Farro Salad with Artichokes and Fennel

Salads are going to be featured prominently in our menus as the weather warms and fresh, local produce becomes more available. I love salads that combine lots of different but complimentary components; each bite reveals another layer of flavor and texture. This grain salad is a perfect example of a dish that combines a healthy grain with flavorful vegetables, protein-rich beans, and an assertive dressing. To finish it off, a sprightly fresh herb and some toasted nuts provide just the right accents. We ate this salad for dinner with a simple roast chicken and it was very satisfying. The recipe makes a boatload, but you can pare it down to suit your needs, or make the entire recipe for a potluck or large gathering.

As you can see, farro looks something like barley. It’s been described as “the ancient Italian wheat and has been growing in the Mediterranean for thousands of years”. It can be cooked in a fashion similar to risotto to yield a delicious, creamy hot dish called “farrotto”. Like barley, farro is available in pearled and semi-pearled form. This distinction will determine the length of time it takes to cook. (The brand I used was quite quick cooking, it took less than twenty minutes). Here is the recipe:

Farro Salad with Artichokes and Fennel (from Fine Cooking, vol.117)
Serves 8-10
For the salad:
3 cups semi-pearled farro
1 cup of 1/2-inch wedges  of oil-packed artichoke hearts
1 cup of 1/2-inch pieces of trimmed fennel
1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of thin shreds of radicchio
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil leaves
For the dressing:
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pitted and chopped black olives
1-2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring 7 cups of water to a boil in a 4 quart pot over high heat.  Add 3/4 teaspoon salt, add the farro, and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook, uncovered, until tender.  (Check frequently, you want a tender grain that retains a little “chew”).  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with about a tablespoon olive oil, toss lightly to coat.  Spread the farro on the sheet and allow to cool completely .  Put the vinegar in a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and mix in the olives and lemon zest.  In a large bowl combine the cooked farro, the artichoke hearts, fennel, cannellini, radicchio, pine nuts, and chopped basil.  Add 1/2 cup of the dressing and toss.  Taste and season as necessary with more dressing, salt , and pepper.  Serve or refrigerate for up to a day.  (You may need to adjust the seasoning again if your salad has been in the refrigerator).

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