Readers, I have a confession to make. I am on a jag again. You may remember this post about Mama and I being “jag eaters.” Essentially, it means that I get obsessed with a certain food or dish and that’s all I want to eat for a while, almost to the point of making myself sick of it. It’s an odd little personality quirk, jag eating.
Past jags have included pasta primavera, rocky road ice cream, ratatouille and Barnum’s animal crackers dipped in almond butter, among many others. Some jags have clearly been healthier for the old backside than others.
I am happy to report that this current jag leans toward the healthier side of the spectrum, which is good, since it’s swimsuit season. I don’t really need a jag that involves marshmallows or almond butter right now.
My jag right now? Salads made with farro.
If you haven’t heard of it, and I hadn’t heard of it until a few years ago (and I’d never made it until two weeks ago), I’ll fill you in. Farro is an ancient grain that is Roman in origin. It looks a lot like a wheat berry or barley, and like those grains, it takes a bit of time to cook. You can cook a big batch of it, though, and keep it in the refrigerator, so it’s not as much trouble as you’d think.
Nutritionally, it’s pretty similar to quinoa, which is great, because that means a healthy dose of fiber and protein. A serving of farro has 140 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein, which is pretty dang awesome. Best of all? In my opinion, farro tastes WAY better than quinoa. Like, ten times better. It has a nutty flavor and a nice, hefty chew, which makes it very satisfying when you mix it in a salad with lots of fresh things and a snappy vinaigrette. Farro salads keep well in the refrigerator, too, which is super handy for those busy summer days when you’d rather be at the local swimming pool than standing in the kitchen. Let’s be honest–wouldn’t you rather be at the pool? Me, too.
When I finally decided to try farro, I took my cooking instructions from Hugh Acheson, winner of two James Beard awards and chef/partner of 4 well renowned restaurants. He’s a southern boy, but his cooking isn’t heavy on the fried chicken or biscuits. Acheson’s cooking is unabashedly healthy and veggie-forward. I figured that if anyone knew how to cook farro, it’d be the Hughster. He advises cooking it in more water than can actually be absorbed by the farro–kind of like you cook pasta. When cooked this way, the single grains of farro get an even tumble in the simmering water and it doesn’t clump or get waterlogged.
Another tip he had was about the vinaigrette–he advised to be aggressive with the vinegar (in this case, balsamic) because farro needs assertive seasoning to come alive. I listened, so you’ll notice that this vinaigrette is equal parts olive oil and vinegar, which is pretty sassy dressing. It really works, though.
Once I had the cooking method and the dressing figured out, it was pretty easy to riff on the rest, using whatever fresh ingredients I had on hand in the refrigerator.
My basic requirements for the ideal farro salad are thus:
-properly cooked farro
-a fistful of fresh herbs
-something crunchy, like toasted nuts or seeds
-something lush and rich, like a crumbled soft cheese or avocado (add this element separately for each serving as it won’t keep well if you add it to the whole batch, unless you’re going to eat it all in one sitting, which you might)
Wasn’t that easy?
And I tell you, it’s good stuff. It’s so good and nutrition-packed that you might even feel like a Superhero after eating it. Even my husband likes it! I’ve been cooking farro constantly for the last two weeks, tossing in grilled vegetables, leftover chicken, poached shrimp, salty capers–you name it. It’s healthy and will feed you for several meals and you don’t have to heat up the kitchen.
Yeah, it’s officially a jag.
Expect it to be the Summer of Farro here at Chez T.
Farro Salad with Feta and Pecans
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup farro, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup good-quality olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 chopped shallots
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, sliced
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups snap peas, strings removed and halved
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 cup fresh feta (preferably Greek), crumbled
Bring the broth, farro and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes or until the farro is al dente. Drain and rinse the farro under cold water.
Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over the farro and toss well to coat. Cover and let the farro soak in the dressing for an hour at room temperature.
In a large bowl, toss farro with remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.