I went on a farro kick, not this past winter, but the winter before*. I hadn’t really eaten much faro before then, but it grew on me fast – nutty and almost sweet, cook it up with some winter squash or farm carrots, a little thyme, maybe some brown butter, and you’re in business. The greatest thing about faro is it cooks in about half the time of brown rice or wheat berries, but packs a similarly large nutritional punch. (Hey, I gotta balance out all that butter somehow.)
So why am I talking about farro, when today’s recipe calls for wheat berries? Because the original recipe for this salad calls for farro, but the only farro I could find at trusty Whole Foods was imported from Italy and $9.00 for a tiny little bag. As much as I love farro, my wallet just flat out refused to open at that price. I headed over to the bulk bins and picked up a bag of wheat berries instead. Similarly nutty and sweet, wheat berries are a little chewier in texture. The only down side is that they take about twice as long to cook, and sweating away in my un-air conditioned kitchen on a hot June afternoon, $9.00 farro started to seem more reasonable.
Back to the original recipe – this salad comes from a website called Food 52, which I only discovered a few months ago. The idea is simple: one online cooking competition every week (52 weeks in the year) featuring a seasonal ingredient. Readers contribute the recipes, the editors narrow it down, and then everyone votes. Just one more amazing way in which the internet has opened up our culinary world. I love the site’s “if you cook” mantra:
If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
If you cook, you’ll set a lifelong example for your children.
If you cook, you’ll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
If you cook, you’ll make your home an important place in your life.
If you cook, you’ll make others happy.
If you cook, people will remember you.
And my addition: If you cook, you’ll make yourself happy.
This recipe is adapted from last week’s fresh mozzarella competition. It went up against an (also delicious looking) recipe for balsamic glazed plums with buffalo mozzarella, pine nuts, and mint. And it lost. Poor farro salad. I thought I’d lift its spirits by giving it a whirl in my kitchen, albeit with wheat berries instead of the farro. And in return, this summery salad lifted my spirits right back – nutty, tangy, fragrant, and cool, it’s filling and summery all at once. And best of all, it got better after sitting in the fridge for a day. We ate the salad alongside grilled chicken and packed up the left overs for lunch the next day (and the day after). Makes one very large bowl of salad, enough for 8-10.
*To give you an idea of the kind of kick I was on, when we were in Vietnam this past fall, our first day in the Mai Chau Valley, I went for a walk and saw some large baskets of grains drying in the sun. When I got back to the homestay, I told John that it looked like they were growing spelt (farro). He looked at me puzzled, and then later that day, after taking a look at the grain himself, he stammered, no Alex, um, that’s rice. Whoops.
For the Salad
2 cups uncooked wheat berries
1 medium red onion, cut in half
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
a small handful of fresh parsley plus 1 tbsp finely chopped
1 cup finely diced (about 1/4 “cubes) fresh mozzarella cheese
¼ cup minced pitted kalamata olives
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into halves
1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
For the Dressing
scant 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
Place the wheat berries, half of the red onion, the garlic clove, and the handful of parsley in a medium sauce pan with 4 cups of water and a little salt. (The onion, garlic, and parsley scent the grains as they cook.) Bring to a boil over high heat and then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 60-70 minutes until tender. Check the wheat berries periodically to make sure there is still a little liquid in the pot, and add more water as needed. Once cooked, dump out onto a sheet pan to cool (there should be little to no liquid left in the pot, but drain if necessary). Pick out any large pieces of onion, garlic, and parsley and discard. Meanwhile, finely chop the other half of the red onion and soak it in a small dish with cold water and a little salt to mellow slightly.
Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and honey in a large serving bowl. Add the cooked and cooled wheat berries, the drained chopped onion, the olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh herbs. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. The salad can be served immediately or refrigerated for 24-48 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.