Unfussy Fare

Cherry Tomato and Farro Salad


Cherry tomatoes are the essence of summer, but do they have to be so prolific? I’m a little embarrassed for them. It’s like they had one too many drinks at a party and started singing. We have three kinds of cherry tomatoes in our garden. I suppose they have varietal names, but I call them greenish-yellow, bright orange, and greenish-red. You can use any of the pretty little tomatoes that are cluttering your life right now.


What is farro, you ask? It’s some sort of wheat grown in Italy. If you’re like me, you skip right over recipes that call for ingredients you’ve never heard of.  I get that. I do. But humor me just this once. You have to do SOMETHING with all those tomatoes, right? Aren’t you sick of your go-to grains? Branch out! You won’t regret it.  I had to go to my very earnest, locally-owned, kind-of-expensive grocery store to find farro. The one that would be my regular grocery store if I were a better person.

(Word to the wise: Do not believe the kind employee of your local earnest grocery when she tells you that farro and spelt are the same thing. Look! You can buy spelt in bulk for a dollar a pound! Avoid evil packaging! Banish the massive carbon footprint of imported food! I fell for it. I felt pretty smug and green until I read in this New York Times article that farro and spelt are not the same thing. Not at all. So I DROVE BACK to the earnest grocery just to buy farro, at which point the carbon footprint of this meal was up to a size 18-EEE. If anyone wants a big bag of spelt, it’s all yours.)

This salad is summer in a dish. With so few ingredients, the flavors have enough room assert themselves as the lovely individuals they are. Farro is the perfect foil. It is just chewy enough, and just nutty enough to offset the bright acid tomato flavor-bombs. When you add chunks of manchego for richness, slivered basil, and a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, you’ve got yourself a taste sensation. It makes a hearty lunch by itself. We’ve also eaten it as a dinner side dish, with grilled Italian sausages.


Cherry Tomato and Farro Salad (serves four as a side dish)

  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup basil leaves, packed
  • ½ pound manchego (or some other nutty but not-to-pungent cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste…Don’t skimp. Salt is the magic ingredient here.)
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, cover the farro in water and soak for thirty minutes. Pour off the soaking water and add six cups of fresh water.

Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Taste as you go to determine when it’s done. Crunchy isn’t done yet. Mushy is overcooked. You want slightly chewy. Don’t worry, it’s very forgiving stuff.

While your farro is cooking, slice the tomatoes in half, and cut the basil leaves into thin slivers.

Cut the manchego into half-inch dice.

Drain the farro. Rinse with cold water and drain again.

Toss drained farro with tomatoes, basil, cheese, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

20 Responses to “Cherry Tomato and Farro Salad”

  1. Pamela Perry says:

    Hey Gillian,
    This looks beautiful … a perfect marriage of your love of cooking and photography. What a fun adventure!

  2. Pam Rokke says:

    Hey Gil — This is great! Impressive photo, great name for the blog and wonderful-sounding first recipe. I hope I can find farro in my neck of the woods.

  3. ElGuappa says:

    Great blog, great first post! Makes my blog look like steak tartar, lol.

  4. Gillian says:

    Thanks, ElGuappa. I’ll check out your blog. I’ll bet it looks better than steak tartar.

  5. Char says:

    You inspire me! Reading your blog was like looking at a high-end culinary magazine. Your writing is exquisite and your photos just pop! I can hardly wait to see your next post.

  6. Gillian says:

    Thanks, Char. Think I’ll do something sweet next. Just so people don’t get the wrong idea…

  7. Byron says:

    Wow Gill, beautiful job. Inspiring. Congratulations and I’ll stay tuned.

  8. Amy says:

    Hey Gillian, nice site. Farro (also known as emmer) is an ancient grain originally grown in the middle east (of course). Now it’s actually being grown here in the Methow Valley by Bluebird Grain Farms. http://www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com/
    Keep it up – you’re making me hungry. Do you have a favorite ratatouille recipe?

  9. Gillian says:

    Amy – Thanks for the farro source! Funny you should ask. The best ratatouille I’ve had was made by my friend Lisa. It was not the traditional ingredient list (no peppers). If I recall there was eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, blanched green beans, and cherry tomatoes…She cubed the vegetables, browned them individually with olive oil (each vegetable…not each cube), then tossed them with salt. My kinda recipe, so simple, right? Except I was sweating over a cast-iron skillet on a hot day for an hour trying to get all those sides browned. Pan after pan after pan. It didn’t make the unfussy cut. It TASTES unfussy. I love the clean and ungloppy nature of it. But I’m unlikely make it again anytime soon. It’s hot and it takes too long. Got a good recipe?

  10. Lisa Belt says:

    Hmm. I’ll contact you privately regarding said ratatouille recipe. I take issue with your opinion of its “fussiness.” As for the farro, I went to “my locally-owned overpriced grocery store” and they didn’t have it in the bulk section. Either my L.O.G.S. has a lame selection of obscure grains, or they sold out because of your new blog.

  11. Gillian says:

    Your ratatouille is only fussy in the nicest possible way. I did say it was the BEST i’d ever had, right? And anyway, you’re not afraid of a little fuss, are you Ms. Soak-the-Beans-Overnight-then-Simmer-for-Hours? And my L.O.G.S. didn’t carry farro in bulk either. It was in a one-pound package in the ethnic food section. It came from Italy and cost way too much. Next time I’ll use Amy’s source.

  12. Lisa Belt says:

    Ohhhh! I will check out some not-so-locally-owned, but equally overpriced neighborhood stores to see if I can find it. I feel like I’ve seen it somewhere…

  13. Judy says:

    I was lucky enough to EAT some of that tomato/farro salad right after the picture was snapped! It was yu-mee.

  14. Tara says:

    You are never going to believe this, Gillian, but I purchased the ingredients and plan on cooking the dish tonight. Maybe you have changed my life? Too soon to say.

  15. Gillian says:

    Wow. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined inspiring Tara to cook. No praise could be higher.

  16. Tara says:

    Done. Delicious!
    I added a bit more cheese than you called for. Because, you know, I love cheese, and manchego in particular. I won’t do that next time. Your recipe was just right – and now I know I can trust you not to under-cheese me.
    I think I’ll add about 1/4 cup more farro next time, though.
    I’m really grateful you specified to test-taste the farro while cooking it. Mine was done just 5 or 6 minutes after the water came to a boil. ?
    One of my big problems with cooking is feeling overwhelmed by an abundance of recipes. Where in the world do I start? I’ll just come here and cook whatever you tell me to cook.

  17. Gillian says:

    Tara: So glad it worked! Weird that your farro cooked so fast.I wonder if it’s processed differently or something. Husked or cut or something. Grains are a mystery to me. But I do love them. Farro reminded me that I like barley, and I never cook with it. That could change soon.

  18. Lisa Belt says:

    Made this tonight with a couple twists. First of all, I added bacon and got away with calling it “dinner”. (It was a warm evening, which helped my cause.). Also, I never found Farro, but I used Kalmut, which is an awesome Ancient Egyptian grain. It was very delicioso!

  19. Wendy says:

    I just came across your blog and am really enjoying it so here I am commenting on an old post. I too had the spelt/farro experience at an organic co-op, after making farro successfully a couple of times. The spelt took forever to cook to a barely edible consistency. I now buy my farro at our local Italian market – they always have farro and it’s cheaper than the gourmet market.

  20. Linda says:

    Hi Gillian!

    I miss your emails… Was wondering if this would work with bulgur wheat?
    Hope all’s well with you,

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