Farro is a very oft mistranslated and under appreciated super healthy peasant staple grain now making a trendy comeback around the globe. Farro was what Roman legionaries purportedly marched on, was a staple in post war Italy and a key component of "cucina povera". Luckily in Romania it’s an unglamorous peasant food known as "arpacas" and available in the rice section of every supermarket for next to nothing. It becomes complicated in Italy because the term "Farro" can apply to three wheat varieties; Emmer, Spelt & Einkorn. That is then complicated by the fact that it is often mistranslated as "pearl barley" which is similar but is in fact barley. In America a common wheat “farro” is known as "wheatberries", which is a name I kind of like as it does describe the stuff, and I suspect that the type found in Romania is also a common wheat.
Confusions and mistranslations aside what you need to know is that Farro is whole wheat grains that need boiling a bit longer than say wholegrain rice and that you end up with a nutty chewy textured grain that can be used as a risotto or couscous type base. This recipe uses Farro but in fact would work just as well with couscous.
Time & Timing
The farro can be boiled the day before and then you can just assemble the salad when you need it. If making from scratch the farro will take 30-40 minutes to cook so while it is cooking you can prepare the rest of the dish.
Gadgets & Gizmos
No particular equipment necessary – life would be nice with an asparagus steamer but I have survived this far without one and improvise with my tallest saucepan.
Ingredients – for 4
250g farro (“arpacas”)
1 bunch of green asparagus
500g sugar snap peas ie peas still in the pod (or frozen good quality “petits pois”)
Sprouted seeds (optional)
A small bunch of mint
A small bunch of spring onions
Juice of 1 lemon, good olive oil to dress
Put the farro to boil in plenty of water. I sometimes add some organic stock powder. Test it after 30 minutes – It should be pleasant to chew and definitely not hard but should not be too mushy either. Cooking times will vary according to the size of the wheat grains, the variety and if it is cracked or un-cracked farro. Once it is done, drain it under some cold water and fluff it up with a fork so it dries and cools down without becoming a glutinous mess
If your sugar snap peas are really young then they can be cooked whole. If not pop the peas out of their pods. This may sound irritating but I like the smell of the pods opening and I find it oddly hypnotic. It reminds me of shelling peas and broad beans with my grandmother.
Cut the stems of the asparagus so that you have dispensed with the woody parts. It's always an educated guess and I am always worried I might cut off too much good stuff. I keep the rubber band on the asparagus and plunge it into boiling water. I then cover it so that the delicate tips steam and the more dense stems cook in the boiling water. It varies on the size of your pan and the asparagus but 5-7 minutes should do it and it’s a great excuse to have to keep “testing” Take out the asparagus and immediately plunge into very cold water – this keeps the color bright.
In the same pan and using the same water throw in the peas and cook for just 2-3 minutes as this is all they will need. You can use frozen petits pois but only the truly small ones work. Also plunge these into cold water as soon as cooked. Make sure the asparagus and peas are dry and are cooled down. However I love warm salads (it justifies impatience too) so as soon as the ingredients are warm not hot you can assemble and dress the salad.
Chop up the spring onions. Tear the mint leaves. Chop the asparagus into pieces. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the farro and some black pepper. Mix all the ingredients including the oil and lemon juice together lightly and test for seasoning. Add the spouted seeds as decoration if you are using and serve in individual bowls.
By Rachel Sargent, guest writer
Chef / patron at The London Street Atelier, facebook.com/thelondonstreetatelierNr5
(photo source: Rachel Sargent)