Thursday 9 June 2011

Finger on the Pulses

Whilst lurking around in an Italian deli last week in Putney, I stumbled upon the whole selection of the Bartolini Range.  Up until that moment I had only known of their Farro Perlato, but it appears that they have a brilliant selection of lovely pulses, pastas and cereals all from Umbria.  I bought some lovely looking Borlotti Beans, Cannellini Beans and Chickpeas as well as Orecchiette and Trofie Pasta.

Farro is the Italian word for Emmer wheat. It is a wheat grain, actually a kernel, that resembles barley and is specifically grown in Italy but grows wild in the Middle East.  It is hulled but not "polished" and therefore retains a rustic character both in taste and consistency. Like the other grains in the wheat family, Spelt and Kamut, Farro is botanically closer to ancient varieties of grains and has a high vitamin, mineral and fiber content. 

Anyway, I love the stuff and often put it into all sorts of soups. But the other day my friend Katherine make a lovely Barley Salad for a picnic with Asparagus, Broad Beans, Peas, Feta and Mint and I thought I might see how it turned out with Farro. 

I have to say I am really pleased with the result. I love Barley but Farro has a delicious chewy texture and a stronger, sweet wheat taste which really makes this salad sing and with the addition of some baby spinach leaves tossed through and some crisp Prosciutto on top, I thought it was a winner.

There were also some lentils which caught my eye.  I am just in the process of making Salt Pork for an ambitious blog involving the Sauerkraut that I made a few weeks ago but I have been so busy, what with children on half-term and work, that I am beginning to wonder if it will ever get made. I think my Salt Pork may be heading for a "Petite Sale aux"Lentilles" instead of  "Choucroute Garnie" as I originally intended. 

But in the meantime a made a lovely lentil salad.  This is one of those recipes which really does not sound or look that exciting but always tastes much more than its sum of ingredients.  I think it is the combination of chilli and celery which is such a refreshing mix of hot (spicy) and cold with the nutty lentils which works so well.

Also in the Bartolini range I discovered a ready made soup mix called Zuppa Rapida, clearly as close as Italians in Umbria get to an instant soup, which is a fantastically healthy selection of pearl barley, lentils, green azuki beans, tiny white beans and dried green peas.  On the back is a recipe which translates as "Soup of the Mill" and when I woke up this morning to another wet and cold June day I thought I might give it a try.   However, my soup ended up more of a Bolognese.  I am not saying it wasn't nice, because it was but I can think of better recipes.  Broad Beans and Peas and Asparagus are everywhere now and I think I might make a really fantastic Minestrone with the Borlotti Beans I bought.  When I get some time !

Asparagus, Broad Bean and Pea Salad with Farro, Feta and Baby Spinach, Crisp Prosciutto

1 Bunch of Asparagus, snap off ends and cut the rest into 1 inch pieces
200g podded Broad Beans, (or frozen)
200g shelled peas, (or frozen)
100g Farro
100g Feta
Large handful of Baby Spinach
4 slices of Prosciutto or Parma Ham
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

First cook your Farro in plenty of salted boiling water until cooked and nice and chewy.  Drain and allow to cool.  Whilst still warm dress with a dressing make of some freshly squeezed lemon juice, some extra virgin olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.  Allow to cool completely.

Cook the asparagus in lots of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, until tender. Remove and refresh in lots of cold water.  Next put the peas in the water.  Bring it back to the boil and cook until tender.  Refresh.  Finally cook the Broad Beans in the water and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Refresh and shell when cool. Place your slices of Ham on some tin foil and bake for about 10 minutes in a medium hot oven until crisp.  Remove and allow to cool. 

Finally mix the Farro with the asparagus, broad beans, peas and freshly chopped mint.  Check for seasoning.  Just before serving toss through some baby spinach leaves.  Pile onto a large plate.  Crumble the feta on top and finally crumble the crisp ham over.

Lentil Salad with Celery, Carrots, Chilli and Parsley

Make sure you choose Lentils which hold their texture when cooked like
Le Puy Lentils or Castelluccio.  There should be much more vegetables in proportion to lentils. You can add other vegetables that you have to hand such as peppers or any colour or fennel. Adjust the amounts of all the ingredients according to your taste.

200g Lentils (see note)
200g carrots, chopped very finely
200g celery, pealed and chopped very finely
200g cucumber, seeds removed and chopped very finely
1 Fresh Red Chilli
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Large handful of Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped (or disciplined as
Fergus Henderson would say)

Cook the lentils in plenty of salted cold water.  Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes until just cooked.  Do not over cook as they will not retain their texture which is very important for this salad.  When cooked, drain and allow to cook.  When still warm, mix with the dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Allow to cool completely before mixing with all the other ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve scattered with a little more freshly chopped parsley.  Try using some leaves of baby gem lettuce as a "spoon."


  1. I just love that first picture with all the bright green. It looks a lovely salad.

  2. Delicious dishes! Perfect for summer. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Lovely lentil salad ... simple and fresh, and totally delicious !


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