Meet farro. She and I have developed quite the relationship. Our love sparked a few weeks back, at a local cafe here in Seattle. I ordered a fennel and farro salad and ate it so quickly, and with such enthusiasm, I am sure my fellow patrons deemed me to be insane. After inhaling the dish in less than a few minutes, I felt pleasantly full. I felt nourished. I felt like I had found a new friend. I returned two more times, to enjoy this fennel and farro salad, and each time, I felt good. Really good. Last week after eating farro far too many days in a row, I decided to add a little variety, which some people say is the spice of life. I went to my usual spot a few blocks away, an attempt to order a mid-afternoon mimosa, and my usual - the falafel salad. I sat down to take a peek at the menu. Not for any particular reason, because it really never changes. I most likely stared at the menu in hopes to avoid eye contact. You see, I had forgotten my phone at home, and besides the paintings and snappy dressing wait staff, there were only so many distractions that could prevent me from staring at the other patrons - a characteristic I inherited from my grandpa Winslow. Yes, I'm the crazy one, hiding behind a magazine or dark sunglasses staring at your every move. I'm not judging, mostly observing. Taking style notes, watching the human interaction. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, mostly with the unstable folk.
So, I took a peak at the menu, and right beside the falafel salad, was a kale and farro salad with fennel and Parmesan. I couldn't resist. I ordered it, and once again, I was so impressed with the flavors and texture. I knew that I had to go home and create something special for the blog. And it was in that moment, I realized, that I am doing exactly what I love to do. The excitement that I feel for food - farro, fennel, chickpeas, figs, beets, sprouts, etc. and my need to share it all with you. This is what makes me truly happy. I'm always trying to gather inspiration for my recipes. Discover new ingredients and flavor combinations. My passion to teach and share, motivate and encourage, it's what drives most of my intentions here. Each recipe I share with you, has inspired me in some way, whether it's to become a better cook, explore new ingredients or techniques, try new flavor combinations. Fennel and farro, a combination unbeknownst to me. Although, fennel and apple, one that I am familiar with. I combined what I knew about these ingredients, and experimented with a few others. What we are left with, is a salad unique in flavors, a multitude of textures. I'll admit, not the prettiest of colors, but nevertheless, delicious.
Like most people, I have often found the sharp licorice flavor of fennel to be a bit strong for my tastes. I was excited to realize that often, when it's combined with a complimentary flavor, the licorice mellows and becomes a faint hint, almost floral. At first, it was hard to recognize the flavor of fennel in this salad. I found myself more focused on the texture, the crunch from the fennel and apples, chewiness from the farro, and a delicate creaminess from the beans. The balsamic vinegar adds a nice sweet sharp kick, that ties it all together.
If you are new to the world of farro, I'll need to clarify a few things before we get started. Farro comes packaged in many forms. Trader Joes now sells a pre-cooked version, similar to instant oatmeal. This is my favorite, because it takes the least amount of time to cook. Pearled farro is where the outer bran has been removed, and semi-pearled is where the outer bran has been scored. This enables water to penetrated the inside of the grain easier. This type of farro requires anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes to cook on the stove top. Whole farro, the final version, should be treated similar to dried beans. It will require an over-night soak, and then 20 - 40 minutes on the stove the next day. Most likely, your grocer will sell one of the above, seeing as it is still a relatively new grain on the shelves. There are many discussion forums on the web, people curious about the differences between spelt, farro, emmer, einkorn, and wheat berries, etc. From what I can gather, both the term farro and wheat berry refers to the entire wheat kernel with the outer husk removed. Spelt, emmer, and einkorn are different types of wheat. Farro is a whole wheat kernel usually made from from the wheat emmer, a type of hard wheat cultivated in Italy, whereas wheat berries are usually made from einkorn wheat, although still debatable. Either way, they both add a nice chewy texture to salads and soups.
FENNEL AND FARRO SALAD WITH APPLE AND PINTO BEANS RECIPE
serves 4 as a main
notes: You can use any type of farro, although pre-cooked does not require any soaking, and takes very little time to cook. It also retains the same nutritional qualities as whole farro. It may be harder to find in the store though. Pearled (perlato) farro has the outer bran removed and semi-pearled has the bran scored. This makes it much easier for the water to penetrate the center. Pearled and semi-pearled takes anywhere from 15 - 40 minutes to cook. Whole farro needs to be soaked overnight similar to dry beans. It takes the longest time to cook, so a little more planning is involved. It important to gauge farro's doneness by texture, not time.
2 cups dry farro
2 - 15 oz cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 sweet apple, cored and sliced thinly
1 large fennel bulb, sliced
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup oil, canola or olive
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 - 2 tbsp maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups mixed greens
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the pre-cooked farro and boil until the grains have become chewy and still retain their oval shape. This should take anywhere from 4 - 6 minutes. If you over-cook the farro, the grains will become large, soft, and swollen. This is not the texture desired for this recipe. Drain in a colander and place into a large bowl.
PEARLED, PERLATO, or SEMI PERLATO FARRO
(outer bran scored or removed)
Add 4 cups of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the farro, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook until chewy. This could take anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes. Check the texture often. Drain in a colander and place into a large bowl.
Place the farro into a bowl submerged in cold water. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. Add 4 cups of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the farro, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to cook until chewy. This could take anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes. Check the texture often. Drain in a colander and place into a large bowl.
Add the pinto beans and the sliced apple to the bowl with the farro.
To prepare the fennel, first cut away the stalks and fronds. You can save them for a tasty addition to stocks or salads. Cut the bulb down the middle and lay it flat side facing down. Thinly slice horizontally. Place the fennel into the bowl.
In a mason jar, add the oil and balsamic vinegar. If you are using a sweeter, thicker vinegar, than you can omit the maple syrup. If you are using a thinner more pungent vinegar with very little sweetness, you can add the maple syrup. Use your judgement and make alterations based on you taste. Shake and drizzle over the salad. Toss. Add the pecans just before serving, so they don't become soft. Season with salt and pepper. Serve on top of mixed greens.