Of all the possible grains to toss into your salad bowl, farro is by far the sexiest.
Earthy, rich with the flavor of nuts, even the word is alluring, much more appetizing than, say, dowdy-old "wheat berry," which is precisely what a farro grain is. (In Italy, it can also refer to several types of wheat berry with other less-seductive names: spelt, einkorn, and emmer.)
Farro generally comes semi-pearled, meaning some of the tough outer husk is peeled off, but not all of it. Semi-pearling allows farro to cook in 20 to 40 minutes as opposed to the wheat berries you get in the health food store, which can take two hours or more. And that thin layer of husk on farro gives the grains a malty flavor and helps maintain a firm bite, not to mention all kinds of good-for-you nutrients.
In this recipe, the farro grains are toasted in the oven before boiling to bring out their caramelized, nutty taste. Then, to accentuate the crunch, they're mixed with crisp bits of fried pecorino cheese, caramelized sweet corn, and toasted pine nuts, with some plump cherry tomatoes laced in for juicy sweetness. It makes for a salad that's as much about the interplay of textures as it is about the summery flavors.
And farro salads are perfect warm weather food. They get better as they sit and marinate in their dressing, making them ideal for picnics or lazy summer lunches that stretch out all afternoon long. This one is as substantial and hearty as mesclun is light and feathery. Serve it with grilled meats or fish as a side dish, or with plenty of lightly cooked vegetables as a vegetarian main course.
Toasted Farro Salad with Pine Nuts, Crispy Pecorino, and Caramelized Corn
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup farro
2 ears sweet corn, shucked
¼ cup pine nuts
4 ounces young, pecorino, such as pecorino rosselino, coarsely grated (1 cup)
1½ cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, more for serving
Coarse sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spread the farro on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until fragrant, 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add toasted farro and boil until grains are tender but chewy, 20 to 35 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. While the farro boils, preheat the broiler and arrange a rack 2 inches from the flame. Place corn on a baking sheet. Broil, turning occasionally, until lightly charred all over, 6 to 8 minutes (you can also do this on a grill). Let cool, then slice the kernels from the cob and add to the bowl of farro.
3. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add to the bowl of farro.
4. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Divide the grated cheese into four equal-sized mounds. Sprinkle two mounds into the skillet (to form two crisps). Cook until the cheese is lacy and slightly set, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip with a thin, flexible spatula; cook until crisp and golden, about 1 minute. Transfer crisps to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining cheese. Let cool. Break crisps into bite-sized pieces.
5. Add the tomatoes, parsley, scallions, garlic, oil, and lemon juice to the bowl of farro. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into bowls; drizzle with oil, sprinkle with lemon juice, garnish with cheese crisps, and serve.
- Cooking farro in a large pot of salted water as you would pasta allows you to control the al dente factor. Keep tasting it and when it's just tender, drain it really well before using. You could, if you wanted to be fancy about it, drain the farro and lay it out on a dishtowel to dry before adding it to the bowl. I don't usually bother.
- This salad really is all about crunch. If you want to lighten it up, serve it on a bed of airy lettuces drizzle with a little more olive oil and lemon juice.
- Craving even more crunch? Add some diced celery and carrots and be prepared to give your jaw a workout.
- Roasted red peppers, charred onions or grilled zucchini would add a welcome, velvety texture amidst all the crispy bits.
- If you don't have pine nuts, pistachios would make a fine, colorful substitute.
- If you can't find farro, try Israeli couscous or Fregola instead. It will be a softer salad without veering into wimpy.