Farro with Kale, Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
I'm a little late getting on the farro bandwagon, it seems, but better late than never. I was browsing for a gift in the spectacular Browne Trading Company store here in Portland and found a pack tucked away on a shelf, grabbed it, and now I'm an enthusiastic convert.
Farro (also called emmer wheat, and sometimes confused with spelt, a similar grain -- check the label for the genus/species, which is triticum dicoccum for farro) was apparently first cultivated around 10,000 years ago and may be one of the first agricultural products. It fed countless generations in the Middle East and later in Europe and what is now India and Pakistan, but was gradually replaced by other higher-yielding grains and has become a niche-market product, with relatively small acreage dedicated to its production. As a result the cost is high (around $12/lb at Browne Trading). It seems ironic that foods such as lobster (fed to prisoners and used for fertilizer in colonial times) and farro, the food of the masses for thousands of years, have become high-value delicacies, though it seems understandable -- though not pleasant to contemplate -- when we recognize that probably the only way to feed the Earth's current population is through high-yield factory farms and livestock operation.
In any case, it's a wonderful grain. Somewhat like large barley or wheatberries, it has a pleasing mouthfeel -- firm to the the tooth but at the same time yielding, with no chewiness -- and clearly is a candidate for many different uses, especially since, like rice, barley and pasta, it absorbs and is transformed by flavors from the cooking liquid. In researching the possibilities for future farro forays I've bookmarked many nice alternatives for inspiration (see the links in the last paragraph before the jump).
Many of the farro preparations are hearty soups and stews, which seem to me to be perfect fall or winter fare, but the idea of a lighter dish based on seasonal vegetables seemed to me to be the right way to go in August. The juicy picture at The Food Section -- just farro, ripe tomatoes and mozzarella -- got me started, and, after reading a bunch of recipes I went to work with the produce I had on hand from my farm share. The results were pronounced "outstanding" by Elise.
I served this warm, with a side salad of simple greens and some crusty bread, but the leftovers were very satisfying served as a cold side salad to accompany a steamed fish fillet on the following day. When served cold I found a nice addition was something crunchy: cucumber chunks, fresh celery slices or perhaps walnut pieces are good candidates.
By the way, there's some disagreement about how to cook farro: there's the "soak-it-first" crowd (Paula Wolfert, Guiliano Bugialli and Bon Appetit) and the "just-boil-it" group (Ilva at Lucillian Delights, Giada di Laurentis, Lidia Bastianich and Gourmet). There's also a wide range of opinion among the soakers on how long, from 30 minutes to overnight. I decided to follow the package instructions (I was using the vacuum-packed farro intero from Rustichella d'Abruzzo -- they also sell farro spezzato, which is a cracked version of the same grain), which called for a 45 minute soak. Also, I cooked it in unsalted water, since the package directions didn't mention salt, though some of the others cited used salted water.
Farro with Kale and Fresh Mozzarella
Serves 4 - 6
1 lb farro
4 C vegetable broth
4 C water
1 bunch kale
1 C celery leaves, tightly packed, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and cut in slivers
1 bunch parsley, minced
1 medium onion, finely sliced with slices cut in half
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 C capers, rinsed
1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
1/4 C olive oil
3 T white wine vinegar
8 small roma tomatoes, diced
3 oz fresh mozzarella, room temperature, diced
fish sauce or sea salt and hot sauce, to taste
Rinse the farro in several changes of cool water and then cover with water and soak for 45 minutes. Drain and mix with the water and broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer briskly for about 30 minutes.
While the farro is soaking and cooking prepare everything else. Chop the kale roughly, mix with the celery leaves and simmer in salted water about 20 minutes, until tender. Turn off the heat, mix in the celery stalk and carrot and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
When the farro has cooked drain any remaining liquid and while still warm mix in the kale-carrot-celery mixture, parsley, onion, garlic, capers, nutmeg, olive oil, and vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt or fish sauce and hot sauce, adding a little more vinegar if necessary.
To serve, place in a serving bowl and top with the mozzarella and tomatoes. Garnish with additional minced parsley if desired.