I'm sure there's some easily identifiable psychology behind this fact, but I find that when I eat out or opt for convenience foods, I'm attracted to routine: the same turkey sandwich meal after meal, the same cheese snacks or Mexican food. I don't know if there's comfort in that familiarity or if I just cannot ever get enough sandwiches, but I do know that the precise opposite is true when I'm cooking for myself.
Keeping my brain—and my stomach—engaged in the kitchen has a lot to do with trying something different. Of course I do have recipes that I return to again and again (ahem) because I am nothing if not a firm believer in the delicious, but I get stymied a lot just trying to answer the question, "What sounds good for dinner tonight?"
This is decidedly trickier when one also has to determine what sounds good for three ensuing meals. (Trying to learn to embrace leftovers here, people.)
This was a dish that I first had at Bottega Café here in Birmingham, and I want to go on record as saying I in no way mean to insinuate that I re-created a meal worthy of that kitchen full of talented, professionally trained people.
What I did want was to approximate it, so that I could be reminded of that incredible salad in my own humble cocina. The fact that it's a salad in itself helps; the ingredients, independent of the dressing, are all identifiably in front of your face: arugula, farro (YAY FRESH MARKET SELLS FARRO), beets, ricotta salata.
These are not, in the effort of full disclosure, ingredients that I'm prone to be especially overjoyed by. But that's the genius of those talented, professionally trained people I mentioned earlier—the can introduce you to combinations that change the mind of your palate.
Or, you know, a metaphor less tortured than that one.
I don't know what Frank Stitt puts in his salad dressing. I used what I had on hand. All I knew is that it should be a light, slightly vinegary, brightly citrusy vinaigrette.
Farro might not be a grain that everyone is familiar with, but I loved it instantly. It has a wonderful, hearty chew. And it's terrific for leftovers, because even though this salad is undeniably healthy, it's also extraordinarily stick-to-your-ribs filling. The ricotta and the beets are terrific partners; the super salty cheese and the super sweet beets create a lovely balance with the peppery arugula.
I will admit that this was the first time I've actually dealt with cooking beets myself. I was well prepared for the stained fingers I knew were inevitable, but it was such a nonevent that I was a little surprised. I just dug in with my bare hands and decided to accept whatever red tint came my way, but by the time I was halfway through doing the dishes, it had all washed away.
A couple of notes of caution regarding leftovers: The arugula will wilt considerably. I'm not bothered by that, but if it's not your cup of tea, you can easily stir in some lively greens each time you plate up an individual serving as opposed to stirring it all in from the beginning. Also, I like the way these flavors work at sort of a cool room temperature, so I just pull it out of the refrigerator in the morning, and by lunchtime it's exactly right.
So try a little something different. And when you do, let me know what you think!
Farro Salad with Arugula, Beets, and Ricotta Salata
1 cup farro
3 to 4 medium beets, peeled and chopped into about 1½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large lemon, seeded and juiced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cups baby arugula
4 ounces ricotta salata, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook farro according to package directions. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, place beets on a baking sheet, and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast 35 to 40 minutes or until beets are tender. Set aside to cool.
3. Mash garlic and a generous pinch of salt with the flat side of a chef's knife until a paste forms. Place crushed garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a jar with a lid; shake until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Toss cooled farro and beets with arugula, ricotta, and dressing. Makes 4 servings.