Once upon a time about 20 years ago, I had a delicious salad in Italy. It came from one of those corner delis somewhere in Tuscany or Umbria. It was so simple and straightforward and tasty that it was memorable. I wrote it down in my travel journal. I was on my honeymoon at the time, which made everything taste better; I’m happy to say I still find this recipe delicious. Still adore the husband, too.
I’ve recreated it here. The original was made with farro, one of the heritage strains of wheat. Now I prefer to use einkorn, which is the original strain of wheat that all our other heritage and modern wheats descend from. I order mine from Jovial Foods; it is grown in Italy. But feel free to use farro or your favorite type of wheat berry. When soaked overnight, then steamed until slightly tender with a bit of chew (al dente), they will all taste similar in this recipe, though cooking times may vary.
A note about steaming: Most recipes for cooked wheat berries have you boil the berries in water. Soaking them first helps tenderize them and shortens the cooking time, and steaming them is a gentler way to cook them, retaining more of their nutrients, I imagine. My parents, who were health-food nuts, made red wheat berries this way. We’d eat hot steamed wheat berries for breakfast with butter and brown sugar, nice on a cold winter morning.
If you are gluten-free, you can easily substitute a hearty rice here. Rice, especially whole grain rice, is great in salads. I'd use 1 cup long grain brown rice, or a red or black rice. No need to soak and steam. Cook as you normally would prepare rice, with 2 cups water, on stovetop or in a rice cooker, and let it cool before mixing in the veggies.
Yield: 4 generous servings
1 c. einkorn berries, or semi-pearled farro
Water for soaking and cooking
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 c. diced tomatoes, red or yellow or a combination
1 Tbs. slivered *lovage leaves, or 2 Tbs. slivered celery leaves
2 tsp. salted capers, rinsed and chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Soak einkorn or other wheat berries overnight in water to cover. The next day, drain the berries. Place in a small metal bowl large enough to hold the berries, which will now measure about 2 cups, with 1 cup of water and ¼ tsp. salt. Set bowl in a steamer basket over a pot of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until einkorn is tender with a little chewiness. Let cool a few minutes, then remove bowl from steamer, and drain off any excess water – most will have been absorbed. Spread on a large plate or tray to cool.
In a large bowl mix cooled berries with the celery, tomatoes, lovage leaves, capers, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
*Lovage is an herb related to the celery plant. The leaves look very much like celery leaves but they have a slightly brighter, more intense, almost fruity flavor. If you can’t find lovage, celery leaves are a fine substitute.