“Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt our regular broadcast of Carmel delights to bring you some delicious food from Italy!”
I thought it was time to temporarily press the pause button on The Carmel Journals. I will resume transmissions shortly, but first I wanted to share with you one of my favorite summer recipes. It has a lot of qualities: it is easy, light, healthy, versatile and, most of all, delicious. It is also the kind of dish you will find frequently in Tuscany, especially along the coast. And if you happen to be there this summer, I recommend you eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Trattoria Tre Stelle, in Forte dei Marmi. Just make sure to make reservations, because they are always very busy.
WARM FARRO SALAD WITH GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS, TOMATOES & BASIL
or, in Italian: Insalata Tiepida di Farro con Moscardini Grigliati, Pomodorini e Basilico
yields: 4-5 servings
- 680 gr. (24 oz.) cooked farro (spelt)
- 20 fresh baby octopus (4-5 per portion)
- 4 medium/small vine tomatoes, ripe but firm
- 12 medium/large fresh basil leaves, + 4 tips for garnish
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine, at room temperature
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise, core removed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup hot water, if needed
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 corks (as in: corks saved from wine bottles)
Note: Cork releases a natural chemical that tenderizes the octopus by acting as an absorbent. It works also with squid/calamari.
To cook farro/spelt: soak the grain in a bowl of cold water for 4-5 hours or overnight. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a handful or two (depending on the size of the pot and amount of water) of coarse sea salt. Drain the water from the spelt and rinse, then add to the boiling water. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, partly covered until tender but still al dente. Drain, rinse under cold running water to cool down and stop the cooking process. Drain well, and set aside until ready to use. Can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3-4 days.
If you are using pearled farro/spelt, you just need to soak it for twenty minutes.
STEP 1 – Heat 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil with 2 cloves of garlic in a medium-sized deep sauté pan on high heat. Add the baby octopus, season with a little black pepper only, and stir. Lower the heat and add the white wine, the bay leaf and the corks. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and let cook, covered, for approximately 30 minutes, or until the octopus is tender. If needed, as the octopus cooks, add half a cup (more or less, as needed) of hot water to maintain the juices. There should be no need to add salt. Remove from heat and set aside.
This phase can be completed 1-2 days ahead, and the baby octopus can be transferred to a glass container and kept, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use. Remove the corks, keep the juices.
STEP 2 – In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat 4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and the other two garlic cloves. Add the farro berries, season with salt and pepper and flip/stir to coat well, allowing the farro to heat through and gather flavor. Remove from heat and set aside.
STEP 3 – Heat a grill pan on high heat and grill the cooked baby octopus for a minute or so, turning them, until they have gathered the grilled flavor and look. Add the octopus to the sautéed farro and flip/stir.
STEP 4 – Add ca 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil to the bowl with the strained octopus juices and emulsify. Rinse and dry the tomatoes, then cut them in four or six wedges depending on size. Set aside. Place 4-5 basil leaves one on top of the other, roll up tight lengthwise like a cigar and julienne thinly crosswise. Repeat as needed until you have used all the leaves. Season the cut tomatoes with a little salt and pepper and a couple of Tablespoons of the emulsified oil and octopus juices. Add to the warm farro and octopus and stir gently.
COMPLETION – Divide the salad onto 4-5 plates (4 if a main course, 5 if an appetizer), drizzle with the remaining oil/juice mixture, sprinkle with the julienned basil, decorate with the basil tips and serve.
You can also place the whole salad in a large serving bowl and present it at table.
The completed salad can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Do not reheat, but let it warm up to room temperature. Works well for picnics, too!