A bowl of soup’s got it all: Simplicity, comfort, joy, nourishment and togetherness. 

Yes, it’s togetherness season. With family coming to visit for the holidays—not to mention those hockey games and holiday parties that eat in to dinner-making time—one soup recipe can go a long way towards feeding a lot of people, or your own family over a couple of nights. 

A soup can be made ahead, you can scale it to the number of people sitting around the table, and, best of all, picky eaters will almost always eat soup. Soup can be lunch or dinner, and it’s the easiest meal to serve and clean up. And I find making soup to be relaxing; think of it as I do, as an antidote to the stress of the season. 

For this time of year, one of my favorites is this Beef, Farro and Vegetable Soup—a healthier riff on the classic beef and barley. It’s definitely a meal–in-one with slow-cooked chuck beef, cut into small melt-in-your-mouth cubes, whole grain farro and lots of vegetables. 

The secret to tender beef—the heart of this soup—starts with the cut. From exhaustive tests done by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I learned long ago this means using a chuck roast not only for the best flavor but for the way it tenderizes with cooking. This means avoiding the pre-cut “stew” meat, which is often a mix of different cuts that produce uneven, sometimes tougher results. It’s a bit more time-consuming to cut up a chuck roast, but definitely worth the effort. Browning the meat at the start ultimately gives the soup a deeper flavor.

The grain, farro, is a type of wheat with a nice, chewy texture and earthy flavor. Farro originates from Italy where it is used most often in soups. Farro is available locally (look for farro labeled “semi-pearled”), but barley makes a fine substitute. 

The bulk of the soup comes from a nice list of vegetables: onions, leeks, carrots, celery, green beans and corn. I usually buy these locally at farms like Morning Glory in Edgartown or Ghost Island in West Tisbury because I love the flavor of freshly picked. Like any soup, you can add or substitute any of your other favorite veggies, such as mushrooms or kale, or seasonal root vegetables like Cape turnips or rutabagas. Check out the winter farmers’ market for veggie options, as well.

The soup calls for chicken stock, but a nice turkey stock at this time of year would also work perfectly. (And you can certainly use store-bought chicken broth as well.) The beef flavor ends up dominating, but the underlying stock makes a contribution.

A final tip for this soup, and any other soup, is to make sure it is seasoned with the right amount of salt. Most soups need more salt than you think. Salt coaxes out and heightens the flavors of the various ingredients. Sometimes a soup will taste bland even though it has a pile of ingredients, and all that’s missing is a little additional salt to make it a flavorful bowl. Add it in stages as you’re cooking, and then at the end, taste, season with just a little salt, and taste again. By adding a bit at a time and tasting as you go, you’ll begin to understand the simple transformation salt can make. 

Catherine Walthers is the author of several cookbooks, including Kale, Glorious Kale, Soups and Sides, and Raising the Salad Bar. Visit her at catherinewalthers.com.