So… rumour has it that a certain Very Very Large Sporting Event is about to take place, virtually in my back yard here in London. For almost 12 years we have lived in what most west-Londoners considered a distant and drab backwater of the capital (pretty much how most west-Londoners regard anything east of Tower Bridge!). But all of a sudden, east London is a happening place. We have the biggest exhibition centre in London; we have a suited-up, clipped-in walk across the top of a world famous landmark; we even have cable cars, dude. Cable cars! We also now have an Olympic stadium, an Olympic village and trains and busses packed with people wearing International Olympic Committee secuity passses and staring at route maps in puzzlement.
Can you see what it is yet?
Oh yes – the 5-ringed Olympic circus is coming to town. My town.
We usually hold our annual big South African Braai in the late summer, but this year the threats of Olympic traffic and transport chaos caused us to bring it forward to a rainy Saturday (!) in July. Realising that regular summer braai favourites like my seven-layer salad or watermelon & feta salad were probably not going to spark too much enthusiasm, I searched for a more hearty and fulfilling salad to fortidy us against the drizzle. Tucked into the dark corner of a pantry cupboard was a bag of pearled farro from Unbria which, I believe, my good mate Andrew gave me literally years ago as part of an informal recipe challenge (a challenge that I had clearly not risen to at the time!). Farro (Triticum dicoccum), also called Emmer wheat, is the Italian term for an ancient species of wheat, often confused with its two close relations spelt and einkorn. When I say ancient, I mean it: grains of wild Emmer wheat discovered in archaeological excavations Israel had a radiocarbon dating of 17,000 BC. The discovery of wild Emmer growing in Israel in 1906, understandably, caused a stir in the scientific community in much the same way as the discovery of a very much alive “extinct” coelecanth fish off the coast of South Africa in 1938.
Today Emmer is primarily a heritage crop grown in mountainous areas, important because of its ability to give good yields on poor soils and its resistance to fungal diseases. Emmer is grown in Armenia, Morocco, Spain (Asturias), the Carpathian mountains, Albania, Turkey, Switzerland and Italy. It is also grown in the U.S. as a health food as it is non-hybridized and un-manipulated, unlike many other wheat crops. It is commercially available through speciality and health stores, although its close relation spelt is more readily available and can be used as a similar substitute if necessary, as can barley. American and Italian Emmer usualy differ in their degree of pearling: the Americans like to leave more of the husk on the grains, whereas the italians take it off, meaning that Italian farro usually takes less time to cook and requires no soaking. Once cooked, the farro morphs into plump grains of chewy, nutty deliciousness which make a wonderfully nourishing wholegrain salad or a chunky addition to soups. For our braai I cooked up a big pot of farro and mixed it with a tray of caramelised roasted vegetables and fresh flat-leaf parsley to brighten the flavours – and I think the plates licked clean and the requests for a recipe tells you all you need to know about how good it tasted.
The universally recognised symbol of the Olympic Games is composed of five interlocking rings, coloured blue, yellow, black, green, and red on a white field. Wikipedia tells me that it was originally designed in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, regarded as the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Cobertin was quoted as saying that the emblem was “chosen to represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition.” The symbol was officially adopted and made its official debut at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920. Over the years, there have been rumours that the symbol itself has Greek mythological origins, but the current view of the IOC is that the symbol simply reinforces the idea that the Olympic Movement is international and welcomes all countries of the world to join. The rings are said to represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games, but no continent is represented by any specific ring or colour.
And what, you ask, does this have to do with my beautiful farro salad? Well the answer lies in the colours of the ingredients: RED peppers; YELLOW peppers, GREEN zucchini, BLACK(ish) aubergines and BLUE… ummm…. well… how about I distract you with BLUEberry Eton mess for dessert then?
FARRO AND ROASTED VEGETABLE SALAD (serves 8-10 as a side dish)
2.5 cups of farro (or substitute spelt or barley – adjust cooking time as per package instructions)
3 cups of water
1/2 tsp salt
half an onion
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped into bite-sized squares
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded and chopped into bite-sized squares
2 medium zucchini, sliced into thick coins anfd then into semi-circles
1 bulb of fennel, sliced and chopped into bire-sized pieces
1 medium aubergine, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 red onion, sliced into wedges
large handful of flatleaf parsley, chopped
olive oil for roasting
salt, pepper and seasonings
90ml extra-virgin olive oil
30ml white wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt, pepper and seasonings
Set the farro, salt, half an onion, garlic and water to boil in a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. After that, turn off the heat, cover, and allow to stand for at least 5 minutes so that it absorbs any remaining water.
In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 200C. Toss all the chopped vegetables in a large bowl together with a good glug of olive oil, until well coated. Spread the vegetables on a baking tray, sprinkle with salt, pepper and seasonings of your choice. Roast in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes or until tender and beginning to caramelise. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little.
Spoon the cooked farro into a large serving dish, discarding the onion and garlic. Add the roasted vegetables and the chopped parsley. Mix together the oil, vinegar, mustard and seasoning and pour over the salad. Mix well and serve.
You can also add other fresh herbs; chopped cherry tomatoes; or feta cheese.
Don’t forget – I am hosting Meeta’s Monthly Mingle this month and the theme isA Taste of Yellow to honour our friend and ellow-blogger Barbara Harris of Winos and Foodies who passed away last month after finally losing a long battle with cancer. In honour of her annual Taste of Yellow event which raised cancer awareness, we have decided to paint the food blogs yellow with dishes in every shade of yellow, and we hope you can join us! Feel free also to share memories and pictures of Barbara in your post if you wish. You have until 6 August to get your entries in – click here for detalis of how to take part.