When Paul Virant and I were working on The Preservation Kitchen, Paul wanted to include a menu that acknowledged Earth Day. As far as holidays go, it’s not an obvious one for cookbooks to cover. But for Paul, a chef who took pains to compost at his restaurants long before other Chicago chefs got on the green train, it made perfect sense to recognize the day. So we composed a healthful, vegetarian spring menu that included a warm wheatberry salad with preserved lemons and peas.
I wanted to recreate that salad—with a few updates.
Instead of wheat berries, I went with farro, which I already had on hand. At Vie, Paul plays a nice trick with wheat berries by cooking, dehydrating, and frying them. Some of these crispy bits get folded into the salad for textural contrast and toasty flavor. I decided to try out another way to achieve that toasty-grain goodness, but with fewer steps. Heidi Krahling makes a lot of grain salads for the take-out counter at her restaurant, Insalata’s, in San Anselmo. She likes to slowly “toast” (or fry) whole grains in olive oil for up to 20 minutes before cooking them. She finds this deepens the flavor in grains and brings out an addictive nutty quality. For this recipe, I applied her technique of toasting grains to the farro.
Instead of peas, I turned to fresh garbanzo beans, which are easy to find at Bay Area farmers markets in the spring. Like shucked peas, fresh garbanzos cook quickly and have a beautiful light green color. When very young and fresh, they cook nearly as quickly as freshly shucked peas, though they take longer to cook later in the season.
Toasted Farro Salad with Fresh Garbanzos and Preserved Lemons
Makes about 4 cups
- 2 wedges preserved lemon (optional)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- ½ Vidalia onion, minced
- 1/2 bulb fennel, diced]
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar, preferably Champagne
- 1 tablespoons honey
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup garbanzos, freshly shucked, or 1 cup frozen peas
- 3 1/2 cups Toasted Farro (recipe follows) or cooked farro
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- ¼ cup chopped fennel frond.
Wash lemon wedges under a stream of cool running water for 15 minutes to rinse away excess salt. You also can soak the wedges in a generous amount of water overnight. Drain the wedges, remove the pulp, and cut away as much pith as possible without losing any of the rind. Mince the rind.
In a small bowl, mix the rind with the onion, diced fennel, lemon zest and juice, vinegar, and honey. Season gently with salt and pepper (the rind will be salty), then whisk in the olive oil.
If using fresh garbanzos, blanch them in a pot of boiling, salted water for 2 to 4 minutes (or longer if still starchy inside), then drain. If using frozen peas, rinse them briefly under running water. Fold the garbanzos into the farro, followed by the vinaigrette.
Mix in the parsley, mint, and fennel fronds, then taste, seasoning with salt if needed. If you plan to refrigerate the salad before eating, be prepared to add more lemon juice, vinegar, or salt to perk up flavors.
adapted from Insalata’s Mediterranean Table
makes about 3 1/2 cups
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup farro
- 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the farro, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until the farro is a deep golden brown and smells like toasted rice, about 15 minutes. (I do this while chopping the salad ingredients so I can keep an eye on the pot; if you don’t stir it enough, some of the farro will burn.)
Pour in the water, season with salt, cover and cook until the farro is no longer crunchy, 30 to 40 minutes depending on the farro. If the pot goes dry before the farro is done, add 1/2 cup of water to the pot at a time. If the farro is done and there is extra water in the pot, drain it before making the salad.