Happy New Year!

We’re kicking off 2020 with a focus on flavorful, healthy recipes that are designed to help counteract the excesses of the holidays and protect us from the dreaded cold and flu season. Today’s Farro Salad with Roasted Fennel & Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette packs a wallop of nutrition in every bite and is filled with ingredients that have been specifically chosen for their healthy properties.

Farro is an ancient grain common in Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine, and one of our favorite grains to eat. Light chestnut in color, farro has a creamy, nutty flavor with a texture that is both crunchy and chewy, almost like pasta that has been perfectly cooked to al dente.

But, even better than its pleasing flavor and mouthfeel, farro is loaded with nutritional goodness. Low in fat and calories, farro is a terrific source of healthy, lean protein. This is important because high-protein foods not only give us energy, they can help us to feel full longer than other foods, which can be beneficial when weight loss or management is a goal.

Like most grains, farro is rich in fiber, which is essential for strong digestive and heart health, as well as nutrients like zinc, magnesium and vitamin B3 that can help boost our energy and immune systems, strengthen our bones and promote good heart and nerve health. Farro is also an excellent source of antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids and selenium, which can add another layer of protection from diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers and heart disease.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Farro is typically available in three forms: whole grain, semi-pearled and pearled. Pearling removes some (semi) or all of the inedible hull that surrounds the grain, and thus decreases the nutritional content versus the whole grain form.

However, pearled, or semi-pearled, grains cook much faster than whole grains and are often easier to find in stores. I buy pearled farro from the bulk section at the Prairie Roots Food Co-op in downtown Fargo, where it is available for $2.99 per pound.

Farro has a mild flavor that works well with robust ingredients like fennel, citrus, garlic and arugula. Citrus is in season, and you’ll find a generous punch of citrus throughout this dish, with chunks of fresh mandarin oranges in the salad, as well as orange and lemon juice and zest in the vinaigrette and to flavor the fennel and farro as they cook.

Citrus is a main flavor component in Sarah's Farro Salad, which features the zest and juice of both oranges and lemons. David Samson / The Forum
Citrus is a main flavor component in Sarah's Farro Salad, which features the zest and juice of both oranges and lemons. David Samson / The Forum

I roasted the fennel for this recipe, which mellows the anise flavor and enhances the vegetable’s natural sugars. The mix of citrus works really well with the fennel and arugula, and while you can use any orange variety you choose, I prefer the size and sweetness of the little fresh mandarin oranges available nearly everywhere this time of year (also called Cuties).

Baby arugula brings a pop of color and a touch of pepper to the dish, and toasted walnuts add even more nutty warmth and crunchy texture.

For a final punch of bright flavor, the farro and other ingredients are tossed with a vinaigrette made with lots of garlic, orange and lemon zest and juice, extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. The dressing is so good I always make a double batch to use with other dishes.

For added warmth and flavor, roasting the fennel will enhance its natural sweetness and mellow the anise tones. David Samson / The Forum
For added warmth and flavor, roasting the fennel will enhance its natural sweetness and mellow the anise tones. David Samson / The Forum

For more healthy recipes, please visit me online at goodfoodandwords.com, where I’ll be featuring a new healthy recipe each day this month.

Let’s kick off this new year with renewed energy, good health and happy eating. Happy New Year!

ARCHIVE: Read more Lost Italian columns and recipes

Farro Salad with Roasted Fennel & Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette

PRINT: Jan. 1, 2020, recipe

Pearled farro, an ancient grain, is the protein base of this nutrient-rich salad, which also features fennel, arugula, walnuts and mandarin oranges. David Samson / The Forum
Pearled farro, an ancient grain, is the protein base of this nutrient-rich salad, which also features fennel, arugula, walnuts and mandarin oranges. David Samson / The Forum


Serves: 6 to 8 as side dish, 4 as entree

Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette ingredients:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, minced (about ¾ to 1 teaspoon)

1 tablespoon orange juice, freshly squeezed

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

½ teaspoon orange zest

½ teaspoon lemon zest

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Farro ingredients:

2 cups water, chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination)

1 cup pearled farro

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon citrus zest (orange, lemon or mix of each)

2 tablespoons Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette

Roasted Fennel ingredients:

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into 6 to 8 wedges

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon citrus zest (mix of lemon and orange)

Sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salad components:

Farro, cooked and drained (about 2 ½ cups when cooked)

1 cup fresh mandarin oranges, peeled, separated and cut into half-inch pieces (about 2 to 3 oranges)

¾ cup walnut pieces, toasted or plain

Roasted Fennel, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 ½ cups baby arugula (packed)

Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare the vinaigrette first so the flavors can meld as it rests. Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar or medium bowl and shake or whisk vigorously until combined. Taste and adjust flavors as desired. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using; may be prepared up to 1 week in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

In a medium saucepan, add all of the farro ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to combine. Once boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover pot and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the farro is soft, but not mushy, with a slight crunch. Remove bay leaf and drain farro into a strainer.

Transfer farro to a large mixing bowl and immediately add 2 tablespoons of the Garlicky Citrus Vinaigrette, tossing until incorporated. While farro is still hot, use two forks to fluff the grains and help them stay separate while cooling. The farro may be cooked and refrigerated for up to 3 days before using.

Meanwhile, as the farro is simmering, toss the fennel wedges with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon citrus zest and a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Place fennel wedges on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until fork-tender and the edges are a rich, caramelized brown. Remove and let cool to room temperature, then roughly chop into 1-inch pieces.

To assemble the salad: Add 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette to the cooled farro and use a rubber spatula to stir until combined. Add the chopped oranges, walnuts, roasted fennel and stir to incorporate.

In a small bowl, toss the arugula with 1 teaspoon of the vinaigrette, just until coated, then add the arugula to the farro salad, tossing to combine. Taste the salad and add some or all of the remaining vinaigrette, salt or pepper as desired.

The salad flavors over time and is even better the following day(s). May be made up to 3 days in advance of serving and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.