It’s still hot here in Texas but the weather is beginning to change ever so slightly. The heat is less intense and the night air is subtly cooler. My favorite thing this time of year is the light. There is something about the afternoon sunlight that I always notice–it’s more golden, and seems to shine from a different angle. By the time I flip the calendar to September, I am more than ready for cooler weather, but not quite ready to give up on eating my favorite summer recipes; and I can never let summer go by without making my summer farro salad. I grew up eating a version of this salad which was always made with long grain white rice, which in Italian is called insalata di riso. It was a staple side dish at many family cookouts and the flavor of this salad is one of my strongest taste memories. I decided to make my own version using one of my favorite whole grains: farro. I love its chewy texture and its earthy, nutty flavor. It’s one of the best grains you can use for cold salads because farro’s firm texture holds up well to salad dressings.
Farro is an ancient grain and is said to have been the staple that fed the Roman Legions. It all but disappeared from the culinary world until more recently where it is now enjoying a revival. The word “farro” refers to three distinct species of hulled wheat: spelt, emmer, and einkorn. The Italian names for each of these are farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer), and farro grande (spelt). The farro found in most grocery stores is usually farro medio and it comes in three forms: whole grain, semi-pearled, and pearled. Whole grain farro requires an overnight soak before cooking, but semi-pearled and pearled farro take less time to cook and do not need to be soaked overnight. I’ve discovered the best way to cook farro is to cook it the same way as pasta: in plenty of boiling, well-salted water. Aromatics can be added if desired and the farro is cooked until al dente–tender, but still with slight firmness in the center.
The classic mix-in ingredients for a summer farro salad in Italy are typically corn kernels, peas, olives, tuna, a mild, semi-firm cheese, gherkins (or cornichons), tomatoes, and bell pepper. Italians also love adding in diced, cooked wurstel (hot dogs)–not a favorite ingredient of mine, so I use cooked ham. Instead of dicing up a variety of vegetables, Italians will sometimes use condiriso, a mix of vegetables marinated in oil and vinegar, and found in most Italian supermarkets. I lucked out and found a double pack of condiriso on Amazon.com (!!), and the vegetables along with a few splashes of the marinade added fantastic flavor to the salad.
The only hard part about making this salad is waiting the hour or two after it is made to eat it, but the wait is worth it because as the salad rests, the flavors of all the ingredients blend together and intensify. This is a recipe that not only can be made in advance, it should be. Summer farro salad is also easy to make in large quantities so it’s the perfect salad for a potluck, picnic, or back yard cook-out. It’s also customizable: it can be made gluten-free by using rice; a vegan version can be made by omitting the ham, tuna, and cheese; and a vegetarian version can be made by omitting the meats and increasing the amount of vegetables. I have one more jar of condiriso in the pantry and I just might make one more batch of summer farro salad to enjoy before I have to say arrivederci to summer.
Summer Farro Salad
If you cannot find “Condiriso”, use an assortment of your favorite marinated vegetables such as mushrooms, artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives, asparagus, etc. Add in fresh vegetables such as peas (thawed if frozen), carrots, and fennel. Cut the vegetables into small dice.
Use the measurements in the recipe below more as a guideline. If you cook more farro, you will need to add more olive oil, vegetables, ham, and cheese, but make sure not to overload the salad with too many “mix in” ingredients–you want a good balance between the farro and the other ingredients.
275 grams/9.7 oz. (2 cups) uncooked farro
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 slices thin-sliced cooked ham, cubed
100 grams/3.5 oz. (1 cup) cubed mild semi-firm cheese (Muenster, Provolone, Havarti)
70 grams/2.5 oz. (½ cup) sliced sweet gherkins or cornichons
2 Tablespoons capers, drained
142 grams/5oz. can tuna in olive oil, drained
1 jar (285 grams) Condiriso, drained (reserve marinade) *See headnote if you can’t find this product.
Place the farro in a colander and rinse well under cold water. Set aside. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add in the salt. Add in the farro and cook until the farro is al dente (read package instructions for cooking time). Once cooked, drain the farro through a colander and transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Toss the cooked farro immediately with the olive oil. Let the farro cool slightly until warm. Add in the ham, cheese, gherkins, capers, tuna, and condiriso and toss well to incorporate all the ingredients evenly. Refrigerate the salad for 1-2 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature.
Vegan version: Omit the ham, tuna, and cheese, and add more vegetables if desired.
Vegetarian version: Omit the ham and tuna, and add more vegetables if desired.
Gluten-Free version: Use rice in place of the farro.
Storage: Store refrigerated in a covered container and bring to room temperature before serving. Eat within 3 days.