced
1 l of beef broth
a little butter to sauté the onions, carrots and celery
chives or Italian flat leave parsley



Over medium heat, sauté the onion until golden, taking care not to let it brown. Add the other vegetables, then the barley and let it slightly toast as you would for a risotto. Add the hot broth gradually, letting the barley soak up the liquid and, with a wooden spoon, stir it into the barley. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until the vegetables are tender and the barley glutinous. Add the thyme. Cut the smoked bacon and potatoes in little cubes and add them to the soup. Let it cook for another 20 minutes. The result should be a thick soup, more liquid than risotto, but slightly thicker than a vegetable soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the chives.

A vegetarian version of this soup can be made by using vegetable broth instead of meat broth, and leaving out the Speck or ham.

Slow Italy

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2 thoughts on “Italian barley soup – Zuppa di orzo gardenese

  • January 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I love the recipe. Reading it a couple times, I do not see rice in the ingredients?

    • January 14, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Thanks so much for pointing this out. My mistake. Was thinking about the comparison with risotto and wrote ‘rice’ instead of ‘barley’. Corrected it now. Thanks again! 🙂

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