Of late I've been on a summer salad kick, particularly those of the sort that could be a tasty addition to things tossed on the grill, or a meal all by its lonesome. Another quality I look for in a salad is evidence that it will age well, gently mingling flavors, becoming more complex with the passage of days. These are the midlife partners of salads--dependable, varied, healthful. But moving on:
The latest sprouted from two bunches of broccolini that ended up in my basket at Safeway. They were green, fresh, and most importantly, a dollar a pop. I had nearly forgotten about them, thus, though not for the last time, wasting two perfectly good dollars in the name of a bargain, when I came upon another epicurean impulse purchase--the bags of artisan Italian bulk foods that I picked up at Rainbow a while ago: farro and cecci. Translation: spelt and Italian chickpeas (they actually translate to "grass peas," cute, eh? I thought so.) Faced with these orphans, one of my favorite of Angele's creations, "Pasta a la zia" someone or other, came to mind. Its a classic mixture of olive oil, anchovy, garlic, red pepper flakes, and broccoli, often served with orrichiette, little ear pasta. It also should be served hot, and gets rather gummy and less attractive the next day. I took the spirit of ol' zia whoever (zia=aunt) and created "insalata a la zia Bernadetta," in honor of my aunt Bern, who is looking for good things to make for lunch with veggies and legumes. I omitted the anchovy because when I went to open the tin it looked a little bocholistic, and added kalamata olives for their briny, salty flavor instead. I also tossed in a bit of arugula because I had it, and I thought the peppery taste would be good. Capers also came to mind, but alas, the cupboard was bare. Feta could make the whole thing more Greek. Do as you will...
1-2 bunches broccolini, heirloom broccoli, or the crowns of the regular stuff. I like a lot of broc.
1 cup farro (spelt), soaked overnight if desired
1 cup uncooked cecci soaked overnight, or one can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste, I tend to like it garlic laden), minced
Chili flakes, 1 tsp or more, to taste
8ish kalamata olives, minced
one bay leaf
herbs, if you like (I had fresh oregano, it was kind of nice)
Juice of one lemon
Cook farro and cecci, with a bay leaf, according to package direction. Farro freezes pretty well, so you may want to cook more to speed up your grain salad making at a later date. You don't have to soak the farro, but it cooks more quickly that way. Shorten the cooking time and taste if you do soak it.
Put farro and cecci into a large bowl
Blanch broccolini in boiling, salted water about 30 sec, then run under cold water.
In a large, cold skillet, put olive oil, garlic and chili flakes. Turn on heat to medium, and let the flavors infuse a bit. I then poured off a bit of oil into a cup for later flavoring as needed, but I might have had a bit more than a 1/4 cup to begin with. Turn up heat a bit and into remaining oil, add broccolini and saute until it softens a bit and picks up the flavors in the oil. Salt to taste as you saute. Turn the vegetables into the large bowl, making sure you get any oil and little bits remaining back in the pan. Add olives, and squeeze lemon on top (you need lemon, you do, maybe even a spot of zest if your inclined that way). Toss together and taste, adjusting seasonings (more salt, more chili) as needed. If eating immediately, toss in arugula and herbs. If not (better to wait a bit) cover and put in fridge for at least an hour. When you are ready to eat, add any herbs you might like (stick to Italian flavors--parsley, the oregano was rather nice, mint would be a different route...could work...). Enjoy alone as a meal, or as a side to broiled or grilled fish with lemon, roast chicken, etc.