Sunday, 31 May 2009

from Florence, with love: warm farro salad

Every year I get to go to Florence for work, which rocks. Florence is an excellent place to spend a week working and eating... I rarely eat out here, for a simple reason: I stay next to the central market, and like to spend time cooking with the spectacular fresh ingredients available in spring. This year I did the usual pasta (picci, which is rarely found outside Tuscany, and which I love, but I also love that it's something that is still a local food) and fresh porcini, but that's not really something you need a recipe for. However, spelt is big here. I especially like whole spelt berries, or farro. You can use them like rice, or wheat berries, or small pasta. You can make rissotto with them, which I highly recommend. They're super yummy chewy. Also, spelt seems to be the only concession to "whole grain" made here. Everything else (the bread, the pasta, the rice) is white. This year, I also happened across some fresh canellini beans (which practically melt in your mouth), and there were little zucchini flowers everywhere. Oh my. I made this, and it was perfect. It's very simple, and relies on having good, very fresh ingredients. In other words, no, you can't substitute canned tomatoes, cheap-ass olives, or dry parsley. (You can, however, use dried beans). Make this when you can get excellent tomatoes that were picked ripe, and get damn good olives. If you can't find zucchini flowers, use barely-steamed mangetout or fresh green peas.

-1 c farro, cooked (gives about 1.5 cups)
-1 c fresh cannelini beans

-8 zucchini flowers
-2 ugly but perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 c parsley chopped
-a few spicy olives in olive oil, or if your olives are in brine, some good olive oil to drizzle plus a dash (only a dash) of hot pepper. This isn't a hot dish per se. The pepper just adds a very subtle edge. Very. Subtle. Exercise restraint, gentle reader, and you will be rewarded with a lovely lovely layering of flavours. Too much chili, and you'll overwhelm everything, which would be a shame.
-salt and pepper to taste

Cook the spelt berries/farro in plenty of boiling salted water for about 10 mins. At the 10 minute mark, add the beans. Somewhere between the 15-20 minute mark both should be done. When the farro and beans are done, add the zucchini flowers for about 30 seconds, and then pick them out with a fork and put them aside (you want to just barely cook them). Drain farro and beans. Return them to the hot pot, but don't bother turning the heat back on. Stir in all the other ingredients, and serve, topped with the zucchini flowers. Oh, and when I say "some olive oil", I didn't add any. I was just using olives preserved in oil. So if you're adding, I'd say 1 tsp or so for the whole recipe. Or you could just leave it out.

singing: a love song to ugly tomatoes that i made up on the spot.

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