The benefits of eating local, meaning eating food grown or raised near you*, are manifold: eschewing long transit time means that food is more fresh, tastes better and retains more of its nutrients. Peaches grown in Jersey in July will always taste better than peaches grown in Chile in February, and I love strolling through the farmer’s market, talking to the people who grow my food.
(True story: when I was buying the tomatoes for this salad, I got to the register and then realized I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay, so I set the tomatoes down. The farmer told me to take the tomatoes anyway and pay him back next week. Not the best business model, but so nice of him!)
But kind farmers aside, eating local is always hardest this time of year. Winter-vegetable fatigue has set in — I’ve eaten all of the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts and kale and squash a girl could want. I’m ready for lighter, greener fare, but the farmer’s markets (at least here in NYC) are still laden with cellar-stored apples and potatoes.
So last weekend at the grocery store, I succumbed to the temptation of pencil-thin asparagus, calling me like sirens from their California-raised rocks. (Let’s not talk about the sad white-bellied strawberries I bought, which bear only a passing resemblance to their summer-ripened cousins.) But these asparagus, despite their cross-country flight, were pretty freakin’ delicious. They were crisp and verdant and lovely, especially with a hefty squeeze of lemon and crumbles of tangy feta.
Farro, the whole grain of emmer wheat, has quickly become my new go-to grain. It is nutty and chewy (similar to barley in that regard) and since I bought a pearled version, it cooks as quickly as pasta. You could swap in penne or even quinoa instead of the farro, but I highly recommend trying it if you can find it.
This farro salad is more of a template for my favorite kind of warm-weather eating: barely cooked vegetable + whole grain + cheese. I can’t wait to make this again, using asparagus from my ‘hood, or later on, peas, favas or other beans and even summer squash (just saying the word is getting me excited). But until spring’s bounty begins to pop up at the farmer’s market, this California asparagus will have to do.
*How near? It depends. The government defines local as a 400-mile radius, while others opt for a 250- or even 100-mile radius. If you’re interested in learning more about the pros (and cons!) of eating local, as well as how to get started, here are a few resources.
Farro Salad with Asparagus and Feta
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 bundle asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
– 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings (or a blend of oregano, thyme, basil, etc.)
– a pinch of red pepper flakes
– salt and pepper, to taste
– 1-1/2 cups cooked farro (cook according to package directions)
– 1/4 cup feta crumbles
– juice of half a lemon
– 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1) In a large saute pan, heat the oil on medium. Add the asparagus and saute for 2 minutes. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the asparagus have cooked through. Add the Italian seasonings, red pepper, salt and pepper, then cook for an additional few minutes — do not overcook. (You want the asparagus to be crisp, not limp.) Once the asparagus is done, remove from heat and let cool slightly.
2) Once the asparagus has cooled, toss it with the farro, feta, lemon juice and lemon zest. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a touch of olive oil if the salad is too dry. Serve warm or cold.