farro spezzato | cracked emmer... and San Nicola

As autumn rolls in, time to start stirring up those hardier dishes...

It has been a busy last couple of seasons. Many trips to the vineyards of my dear natural winemaker friends in the Touraine in the Loire Valley to cook up a seasonal "dinêr des vignerons" (winemaker's supper) or two or three and quaff the many precious bottles of sweet, nakedly raw wine they all brought to the table. Then there was the 3-minute TV spot on the France 2 program C'est au programme of me cooking up a meal of Italy's la cucina povera (peasant food). I also created a new excursion offer : "a day with a natural winemaker in the Loire Valley" and am off on one with a couple of enthusiastic wine lovers next week. We'll be going to Christophe Foucher's—la Lunotte—just as he is launching into his grape harvest. It should be an exciting, eventful day! And finally I'll be doing a handful of cooking classes at  Paris Vegan Day on October 11, right around the corner. If any of you are in Paris do stop by...

Recently I gave a friend a long list of goodies to bring me from Rome : dried fava beans, matagliati pasta, fiery olive oil, cedro candito, perperoncino, farro (emmer)... I was like a kid, pulling all these goodies out of the bag they were stuffed in. Expecting to see a bag of whole-berry farro appear out of the sack, I was intrigued when I saw the package... farro spezzato (cracked emmer)—akin to bulgar in the size of the groats.

Now the name farro can be a bit confusing, as it's often associated with three wheat species: einkorn (Triticum monococum), emmer (Triticum dicocum) and spelt (Triticum spelta)— also called farro piccolo, farro medio et farro grande respectively. But in Italy emmer—the dicocum in the bunch—seems to be considered the "true" farro and in certain mountainous regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Abruzzo Umbria (Garfagnana and Monteleone di Spoleta, Rieti) where it is grown, it is labeled PDO (protected designation of origin)—meaning that it "be the real deal" ! And it is a mighty good tasting wheat... subtle and nutty, light and yet so earth bound.

Mind you, this is a plant that seems all to happy to grow in poor soil, making high mountainous elevations the perfect fit; it is quite undemanding when it comes to water—seems to have renowned resistance to drought—so need to to irrigate; it considers itself something of a wild herb and thus has no need of pesticides or weed killers... heaven forbid! Because of its husks, it can be stored without—yet again—the use of chemicals, as long as it is kept dry. It's a wonderfully hard wheat that produces an excellent flour. Kinda have to wonder why it all but disappeared. Perhaps the fact that it is a hulled wheat... demanding a bit more effort in getting to the grain...

Turning the package over, I was delighted to find a couple of recipes and thought I'd try one out : "ricetta di San Nicola" di magro : a "lean" or meatless dish served in Monteleone on the eve of the Feast of their Patron Saint Nicholas, December 5.

I am forever amazed at the simple yet sumptuous dishes that Italians are so skilled at creating... out of, well, almost nothing. And this recipe is a perfect case in point—perhaps the only difficult part of the recipe is getting a hold of farro spezzato at your local Italian market, if it doesn't happen to be in Italy. But I did a bit of searching and found the ChefShop online store in Seattle, WA. Seems they even have a retail store, and the MarketHall (selling the whole grain) in Oakland, CA. Here are a few at Amazon (also the whole grain)—make sure it stipulates "dicocum." If all else fails, I'm sure that bulgur would come in a close second...

Before heading on to the recipe, I wanted to add a few links you might find interesting :
International Seed Treaty on Via Campesina
— Sarah Kahn and her Tasting Cultures website
— TEDxManhatten 2013 video of Lindsey Lusher Shute of Hardy Roots Community Farm on building a future with farmers, the National Young Farmers Coalition that she founded.  And the many other TEDxManhatten 2013 speakers on changing the way we eat
— and one more : Wendell Berry on the Bill Moyers Show

And now on to the recipe... Oh, I should mention that I'll be paring my recipes with a natural wine from France or sometimes Italy or even the West Coast. And will be posting a list of importers of natural wines (if not the ones in question, others that are similar), for the moment mostly in the States, but that I'll be adding to... Don't hesitate to ask my advice in the comments area.

I opened a bottle of pineau d'Aunis from Pascal Simonutti "domaine le Pré noir" in Mesland. A red varietal grown primarily in the Loire Valley (Anjou, Touraine), and a lovely grape it is. I consider him the king of pineau d'Aunis; he has such a knack for coaxing out of the grape such a vibrant juice, hearty but not too much so, bright and full of peppery zest. No additives of any kind in this juice. No S02 and no filtering. If you can get your hands on a bottle, it's well worth the effort.

CRACKED EMMER : ricetta SAN NICOLA - serves 4

250 gr | 8,75 oz cracked emmer
1.5 liters water or light vegetable broth
120 gr | 4.25 oz red onion, finely chopped
120 gr | 4.25 oz carrot, finely chopped
120 gr | 4.25 oz celery, finely chopped
250 gr potato | 8,75 oz (Yukon Gold, Bintje), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
150 gr | 5.25 oz fresh tomatoes, blanched, the seeds removed and coarsely diced (suppose you could use canned in a pinch)
1 peperoncino, crushed (or a nice pinch of red pepper flakes)
Pecorino or Parmesan, grated or shaved for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pan, sauté the onion in a bit of heated olive oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the celery, carrot, potato, tomato, and peperoncino and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Add the cracked emmer and cook for 20 minutes at a simmer, stirring occasionally (for a drier dish, cover the pan). At this point, salt to taste. Serve pipping hot with a drizzle of olive oil, a garnish of Pecorino or Parmesan, and a couple twists of the pepper grinder.

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