Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
As my time in Rome quickly comes to a close – two weeks and slooowly counting – my focus turns to food that’ll let us take in Italy’s culinary delights at the same time that we explore the city. Picnic fare.
Enter: farro. I first met this tasty grain while visiting Cortona back in May, where it was served up to me by a friend as the base of a hearty lunchtime salad packed with cooked mushrooms and carrots, pesto and lots and lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil. Since my first encounter, I’ve come across farro many a-time, in its whole-grain form in soups and salads, and ground into flour and turned into crunchy cookies.
Though farro is a type of wheat (most often emmer, though spelt and einkorn can both be called farro as well), it cooks up just like rice: bring it to a boil, then simmer, lid on, for 15-20 minutes and you’re good to go. The results aren’t just tasty – mild in flavour with a satisfying chew – but good for you too. When the husk is left intact, farro is packed with protein, fiber and all sorts of nutrients and minerals. Really, though, it just makes for a whole lot better picnicking than a soggy pasta salad.
Below, you’ll find basic instructions on how to cook up a pot of farro, alongside a speedy recipe for a farro-based salad that makes use of loads of quintessentially Mediterranean ingredients that can be found easily back at home: fresh and sundried tomatoes, basil pesto, briny black olives and Italy’s offerings to the world of blue cheese: Gorgonzola. (Like me, you may want to leave the gorgonzola out of the salad if you’re toting it around in the heat for a while to avoid the warm blue cheese wave that’ll inevitably hit you when you open your salad container.) Picnics, potlucks, and easy dinners at home — this salad has seen it all.
The dish is meant to be a convenient throw-together kind of thing, and so I’ve used prepared pesto, but feel free to make it from scratch if you have the time. On the other hand, pare the salad down as you see fit. Farro can be enjoyed simply, with just lemon juice, olive oil, salt and herbs. Whatever floats your boat.
Now, without further ado, I’m off to redeem myself with the pasta gods. But first, another bite or two of farro salad. Happy picnicking, friends!
How to Cook Farro
Makes 2 cups of cooked farro
1 cup of whole-grain farro
2.5 cups of cool water
Rinse farro under cool water, then transfer to a large pot with 2.5 cups of cool water*. Bring to a boil over high heat and add a couple big pinches of salt. Now reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until farrow is tender but still retains some chewiness. Remove lid, drain any excess water off of the farro and pop your farro into a bowl. Now it’s ready to be dressed!
*From the bit of reading that I’ve done, it looks like there’s no need to be too precise with the water here. I use 2.5 cups because I find then that there’s very little excess water to drain off at the end. If you’re worried though about your pot boiling dry, simply add a bit more water (you shouldn’t need more than an extra cup).
Mediterranaean Farro Salad
Makes about 5 cups (enough for four as a side, but doubles easily and keeps well)
2 cups of cooked farro (follow the instructions above!)
1 heaping cup of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 cup of bite-sized pieces of cooked green beans or asparagus
1/2 cup of kalamata olives, pits removed and olives cut in half
1/4 cup of diced sundried tomatoes
3-6 tbsp prepared pesto
1/4 cup of crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
In a large bowl, combine farro, cherry tomatoes, cooked beans/asparagus, olives and sundried tomatoes. Add in the lesser amount of pesto, stir to coat, and taste. If necessary, stir in additional pesto, one tablespoon at a time, just until the flavour of the pesto begins to come through (the pesto shouldn’t overwhelm the other flavours). Top with crumbled gorgonzola.