20 July 2012

More tales from Italy

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Milan (via Reykjavik, Iceland, which might have the quirkiest airport in the Western world), where I somehow managed to get out of  Malpensa Airport and find a Metro train to my hotel, cleverly hidden on the second floor of a block-long building in a modest residential neighborhood West of the city center.  At this point, I hadn't slept or eaten (seriously, Icelandair doesn't feed you on overnight flights.  Not one peanut or pretzel from Denver to  Reykjavik)  for over 24 hours.  I flopped my stuff onto the glorified cot of my decidedly non-air conditioned little room, schlepped down the hall to the shared bathroom (water closet, or WC for short), and it was time to turn around and head to the main train station to meet my husband, who was coming in from Austria.  It was about 95 degrees and incredibly humid, and as I reached the hot mess of writhing bodies that is Milan Centrale, it struck me that I was a little hungry.  I had big plans to take my husband to the Ciao! cafeteria at Piazza Duomo for dinner, but I wanted a little something to tide me over.  There are far more high-end fashion boutiques than there are restaurants in Centrale, but I managed to find a little shop selling healthy salads and sandwiches.  I grabbed a curious-looking (and the cheapest) salad from the refrigerator comprised almost entirely of white rice and farro (we call it spelt).  It was simple and delicious, and I found farro all over northern Italy the rest of the week.  It's a staple grain used in salads and soups, and it packs an impressive nutritional punch much needed in a world full of white bread, white rice, and white pasta.  I've become a convert, and now I make the simple salad that saved me at the train station and keep some on hand for days that are too hot for cooking.  

Milanese Rice and Farro Salad

Serves 4

½ cup farro
1 cup white long grain rice
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
¼ cup frozen corn, thawed
1 medium tomato, chopped
¼ cup mixed olives, roughly chopped
Small handful fresh basil or parsley, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

Cook the farro: soak farro overnight (if you forget to do this, just keep an eye on it as you cook--it will take a little longer and perhaps need the addition of some water over time, but it will turn out fine).  In a medium saucepan, add the farro, 1 ¼ cup water, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook covered until tender, 20-30 minutes.  Drain if there is any leftover water and cool.  (This step can be done a day in advance, or you can cook a big batch and store in batches in the freezer for quick use in recipes).  

Cook the rice: Bring the rice and 1 ½ cups salted water to boil.  Reduce to heat to a simmer and cook covered until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain if necessary and cool.  This can also be done ahead and refrigerated or frozen like the farro. 

When you are ready to assemble the salad, place rice, farro, and all other ingredients in a bowl and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on top, and serve cold or at room temperature.  

Milano Centrale