Plump, nutty, almost sweet, the most ancient of all grains is grown in Umbria, Abruzzo and in the Garfagnano area of Tuscany. There are three types of Farro; farro piccolo; rarely used, farro media; the most common form, best bought as semi perlato (semi pearled) so that it cooks easily but retains its goodness, and farro grande or farro spelto which is spelt, a much tougher slower cooking grain which has more relevance ground into spelt flour. Farro was the most widely cultivated cereal of the ancient Romans, hence the origins of the word farina, flour in modern Italian.
Farro is a high in vitamins and fibre and very low in gluten. It is wonderful cooked into minestrone and winter soups, or used as a base for salads dressed with good extra virgin olive oil and mixed with seasonal vegetables. This recipe is a good one for pumpkin season, which in Italy is Autumn- Winter. Robiola is a lovely soft cheese traditionally from Piemonte, and made with varying percentages of Goat’s, Cow’s and Sheep’s milk, although the more commercially made stuff will often be just cow’s, like Caprino (from Capra, goat) which in supermarket chillers is often 100% cow’s milk. Robiola reminds me of the lovely soft curd like cheeses made by Meredith Dairy in Victoria, and so when I have time I marinate a chunk of Robiola in thyme, a squashed clove or two of garlic, leaving it to infuse in good olive oil that can then be used to dress the dish.
Insalata di Farro con Zucca al forno, Robiola, Noci & Limone
Farro salad with roasted pumpkin, Robiola, walnuts & Lemon
Serves 4, quantities are an indication, open to infinite modifications
250 grams farro semi perlato
2 red onions
60o g butternut pumpkin
4-6 stalks of thyme, rosemary, sage
1 clove garlic
1 small untreated lemon
100 g Robiola or soft fresh cheese
80 g shelled walnuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roughly chop the a couple of sprigs of thyme, crush a clove of garlic and place in a small bowl or glass jar with the broken up Robiola. Add ground pepper as desired and cover with good olive oil. Leave for as long as you can, in the fridge if the day is warm.
Peel and slice the pumpkin into evenly sliced chunks. Remove all the pith and seeds. Toss in a pinch of salt and a tbs of olive oil and lay out on a baking tray, with some of the whole herbs underneath. Peel and chop the onions into wedges and add to they tray. Bake for about 20-40 minutes until vegetables are soft and starting to caramelize. Move bits around the pan to help them cook evenly.
Zest the lemon. Lay the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in oven for 6-7 minutes. Let them cool and chop roughly.
Cook farro according to cooking instructions. Drain and slightly cool in a nice big stainless bowl where everything can be tossed easily. Once the pumpkin and onions are cooked you can add them to the farro and toss everything while they are still warm, assuming that you are going to eat right away. (If you are making for later, better to let everything cool before mixing). Add half of each of the marinated Robiola, walnuts, and the lemon zest, the remaining oil from the marinated cheese, and mix again. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary, add a splash of balsamic vinegar if that appeals.
Tip everything into a big serving bowl or individual plates, top with remaining cheese, walnuts and zest and serve.