Umbrian Farro Pilaf with Fennel, Roasted Grapes and Mozzarella

Waking up in Umbria to a view of golden Autumnal vineyards, distant mountains and white mist, the church bells ring out across the valley as the market stall holders quietly prepare for their first customers. There are tables piled high with the region’s seasonal bounty including the last of the grapes, sacks of farro, lentils, borlotti beans and chickpeas, truffles and mushrooms – porcini, chanterelles and black trumpets – vino novello , olive oil, roasting chestnuts and even saffron. A traditional dish that you’ll find in all the trattorias at this time of the year is comprised of juicy sausages braised in a sweet and sour sauce of red onion and mixed grapes served alongside steaming bowls of lightly dressed farro. This lovely recipe – which I serve with good quality veggie sausages braised with delicate rounds of red onion, olive oil and balsamic vinegar – is inspired by that. In case you’ve not come across it before, farro is an ancient grain belonging to the wheat family which has a taste and texture similar to that of barley making it a perfect base for hearty autumnal salads, winter soups and farrotto, a dish that uses farro in the place of rice and is prepared in the same way as a traditional risotto.

Ingredients

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
I large fennel bulb, finely chopped
350g farro, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained (you can also use pearled spelt)
500ml of good quality vegetable stock
Small bunch of red grapes
1 tbsp raspberry vinegar (you can also use balsamic vinegar)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to your taste
1 ball of mozzarella
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

For the dressing:
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tsp of unrefined golden caster sugar
Half tsp of Dijon mustard
4 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to your taste

How I make it

Heat an oven to 180C.

Make the dressing by gently combining all the ingredients (except the lemon zest) with a hand whisk. Season to your taste.

Heat a large frying pan, add a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil and bring it up to temperature. Add the chopped onion and fennel, turn down the heat and leave to gently sautée for around 10 minutes until translucent. Add the farro and stir around for a few minutes until the grains are coated with the onion mixture.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Partially cover, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, testing after 10 minutes and regularly after that until you achieve the texture you’re looking for (it’s traditional to serve it with a bit of bite).

Meanwhile, remove the grapes from their stalk and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and the vinegar, lightly season and roast in the oven until the grapes begin to split, around 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

When the faro is cooked add the dressing, season to your taste and tumble it on to a pretty plate. Tear up the mozzarella and place it on top alongside the cooled roasted grapes. Garnish with the parsley and the lemon zest. This dish is lovely served straight away or at room temperature.

Serve with oven-baked veggie sausages with rounds of red onion and a crisp green salad.

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