I realize I've had this wicked salted fudge recipe in your face for the past few days, so I figured we'd start this week off by talking about something just a tad bit more virtuous. (I promise I'll be back to talking about cake by Friday!)
This farro salad is definitely going to play an important role in my repertoire this spring. Mostly because it's delicious, but also because it's delightfully easy to throw together, and because it literally (best part!) keeps for about a week in the fridge once made. This means I can toss it together on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and then take it to work for lunch throughout the week until I get sick of it. It's meant to be eaten cool and keeps well so you can pack it into your picnic basket or take it with you for lunch on an airplane (lest you have to shell out 7 bucks for a beef jerky "snack pack"). Once you get tired of eating it as a salad, the leftovers can be re-purposed quite easily. In my house, my healthy weekday salad became a creamy and very cheesy breakfast "risotto" come Saturday morning. (More about that later...)
I first learned about farro back when I was in culinary school in Florence, but I admit that I was never really that interested in it until now. Farro, though not quite as well known here as risotto and pasta, is quite common in Italy. Essentially whole spelt (which may sound a bit more familiar to you), it's very similar in texture to brown rice or barley, but with a much more pleasant, almost nutty, taste. Some die-hard fans claim the uncooked grains smell like Tuscany, but I'm afraid my memories of Tuscany smell more like rolling tobacco and cheap wine so I can't really confirm that.
There is a bit of work involved when preparing farro, but it's that hands-off lazy kind of work; more waiting than fussing. The grains should be soaked first for about 20-30 minutes, much in the same way you might soak dried beans or bulgar wheat (the latter actually makes a good substitute for farro if you don't have any on hand). I simply toss them in a pot and cover with water until it's about an inch above the surface, then just leave it on the counter while I run off to watch an episode of Community. By the time the show is over, the farro is about ready to cook. I strain all the water out and then add 6 cups of chicken broth, a bit of salt, and a crack of pepper and let it simmer for another 30 minutes (or an episode of Parks & Recreation). Once the show is over, the grains are tender, I drain them (reserving the chicken broth for another meal) and spread them out on a cookie sheet to cool.
The salad making part is really simple and easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you may have on hand. For this recipe, I added the cooled farro to a big bowl and drizzled it generously with good fruity olive oil. I tossed in two large roasted and diced beets, two big handfuls of baby arugula, and a peeled and segmented orange. In a separate small bowl, I whisked together a teaspoon of strawberry preserves, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a couple tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar. I added a few teaspoons of this to the mix and tossed everything together well until coated. I served it in big bowls and topped with a few pieces of crumbled goat cheese. The sweetness of the beets, oranges, strawberry, and balsamic are wonderful against the rich nuttiness of the farro. The arugula adds a bit of lightness to it. The salty and tangy goat cheese and the sour notes from the balsamic and citrus balance the whole dish out perfectly.
At the grocery store, look for farro in the pasta and grain aisle, perhaps near the imported packages (it usually comes from Italy). A package at a store like Whole Foods will typically cost about 7-9 dollars which may seem like a lot, but consider that, much like rice, a little goes a long way. One cup of uncooked farro makes about 4 entree servings; more if you're serving it as a side dish. It's also packed with protein, good carbs, and other nutrients so you're definitely getting quite a bit of bang for your buck.
If you're wondering how you'll use it, remember that the grains can be added to soup or to the bottom of a braised dish (it needs some kind of liquid to cook). You can also make a creamy risotto-like dish with it much the same way you would with arborio rice, or you can cheat and do what I did on Saturday morning: combine a cup of cooked farro (perhaps left over from this salad!) with a cups of sauteed mushrooms, a 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and 3 tablespoons of cream cheese in a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring throughout. Season with cracked black pepper and salt before serving. It's a lovely creamy dish that's all kinds of comforting and (when starting with the cooked grains) takes just about 15 minutes to get on the table.
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Farro, Beet & Citrus Salad w/ Goat Cheese
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side dish
1 cup uncooked farro
6 cups chicken broth
2 medium-large beets, roasted and diced
2-3 large handfuls of baby arugula
1 large orange, peeled, segmented and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
For the dressing
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon strawberry or raspberry preserves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
Pour the farro into a large pot or bowl and cover with water. let soak for 30 minutes to an hour. drain, discard water, and return soaked farro to pot.
Cover soaked and drained farro with 6 cups chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain farro (reserve chicken broth for other use) and spread a baking sheet to cool. (about 15 minutes)
While farro is cooling, make dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic, preserves, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.
When farro is cool, combine in large bowl with diced beets, arugula, orange segments, and dressing. Toss well and serve topped with crumbled goat cheese.