April 25, 2013

Salad of Asparagus Ribbons with Farro Perlato

There are many reasons to rejoice in springtime being in full swing. For many, it is the relief of being able to put your winter coat into storage. For me, spring is all about the array of fresh and sweet green vegetables that start to become available. The season marks the beginning of our most bountiful time of the year. All of the spring vegetables from peas to artichokes are favorites making it tough to pick just one. Sometimes the decision is made easy by what looks best at the market. Vibrant green fat spears of asparagus caught my eye this week. When I brought them home and tasted them in their raw state, they were so sweet and tender that I chose to prepare a fresh salad that would celebrate the sweetness that is briefly gifted to us this time of year.

Shaving ribbons of asparagus is easy, fun, and allows the vegetable to shine both in flavor and appearance. If you have never made ribbons from vegetables, now is your chance to give it a try. All you need is a good vegetable peeler. It is a great thing to do with zucchini, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, and any vegetable that you want to put a new spin on for salads or sauteing. If you make ribbons out of vegetables like carrots or radishes and want to eat them cold, submerge them into ice water and they will curl.

If you have never heard of Farro perlato before, you are probably not alone. This ancient grain used by the Etruscans, Egyptians, and Romans is the first known cereal in history. Due to a recent revival of interest in the grain both in Europe and the United States, it is growing to be increasingly popular. It is a delicious grain that is nutty and earthy in flavor with a firm and chewy texture. The grains can also be soaked overnight and prepared as a porridge. I absolutely love it and am currently obsessed with using it in everything. Those of you that are gluten-free will want to avoid using farro as it is a type of spelt therefore containing gluten. With more than twice the amount of protein derived from wheat, farro is an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, trace minerals, B vitamins, and has cyanogenic glucosides which are believed to lower cholesterol and maintain blood sugar.

Asparagus offers a great source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. It is also anti inflammatory, loaded with antioxidants, detoxifying, and touted with anti aging properties.

Being highlighted with the tanginess of fresh lemon, this salad is all the more delicious and good for you. Lemon juice is an excellent digestive aid and liver cleanser. It has strong antibacterial, antiviral, and immune-boosting powers as well being able to help promote immunity and fight infection. Lemons also provide a great source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and pectin.

Happy springtime everyone!

Salad of Asparagus Ribbons with Farro Perlato

Serves 4-6

For all ingredients, please consider using those that are grown organically.

1 cup Farro Perlato
3 cups water
1 bunch (1 pound) fresh asparagus, preferably fat spears
1 shallot, thinly sliced into rounds
1-2 lemon, zest and juice, how many used will depend on the size and amount of juice in the lemons
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  sea salt
  freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

Rinse and drain the farro.

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium size sauce pan. Add the farro, about a teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pan with a lid.

Cook the farro for 25-30 minutes. When the grains are finished cooking, they will be firm and chewy in texture, but soft enough that they are not crunchy.

Strain the grains of any remaining water and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the grains and toss with a spoon to combine the flavors. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. At this point, the farro is delicious on it's own or ready to add to any sort of salad. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Warm a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the sliced shallots to the pan, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook for 3-5 minutes. They should begin to caramelize and frizzle. The shallot would also be a lovely addition to this salad raw and does not need to be sauteed if you prefer to skip this step.

Lay a washed asparagus spear horizontally on a cutting board or work surface. Hold the bottom of the spear with one hand and use your other to begin creating the ribbons moving an inch or two from the base of the spear all the way through the tip. When the spear becomes too thin to create more ribbons, turn it 90 degrees and shave thin ribbons with what remains. If this is too much of a challenge, reserve the scraps and chop them up to add to the salad at the end. Repeat with the remaining asparagus and transfer the ribbons to a large bowl.

Zest the lemon over the prepared asparagus ribbons. Add the cooled farro, shallots, juice of one lemon, about 1 teaspoon of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use your hands to gently toss the salad together. Season accordingly with more lemon juice, zest, oil, salt, or pepper. The flavor should be lemony and bright.

Serve the salad in the bowl or transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. It will be best served immediately while the ribbons of asparagus are still crisp.

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Categories: Grains, Salads, Spring & Summer, Vegetables

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