Earlier this month, we were visiting family in western Massachusetts and planning a lunch for a gathering of fifteen good eaters. We’d stopped at Petarski’s Sausage for several pounds of their traditional kielbasa and a jar of locally made sauerkraut and at one of the many roadside stands for bunches of just-picked asparagus. Grilled kielbasa with sauerkraut and roasted asparagus garnished with lots of quartered, hard-boiled eggs would make two great dishes but I needed one more. Luckily my sister Sadie had her usual supply of Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer Farro, a grain she orders regularly from our friends Sam and Brooke Lucy who grow it in Washington state’s Methow Valley, so I began to create an emmer farro salad to round out the meal.
The Bluebird Grain Farms website describes emmer farro as: a type of farro (an ancient hulled wheat) that dates back to early civilization. It’s a simple grain of 28 chromosomes that pre-dates spelt. It is prepared like brown rice and cooks in 50-60 minutes (or can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time). It makes a fabulous pilaf, grain salad, risotto, addition to soup, or sprouted grain for breads and salads. When cooked, its dark, plump berries add sweet full-bodied flavor, chewy texture, and high nutritional value (over 16% protein) to every meal.
And as farmer Sam added the other day when I told him about this meal: “emmer is a great filler.” He’s right, and I was counting on that for my family lunch crowd, but emmer’s sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture also make it a great match for many savory flavors, whatever vegetables, meats, cheeses or nuts happen to be available. For this day’s lunch, I covered four cups of emmer farro with ten cups of water in a large pot and set it to boil, then to simmer, covered, on the stove while I began preparing vegetables I’d add to it for a grain salad. Sadie offered the last of her shallots so I slowly sautéed a cup and a half them, chopped, in olive oil. When they were soft and starting to brown, I added some chopped garlic. We’d also bought four bunches of locally grown bok choi so I coarsely chopped the leaves and stems and slightly wilted them. And the day before we’d bought some locally made bocconcini mozzarella that I was marinating in olive oil and herbs. Sadie also had some flavorful pecans so we toasted a generous half-cup.
After 45 minutes of simmering, the emmer farro was soft and chewy. I drained it then stirred in the sautéed shallots and garlic, the wilted bok choi and quartered bocconcini then dressed the grains and vegetables with a lemon juice/mustard/maple syrup and olive oil vinaigrette we’d made up on the spot, adding just a few teaspoons of the maple syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon and sharpness of the mustard. We lined a large, shallow bowl with a layer of Sadie’s just-picked spinach, arranged the emmer farro vegetable salad on top of the spinach and sprinkled the toasted pecans on top. Who knew that what was meant to take third place behind the kielbasa and asparagus would be the hit of the lunch. Everyone from a three-year-old to an eighty-one-year-old asked for seconds.
Back home after our visit, I’ve continued to experiment with emmer farro and vegetable salads. For a potluck dish, I sautéed some of my remaining shallots and garlic as a base and instead of bok choi added lots of chopped red radishes and toasted pecans and dressed the salad with just olive oil and salt and pepper. Another night I started with sautéed shallots as a base, added some cooked black beans and chopped radishes and finally some roasted broccoli topped with lemon zest. Last night I roasted some purplette onions and some spring turnips, sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and added these tasty spring vegetables to cooked emmer farro and black beans.
Once again, emmer farro’s chewy grain flavor was a perfect match for these earthy, sweet spring vegetables.
A friend asked me this weekend what I planned to bring to our neighbor’s Fourth of July potluck celebration next month. I told her I was already thinking of what vegetables to add to an emmer farro salad. Maybe some roasted beets and carrots, flavored perhaps with toasted cumin and coriander seed, with sautéed beet greens and roasted spring onions. Food for a crowd!
Happy Summer Solstice!