Wheat Field with Crows, Vincent Van Gogh.
My friend Marie moved to Paris about a dozen years ago and then became vegan. No duck rillettes or Camembert? No Day-Glo macaroons? What do you make of this seemingly intelligent New Yorker refusing their superior food? I’m not exactly sure how she’s faring with Parisian society, but she sure has stuck to her principles.
She was back in town the other night, and I wanted to cook for her. Making good food for vegans isn’t difficult, even for a pork-fat-and-cheese-obsessed type like me, although if she hadn’t relented on her ban on olive oil for the night I would have been in big trouble.
I had a bag of emmer and a cauliflower, and I decided to take these fine ingredients in a bistro direction (I think I’m more enthralled by Paris than Marie is). I’ve had lots of whole grains—spelt, emmer, and einkorn—on my shelves lately, having collected them from farmers who grow the ancient varieties in upstate New York and sell them at the Union Square Greenmarket. I always thought that Italy’s farro was emmer, but now that I know that farro can actually be any of these three wheat varieties—emmer, spelt, or einkorn—I find cooking them all the more interesting. I’ve seen packages of farro in Italy labeled piccolo, which I now know means einkorn; medio, meaning emmer; and grande, for spelt. The stuff I can buy at New York supermarkets is labeled simply farro, so it’s hard to tell what it is, and it is pearled, meaning some of the bran, where much the fiber and nutrients lie, has been tumbled off, presumably for faster cooking. I’m not interested in fast cooking. I prefer slow, verging on annoying, so I’m happy to find unadulterated whole grains at my Greenmarket.
And I’m getting to know the differences in taste and texture between these three varieties. I’m not sure I could yet distinguish each one in a blind test, but I’m thinking I like emmer best. It seems to have the strongest wheat flavor.
I love the decidedly un-Italian mix of mustard, tarragon, and capers. It’s good on fish and chicken, and when it’s made into a vinaigrette, it’s a vibrant dressing for the roasted vegetables that form the anchor for this salad. If you’d like to dissociate yourself from the vegan angle of this dish, serve it with a side of soppressata or another good salumi and a wedge of Gruyere.
Warm Cauliflower and Farro Salad with Mustard and Tarragon
(Serves 4 as a main course)
1½ cups farro
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon dried ginger
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
About 10 large tarragon sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
A dozen or so basil leaves, lightly chopped
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked, rinsed, and drained
A small head of frisée lettuce, torn into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Cook the farro in boiling salted water until just tender to the bite. Mine took about 25 minutes, but supermarket types can cook faster, usually in 15 minutes or so. Drain it and tip it into a large serving bowl.
While the farro is cooking, lay out the cauliflower on a sheet pan. Drizzle it with olive oil, season it with a little salt, and toss it well. Roast until it’s just starting to turn golden, about 10 minutes. Now scatter on the shallots, garlic, allspice, ginger, and a little black pepper. Roast about 5 to 8 minutes longer, or until it’s lightly browned and tender. Add the cauliflower to the farro.
In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice with the mustard. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Pour this over the farro. Add the herbs, capers, and frisée. Toss well. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or mustard, if needed.