farro

RECIPE: Farro Salad with Red Peppers and Beans

I GOT A JUMPSTART ON MEATLESS MONDAY this weekend when my friend made the most delicious Mediterranean farro salad as we all lazed about taking in the spring sunshine. As some of you surely know by now, I’m a big fan of this ancient grain; farro has a wonderful nutty flavor and a satisfying bite. So I’m always happy to expand my repertoire of dishes to make with it, and I think you will be, too. 
 
This is a very flexible recipe: Substitute asparagus for the beans (cut the spears into 3-inch pieces and cook in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes) or use yellow peppers instead of red. Replace chives with a thinly chopped scallion or two, or some red onion. And, of course, what could be better than doubling the recipe for a family picnic or potluck this summer? Happy Meatless Monday. And thank you Pam.
 
Pamela Ferrari’s Farro Salad
Serves 4–6, as side salad or light lunch
 
1½ cups semi-pearled or pearled farro
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
½ lb green beans or haricot verts
½ cup pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch chives, chopped, or half a small red onion, sliced thinly
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
 
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add farro and boil gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until al dente. Drain and put in a large serving bowl to cool. *
 
Cook green beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and transfer briefly to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Drain again and pat dry.
 
Once the farro is cool, combine the beans, olives (slice them if they’re big, or leave whole if you use tiny ones, like Niçoise), red pepper, Parmesan and chives or red onions with the farro.
 
In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, olive oil, mustard, pepper and salt.
 
Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and serve.
 
* In a rush? Cool the farro more quickly by spreading it out on a cookie sheet.     

Sometimes a Cookbook Is More Than Just a Cookbook

PANZANELLA DI FARRO, a Tuscan-style tomato salad with farro, from Olives & Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is the recipe that got me started eating farro. At the time, I didn’t know much about farro, except that it was a grain, so making that dish led to all sorts of research and then expeditions all over the city to find it.
 
 
After that, since I travel regularly to Montreal and Toronto, I had to find farro sources in those cities, too, because the salad had become something of an extended family favorite as well. (Travelers: Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto; Milano Supermarket in Montreal). 
 
 
A bag of farro even made the trip north with us to Georgian Bay (above) and 45 minutes across the water to my brother’s cottage on an island one summer (we’d found wild rice on its shores, but weren’t holding out any hope for farro).
 
All this adventure, thanks to one recipe.
 
Beyond farro, though, that dish introduced me to a whole wonderful world of cooking with chef Sara Jenkins. I’ve been down to Porchetta, her little shop on East 7th Street where she makes herbed roast pork sandwiches that get raves from anyone who’s tried them. And I’m looking forward to more visits to her pasta restaurant, Porsena, in the same neighborhood.
 
But the East Village is not exactly next door, so back to the cookbook. I usually like to cook and eat at home anyway, so I’ve branched out to try other recipes in this very approachable but sophisticated book. Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce. Orange and mint leaf salad with roasted beets. (Both great for Meatless Monday!) Baked pork chops with peaches (time for this one again, now that peaches are appearing in the market). Spaghetti with lemon sole, almonds, capers and parsley. Monkfish with olives, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. And recently for dinner, smoked trout with arugula salad, pictured here.
 
 
 
 
Along with the recipes, which are helpfully labeled quick-cook and slow-cook, Jenkins shares her knowledge of the Mediterranean pantry and offers flavor tips that make you an all-round smarter Mediterranean cook. I’m still a little obsessed with that farro salad, though. Planning to make it for another family get-together some time soon. Purslane or arugula? We’ll see. 
 
Porchetta
110 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10009
212-777-2151
 
Porsena
21 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10003
212-228-4923
 

Oh, for Love of Farro

WENT ON A LONG BIKE RIDE last weekend, across the George Washington Bridge and onto River Road in New Jersey. We decided to go south this time and make a lunch stop at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store that’s always fun to visit. (Mediterraneanista likes a change of pace from time to time.) Turns out the annual Hokkaido Food Festival was in full swing, so we lunched on crab, corn and pumpkin croquettes and finished off with a Hokkaido dessert—a fabulous strawberry cream puff from a bakery named Arles. (How did they know?)
 
 
After lunch, I went up and down the aisles and aisles of Japanese specialties—a hundred types of saki, sushi-grade tuna, pristinely fresh whole mackerel and pike, thinly sliced pork belly and beef. Then there were the items I wouldn’t even begin to know how to prepare.
 
 
So I came home from Mitsuwa with—a bag of farro. Yes, the store has an Italian section, with quite a selection of grains and beans and there it was, a bag of Bartolini farro at a price I couldn’t resist and compact and sturdy enough to carry home on a bike. (I suspect that cycling 25 miles for a bag of farro is not going to be an everyday thing, though.)
 
I’ve been on a bit of a farro kick these days; even did a guest blog post on it for Oldways, the nonprofit that convened a lot of the early scientific/culinary conferences on the Mediterranean diet and continues to raise public awareness of its benefits in really smart ways. I’m trying out different farro soups now that fall is here. I’ll keep you posted. 
 
Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd
Edgewater, NJ 
201.941.9113
 

Eat Less Meat: Sure, But How Do You Get There from Here?

 
BY EATING THE TRADITIONAL MEDITERRANEAN WAY, of course. By now Mediterraneanista’s loyal readers know that the Mediterranean diet includes a lot less meat than many of us are used to. And we know it makes sense, this eating less meat, for all sorts of good health and environmental reasons. But what is less? And how do you get there from here?
 
I remember as a business editor one of the many managerial concepts that floated across my desk was “chunking”—a strategy for managing a big project by, well, breaking it into chunks. If you’re an enthusiastic meat eater who’s interested in moving in the direction of a more Mediterranean diet, “chunking” may be a concept worth reviving. Let’s face it, many of us have eating habits that were formed in households where the dinner menu was Meat Plus (you fill in the blanks, but it often involved potatoes). We may need a little aide-mémoire to adopt a different way.
 
 
So here are some chunks to get you closer to the Mediterranean way:
 
Meatless Monday, which I’ve written about here before, is a great example of a manageable chunk. You have six days to plan for one day of meatless eating. Since standard dietary recommendations call for no more than 18 oz. of meat a week, Meatless Monday works out perfectly. Three ounces a day, which is a portion or serving size, plus one day off. And you get the week off to a good start. (The Meatless Monday organization reports that “studies suggest that we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.”)
 
Learn to cook two or three meatless main dishes you love, so they become second nature, just the way the Meat-Plus concept once was. Most important, this flips the idea around from denying yourself meat to treating yourself to a different kind of delicious meal—a joy-of-eating concept Mediterraneanista likes a lot. I didn’t start out with the goal of “eating less meat.” I just became seduced by the adventure of discovering just how delicious and satisfying the traditional Mediterranean way of eating could be. Roast vegetables is one of my simplest favorites. If you enter “vegetarian” in the Mediterraneanista search box at right, you’ll find others.
 
Be a vegetarian before dinner. Over the long term, this is much easier to keep top of mind than tracking your meat intake meal by meal. (I don’t know about you, but I find the whole tracking thing gets tiresome pretty quickly, although it can be useful as a way to learn exactly what you are eating or spending now.) Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has written about how a mostly-vegan until dinner approach works for him in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. He’s never doctrinaire about it, and makes it seem doable and adaptable.
 
Chef Mario Batali, who offers vegetarian dishes for Meatless Monday at all his restaurants, recently surprised a few people when he said he was working on a vegetarian cookbook and is now “vegetarian all day until dinner, and I try to eat no meat whatsoever on Monday and Tuesday.” Perhaps that helps explain why there’s 45 pounds less of him—and counting. Actually, his cookbook Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking very much reflects a traditional Mediterranean table and includes a lot of fabulous meatless dishes in it already.
 
Make meat a secondary ingredient on your plate, not the centerpiece. That helps the portion size make a lot more sense. Because, yep, as I wrote yesterday, 3-4 oz. is actually the suggested serving of meat to be eaten at a meal. That’s a piece about the size of a pack of cards, a useful way to visualize it, I find, when I’m eyeballing meat purchases for a family dinner or dinner party. Some of you are probably thinking, 3 ounces of meat could look pretty lonely in the middle of a plate. True, if it’s at the center of that plate. Instead, think of a stir-fry, for instance, that’s three parts vegetables, one part meat. Or a whole-grain rice pilaf for four in which ½ pound of ground lamb adds fabulous meat flavor. Last week, I made a Turkish eggplant dish (more about that soon) that used ½ pound of lamb in the stuffing for four eggplants. Delicious!
 
Use legumes—beans, lentils—and grains like farro to give some of the textural and nutritional satisfaction of meat—they’re high in fiber and protein. Throw them in soup or salads or stews. I’ll write soon about how to make this super easy. I’m branching out from my favorite farro salad to learn more ways of incorporating this incredibly tasty grain into more meals, and I’ll keep you posted on that, too. 

Bon appetit—Mediterranean style! 

Farro, Farro, Where Art Thou?

I’m hunting for farro—once I find out what it is. It’s the first item in a recipe for Panzanella di Farro, or Tuscan tomato salad with farro, in Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
 
 
All I know is that it’s a grain—and not one found on my local grocers’ shelves. When I Google it, I find lots of contradictory information. It’s spelt, it’s not spelt. It takes an hour to cook, it takes 20 minutes. I go on with my research and when I’m deep in the weeds of scientific discussions about tetraploid wheats and taxonomy disputes I decide I’ve learned enough.
 
Farro scholars (I’m sure they’re out there) may split hairs but here’s what I, er, boil it down to: Farro (triticum dicoccum or emmer wheat) is an ancient grain, an unhybridized wheat with an intact husk that is the ancestor of modern durum wheat. (Spelt is triticum spelt, a close relative, but not exactly the same in taste and texture. Still, confusion reigns, because Triticum dicoccum, farro, is often translated into English by its Italian producers as “spelt.”)
 
I learn that farro was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent, known to archaeologists who explore ancient tombs and excavations. It was eaten by the Roman legions (it seems they were sometimes paid with a daily ration of farro). Farro’s backstory begins to read like a novel. In 1906 agronomist and botanist Aaron Aaronsohn found wild emmer growing in Rosh Pinah (Israel), and his discovery of the “mother” of wheat was said to have caused a sensation in the botanical world. Something about all this thrills me—call me a romantic, but part of the pleasure of Mediterranean eating, I am discovering, is this connection to peoples long gone and life in places far away.
 
Emmer survives in mountainous regions as what’s called a relict crop, one left over from the days when it was widely cultivated. Today it is mostly cultivated in Italy, in Umbria, and Tuscany, most famously in the region of Garfagnana, where it has the equivalent of an appellation controlée.
 
The farro I’ve located in New York is from Umbria and it’s semipearled, meaning the husk has been cracked and it takes only 20 minutes to cook. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and is full of nutrients, too—high in protein, vitamins B and E, and fiber. 
• Bartolini Emilio brand (500 g/$8) at Zabar’s, back behind the coffee to the left of the jams
• Roland brand (500 g/$5) at Fairway, on the shelf with rices. (The words Triticum dicoccum don’t appear on the Roland package but farro does and I’m going with it for now.)
• Rusticella d’Abruzzo brand at Market Hall Foods online (the bricks-and-mortar store is in Oakland, CA)
 
Zabar’s
2245 Broadway (at 80th Street)
New York, NY 10024
212-787-2000
 
Fairway
2312 12th Avenue (at 130th Street)
Manhattan
212-234-3883
 
2127 Broadway (at 74th Street)
Manhattan 
212-595-1888
 
480-500 Van Brunt Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
718-694-6868
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