Every once in a while I see some intimidating vegetables in the market. I'd like to think I know my way around a produce stand- know how much to ask for, and what to do with it when I get home. But sometimes I see things in Rome that I don't have the first idea what to do with. It's nice to have this selection and be able to learn new things! The locals are happy to share insight into their cuisine and often argue with each other over what kind of advice I'm receiving. When I asked how to make Roman-style artichokes, some of the merchants got into a hollering match about how much garlic and how long to cook them. At least we're keeping things lively.
I've been eyeing these gorgeous beans for a while. Romans use borlotti beans in hearty soups, and I'll keep that in mind for the winter with a nice beef stock, but for now, a cold salad would really fit the bill. The merchant who sold them to me explained that Romans serve them with a little onion, olive oil, celery and tuna-fish. That, I decided, I would not subject my family to. Tuna is the one thing that appeared on everything in Tunisian restaurants (pizza, pasta, salad, appetizers, you name it) plus there is no more tuna to be found in the Mediterranean. I would do something different with these beans. I told the lady I was thinking of serving them with farro, which happens to be another staple in Roman cuisine used since Ancient times. She gave me a look as if to say "why on earth would you change it, I just told you the recipe." I even think she wanted to take her borlotti beans back.
The result was a nice, healthy summer salad. When cooked, the borlotti beans lose their speckled pink appearance, and take on a mauve color. Roman also enjoyed the grains and the beans, although it was a lot of fun to throw, too. We ate it all up and never got around to taking a photo. I'm not sure about the availability of farro (spelt) in the U.S. It's one of my favorite grains, so ask at your health food store if they carry it.
Farro and Borlotti Salad
serves 4 as a side dish
You need about 1 cup of beans. Use dried beans and cook them, or use jarred (from a can as a last resort, if you can guarantee the quality, but beware that they put some nasty stuff in the lining of cans)
1 cup farro or spelt
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1/4 red onion
juice of 1 lemon
Cook the farro in abundant water for 15 minutes, drain and cool. Add the beans. If using fresh borlotti beans, you will need to cook them in abundant water for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, dice the red onion and soak it in the lemon juice. This is an important step that reduces the bite of the onion, if you mind that, like I do. Combine the beans, farro, diced celery, a few swigs of oil, salt and pepper to taste.