Herbs in the garden set the scene for culinary magic. In this case emmer farro is part of the wizardry.
When I planted an herb garden just outside the back door a dozen years ago I had no idea how much it would simplify and influence our cooking, the ability to have what is needed to brighten the flavor of almost anything. Like this farro salad for example, it was a step out the back door, snip a few pieces of this and that. Voilà. Well, almost.
The herb garden isn’t precious, it gets some attention in the spring, cleaning up and rearranging, after that not much of anything. That’s the way with herbs, they like to rough it. They’d be good on a camping trip – hike for miles without water and then bed down for the night without any fuss. The Mediterranean landscape is in their genes and rocky scruffy soil and dry conditions make them feel right at home. Sure, they respond to a little TLC, but the point is they don’t want or need a lot of attention. Not at all like roses who will throw a temper tantrum on a whim, herbs are the least spoiled child in the garden. Leave them alone, they’re happy campers.
The convenience of having fresh herbs at hand is still such serendipity when I find that I have just what’s needed to make something delicious. I wanted to marinate a flank steak and realized that most of the ingredients were growing in the backyard: mint, oregano, marjoram, garlic, parsley; olive oil and red wine vinegar in the pantry. This happens a lot.
The Roasted Tomato Salsa in The Herbfarm Cookbook goes with the steak and is amazing. I made the ‘salsa’ minus its main ingredient, tomatoes, and used it as a dressing for the cooked farro. With thinly sliced pieces of the grilled flank steak on the side, the savory herbed farro was an exceptional accompaniment. The thing is, it’s also a great dish on its own, no meat necessary.
Fresh Herbs & Farro Salad: Plan on about 40 minutes, give or take, to cook the farro. Measure five parts liquid to one part farro, boil gently for 35-40 minutes in salted water or stock. Farro is done when it’s tender, but still has a slight bite, similar to al dente pasta. It doesn’t soak up the liquid as rice does, but expands and cooks in the ample liquid. Drain off excess when the farro is done. I made the dressing as it cooked and tossed it all together while farro was piping hot.
Cooking the Farro: 1 C farro w/ 5 C salted water. Lightly simmer together for 35-45 minutes, longer if you prefer. Check it along the way – it’s good when it’s still a little chewy. Drain. Yields 2 1/2 C cooked.
Herbed Dressing: Inspired by Jerry Traunfeld’s Roasted Tomato and Herb Salsa in The Herbfarm Cookbook and w/o the roasted tomatoes. Finely chop the fresh ingredients and set aside: 1/3 C red &/or spring onions, 1/3 C oregano, 1/3 C marjoram, 2 T each mint, parsley and chives, 1 T spring garlic or 1 garlic clove and 1 t jalapeno.
Mix together in a large bowl bowl, one in which the farro will be added later: 1/4 C olive oil, 2 or 3 T red wine vinegar, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add the chopped onions and garlic to olive oil and vinegar mix while farro cooks. I sometimes add 1/2 t of cumin, sometimes 1 t honey. Save the other fresh ingredients, especially the herbs, until the farro has cooled a bit.
When farro is done, drain thoroughly, and while it’s still warm add to the large bowl and mix with dressing, garlic and onions. After it’s cooled, 10 minutes or so, add all of the freshly chopped herbs.
Add whatever fresh/seasonal vegetables you like. I had broccoli in the backyard and snow peas, also some asparagas ends which I sliced thinly, steamed slightly and added; finely chopped garlic greens and one of Billy’s hothouse tomatoes (from last weekend’s Farmer’s Market). This salad is also fine simplified, with just dressing, parsley and/or a handful of dried herbs.
Serve Fresh Herbs and Farro Salad at room temperature along with anything you like or on its own. Add a handful of dried cherries or golden raisins to the recipe and it partners beautifully with pork or chicken.
Wild Mushroom & Farro Cakes in autumn.