This week brought my best ever produce delivery. I practically squealed with delight when I opened the box. It included two baskets of heirloom cherry tomatoes, varying in color and size from tiny yellow pears, to luscious orange, to giant red and my very favorite, purple tomatoes. Each of these little beauties was at the peak of ripeness and it took every ounce of willpower to keep from gorging myself on them before they could make it into my salad.
The riches didn’t end with the tomatoes; I also found a perfect bunch of fresh basil, kale, the sweetest carrots and some fabulous fruit. While it was tempting to come up with a recipe that included everything, the tomatoes and basil were really calling my name!
Who doesn’t love a caprese salad? After all, I had the tomatoes and basil, just add some good mozzarella and I would be there. But I really wanted something a little bit more this time. The crispness of fall is sneaking into the morning and evening air which inspired me to create this salad which embraces the bridge between the seasons by being both cool and fresh and warm and slightly hearty at the same time.
If you haven’t tried farro or simply can’t find it, you easily substitute barley or quinoa (just be sure to rinse it well before cooking – no one wants a stomach ache!) My husband is not a fan of farro, but I love the heartiness of it, slightly chewy and a little bit nutty, I think it is the perfect foundation for this salad. One tip, be sure to drain of the excess liquid when it is done and “dry it out a bit” uncovered in the sauce pan by continuing to cook over low heat. You don’t want the farro to be wet for this salad, although you do want it to be slightly warm.
The other key element of this salad is properly cooked mushrooms. It isn’t difficult, but there is a very definite method and once you master it, you will never look back! Here is the secret: 1) equal parts butter (good butter) and olive oil; 2) don’t stir or move the mushrooms for at least 2 minutes; 3) do NOT salt the mushrooms until close to the end of cooking. If you follow these tips, your mushrooms will always be wonderfully browned, caramelized and full of that earthy “mushroom-y” flavor you are looking for. If you don’t, you will end up with flavorless, limp and boring mushrooms!
Serve this slightly warm to get the most out of the mushrooms and let the mozzarella soften a bit.
Warm Mushroom & Caprese-Style Farro Salad
- 1 cup emmer farro
- 3 cups water (or more)
- 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and quartered
- 1 tblsp. Butter
- 1 tblsp. Olive Oil
- 1 clove garlic minced
- Sea Salt
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, mixed if possible
- 2 – 3 tblsp. Fresh basil, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
- ½ lb. fresh mozzarella, use smaller size if possible
- Best quality olive oil
- Fleur de sel (my favorite is from Williams Sonoma) or sea salt
If you have the time, start by soaking the farro in 3 cups water overnight or for a few hours at the least. This will significantly cut down on the cooking time and I like what it does to the texture. If not, just cook according to the package directions. When done, drain any excess water and continue to cook over medium heat, just enough to “dry” the farro out. Cover and set aside.
In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt butter & olive oil. Stir together and add mushrooms, taking care not to crowd. Do NOT touch the mushrooms for at least 2 minutes. Then add garlic, stir and continue to cook until well browned. Add additional butter & olive oil if necessary after first 2 minutes. Add a good pinch of sea salt about a minute before done. Set aside.
The salad is best served as an arranged salad. To arrange, spread farro out as the foundation. Next, fan out slices of mozzarella over the farro. Spoon mushrooms and any juices over the mozzarella. Top generously with halved tomatoes. Dress simply with a healthy drizzle of olive oil (use the good stuff here) and sea salt. Garnish with basil.
This is usually a meal for me, but it would also make a great side dish for a lighter protein such as salmon or halibut.