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Ancient grain farro adds weight to a summer salad

Susan Russo

One of the perks of living in a condo is that you reap all of the benefits of grilling without all the hassle: The gas tank on the grill is always full. The grill is so big I could cook a whole pig on it if I wanted to (I don’t, but it’s nice to know that I could). And, best of all, the grill smell doesn’t get trapped inside the house (cause let’s face it, that steak you enjoyed for dinner last night doesn’t smell so great the next morning). Neither does extra strength Febreze.

One day after returning from the farmers’ market with bags full of red bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant, I knew I had to make some marinated grilled vegetables. A good portion of them went into this Farro and Grilled Vegetable Salad.

What is farro? Farro is the mother of all grains. Really. This deliciously nutty, chewy whole grain was used by the Egyptians more than 6,000 years ago. Yet, it’s only relatively recently that it has become vogue. Farro is most closely associated with Italian cuisine and has been enjoyed there since ancient Roman times. Unfortunately, because farro is rather difficult to grow, it was eventually replaced by durum wheat.

Over the last few years, thanks primarily to European chefs and gastronomes, farro has staged a comeback and is rightfully reclaiming its place at the dinner table. I for one couldn’t be more pleased. Farro is a satisfyingly chewy grain that is high in fiber and protein, which helps keep you full long after you’ve finished eating it. Plus, farro is remarkably versatile: Use it in salads, as a stuffing, as a breakfast cereal, or in place of rice or pasta.

Where can you buy farro? Some organic markets carry it, though the best place to find farro is at an Italian market or deli. Farro is pricey. A 15- to 20-ounce bag typically ranges from $6 to $10, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. If you can’t find farro, then spelt or barley make good substitutes. They don’t have exactly the same firm texture and nutty flavor, but they are tasty and cook more quickly.

Farro and Grilled Vegetable Salad

1/2 cup dry farro

1 small-medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 red bell pepper, halved

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 large onion, preferably Vidalia, halved

2 tablespoons feta cheese (optional garnish)

For the marinade

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the dressing

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar (or regular, if you prefer)

2 teaspoons water

2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt, to taste

1/4 cup mix chopped herbs such as basil, oregano and parsley

Soak farro in cold water for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large Ziploc bag or Tupperware container, add ingredients for marinade and shake well. Add vegetables, and shake until well coated. Marinate for 30 to 45 minutes.

To make the dressing, simply whisk all ingredients (except herbs) in a small bowl and set aside. Add herbs just before finishing the salad so they stay green and fresh.

Drain the farro. Place in a small pot and cover with 3 to 4 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered at a rolling boil for 20 minutes, or until tender. Cooked farro should be firm and chewy, but not hard. Drain and place in a large bowl.

Drain marinated vegetables. Place on a hot grill that has been lightly oiled. Grill vegetables for 5 to 7 minutes per side on medium-high heat, or until tender and lightly charred. Chop vegetables into 1-inch pieces. Add to the bowl with the cooked farro, then add dressing and fresh herbs and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with feta cheese, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 293 calories; 13 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 38 g carbohydrates; 10 g sugar; 3 mg cholesterol; 223 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 8 g fiber.