The Ideal Energy Meal: Farro Salad
There are just under ten weeks before my due date (yes, folks, that means less than ten weeks till Christmas eve!) and I have just discovered that I have gestational diabetes. It means that for the next ten weeks while I have diabetes, I just have to be a bit more careful with what I eat and when, which can be a challenge for any food blogger, but luckily it’s not an overhaul of my usual diet, it’s just a tad more picky.
It means choosing the right foods such as carbohydrates with a low Glycemic Index (GI), something that makes your body work to get the fuel out of it, choosing the right fruit and vegetables and eating more regularly – six small meals a day, rather than three normal ones. Oh, and less sugar. I have a sweet tooth so it means no more of things like the grape schiacciata that I made last week before I knew my glucose test results, but it doesn’t mean I can’t now modify it – change the flour to spelt or farro flour, for example, like I did in this cherry tomato schiacciata, take out some of the sugar (there are only a few spoonfuls of sugar in the recipe anyway) and drop the powdered sugar – easy.
Avoiding sweets is actually easier than I thought. Somehow I think you lose that sweet tooth quickly when not eating sugary things all the time. My biggest problem, it seems, is getting enough portions of carbohydrates in one meal. Carbohydrates are important for diabetics, well the right carbohydrates anyway – they should be the basis of all meals. The right carbohydrates will break down slowly, fuel your body for longer and keep your blood sugar levels lower or at least balanced, a concept known as the Glycemic Index. The lower the GI, the better.
So here is something I would consider the perfect low GI lunch (wonderfully portable, I must add, so it’s great for taking to work or a barbeque) or side dish, something that will keep anyone, not just pregnant women or diabetics, going all day: farro salad.
Farro is an ancient grain with an amazingly low GI, which will deliver you energy for longer. A staple grain of the early Romans, the food writer Nico Valerio claims it was this power that was the foundation of the Roman army, that it was farro, not ferro (iron, or the iron swords) that gave the warriors the energy to conquer the world (not surprisingly, it works pretty well for pregnant women trying to keep up their stamina too!).
Popularly eaten throughout central Italy, in particular Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, where it’s been growing for centuries, you can find it in soups, salads, even desserts. Marco does a wonderful “farrotto”, where the farro is cooked just like rice in a risotto. The flour made from farro makes beautiful bread and pasta. The area around the walled Tuscan town of Lucca is famous for its zuppa di farro, farro soup. My first ever time in Lucca, when I was a 20 year old art student, was a shockingly rainy autumn day. The trees along the ringed wall of the city were bright yellow and it was bucketing down. Despite having umbrellas, my roommates and I were soaked to the bone. We consoled ourselves in a little trattoria with a big bowl of the most delicious farro soup, which I will never forget. Nowhere does it like Lucca does.
In Florence, farro salad is a popular lunch time dish, where you might find it simply adorned with basil, chopped tomatoes and mozzarella in the summer, while in the winter you’re more likely to find it in soup.
Just one portion of carbohydrate isn’t enough for a balanced diabetic meal, so some borlotti beans and chickpeas add the rest of the carbohydrates (not to mention protein) for the building blocks of the perfect lunch. Now just add an unlimited amount of fresh, seasonal non starchy vegetables – I’m going for some spring-fresh asparagus, rocket, herbs and some baby “Ruby Red” silverbeet out of one of my garden pots – some shaved, organic Parmesan cheese and a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. A handy tip to know: lemon juice or vinegar added to your meal lowers the blood sugar response. Use it on everything!
Insalta di Farro
Serves 4-6 as a side dish, 3-4 for a more generous salad
By all means, use your favourite, local, seasonal vegetables for this, cooked or raw. Some other ideas include finely chopped raw celery, carrot or fennel for crunch, shelled and blanched peas, zucchini, green beans, or in cooler months try broccoli, cauliflower or spinach. Mozzarella, scamorza or even soft goat’s cheese make nice substitutes for the Parmesan too.
- About 200 gr whole farro
- 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup of cooked borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
- A bunch of asparagus
- A handful of fresh herbs (whatever you have on hand, I used thyme and majoram)
- A handful of rocket and baby “Ruby Red” silverbeet
- A handful of shaved Parmesan cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
Whole farro (as opposed to cracked) can take between 20 and 40 minutes to cook. Cook it just as you would for pasta – in plenty of salted boiling water. Taste and when slightly soft but ‘al dente’, drain thoroughly and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables for the salad. Grill the asparagus (or steam it if you prefer), rinse and if needed, roughly chop the silverbeet and rocket.
When the farro and asparagus have cooled completely, combine them with the herbs, beans and leafy greens. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and place in a pretty serving bowl. Sprinkle the herbs and Parmesan on top and serve.