I was not, in fact, looking for a new farro dish. It rarely occurs to me over the summer, when there’s more eggplant/zucchini/tomatoes/peaches/plums/berries than anyone could fathom going through in the scant weeks they’re available, to wish I had more whole grains in my diet. And since we’re being honest, only occasionally in times that it probably should, such as in February, when refined flours and pasta are used to fill the endless gap in growing seasons. But, as it happens, because I’m terrible at timely meal-planning, I was attempting to make this chicken for dinner a couple weeks ago and it wasn’t ready on time, or even close to it, and I remembered a one-pan linguine dish I’d read about in Martha Stewart Living last month that sounded fascinating. Realizing I had almost all the ingredients on hand, I rustled it up instead and felt like such a domestic diva, I nearly took a bow when I brought it out, but resisted, as I prefer to only drop one dish a season. In the dish, pasta, only enough water to cook it, an onion, garlic cloves, some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, basil, salt and red pepper flakes are combined cold, brought up to a boil and cooked until the pasta is al dente and everything else becomes the dish’s saucy servant, all in a single saucepan, all at once. I realize you’re all leaving me right now to make it this very moment, and I don’t blame you. At the very least, you need to bookmark the recipe for when you’re in a pinch, and really, when is anyone not?
The thing is, it totally fit the dinner bill when we needed it to but I wasn’t as crazy about it as I should have been. It was… soft. The sauce seemed a little gummy. I had barely finished my second bite when I became obsessed, yes, actually preoccupied to the point of sickness, with making the dish with farro instead. Farro, a variety of wheat grain (here’s a fantastic guide I found to more) that that has a meaty chew I find appealing in salads, soups, faux-risottos and more, isn’t bad the way it is usually cooked — in water, maybe with a pinch of salt — but it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t benefit from a more complex flavor base. To wit, you rarely see farro dishes or salads that don’t include at least one sweet thing (dried fruit or roasted-until-sweet vegetables), one bright thing (vinegar, lemon juice or a bit of pickled onion), one salty thing (crumbled feta, ricotta salata or anchovies), one crunchy thing (usually toasted nuts) and a good helping of a fat, usually olive oil, and if you’re lucky, all of the above. But imagine if farro arrived from its saucepan already perfectly balanced and ready to eat?