Umbria’s Great Grain
A versatile and easy addition to summer meals.
Walk through a farmers market in Italy and you’ll experience the country’s deeply rooted passion for fresh food. Noses plunge into bunches of basil and against melons as shoppers sniff out the perfect pick; cheese-makers offer samples, confident that their product’s flavor is sales pitch enough; and friends greet one and other with delight. It’s nearly impossible not to be swept away by such a passionate bunch of foodies.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), Italians know their way around the kitchen. Many time-tested dishes are undoubtedly the result of cooking techniques perfected over generations. But, neglecting to mention that each region in Italy is known for particular specialties, might be an oversight. When working with local ingredients, even an inexperienced chef can leverage regional specialties, and turn simple dishes into culinary feats.
Umbria, “The Green Heart of Italy,” sits next to Tuscany in central Italy. This landlocked region is known for a number of specialties including pork products from the town of Norica, black truffles, and the ancient grain: farro. It is believed that farro sustained the Roman Legions at the height of the Roman Empire and was used to make bread, porridge, and soups. Until it’s recent boom in popularity, farro was only used in a select few central and northern regions of Italy. Farro is as versatile as brown rice and reminiscent of it in size, shape and color. It makes for a great foundation in soups and salads, complimenting many dishes with a complex, nutty taste with a barley undertones.
When summer rolls around and temperatures across Italy begin to rise, Italians bring a number of noteworthy dishes to the table. Enter Farro. Cold farro salads make for an easy addition to summer meals and are sure to tickle your taste buds! The *recipe below comes from a spa in Umbria, and while it spells out suggested ingredients, the beauty of farro salads is their versatility. Follow the list of ingredients or swap the veggies listed below for whatever is available at your local farmers market!
Insalata Di Farro (Cold Farro Salad)
2 medium shallots, minced (or 1/4 clove garlic and 1/4 medium red onion, minced)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (or 1 teaspoon balsamic)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or minced anchovy or both
1 tablespoon minced, desalinated capers (or finely chopped, pitted black olives)
1 cup (total) chopped fresh parsley, chives, thyme or basil (or any combination)
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups farro
1 sweet pepper, finely chopped (or equivalent amount of leftover cooked corn kernels or grated raw carrot)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or other bland firm or semi-firm cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch dice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Squeeze of lemon juice
Combine shallots, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, capers and herbs in a bowl.
In a pot, stir stock and bring to a boil.
Add the farro to the stock, lower heat to a strong simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until farro is tender but somewhat chewy. Drain and let cool until no more than warm.
Add cooked farro to ingredients in bowl and mix. Add vegetables, tomato and cheese and mix.
Salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve at room temperature.
*Recipe courtesy of NPR