Ever the salad sleuth, I bravely order them even in the most unlikely spots. Like an old-world Italian restaurant in a small town in Wisconsin. In the dead of winter.
They had me at farro, Gruyere, and toasted pistachio at Cannova’s in Neenah, Wisconsin. Originally from Freeport, Illinois, some variation of this beloved classic restaurant has been around since Anthony Cannova, a native of Sicily, founded it in 1921.
Our group of friends felt the restaurant family’s dedication to good food on a recent Friday night. The yummy pizza and Alfredo sauce may be their pride and joy, but it was the whole grain salad that I couldn’t wait to recreate at home.
Roasted cauliflower and a cider vinaigrette complement the farro grains; kale adds crunch; ripe pear and pomegranate balance everything with a bit of sweetness.
As it happens making most main-course salads, preparing the components in advance will save the cook at meal time. I make the cider vinaigrette ahead of time—you can leave it on the counter for a day or so; refrigerate it for longer storage. The cooked farro and roasted cauliflower, likewise, can be made ahead—simply rewarm them in the microwave oven.
Maria Speck, in her award-winning cookbook, “Ancient Grains,” tells us that “farro is not one kind of wheat; rather, the term is commonly used when referring to three types of ancient wheat varieties still cultivated in Italy: farro piccolo (also known by the German einkorn), farro medio (also known as emmer) and farro grande (also known as spelt).”
Folks like farro for its hearty chew, nutty taste, and nutrient dense profile. I like Bob’s Red Mill organic pearled farro. It cooks to al dente tenderness in about 30 minutes. Other farro brands may vary in their cooking times; it’s best to follow the package directions.
Other grains that can be used in the salad include barley, wheat berries, quinoa, or kasha (toasted buckwheat groats). Cook them according to the package. Cooked brown rice and orzo work, too. Whatever you choose, use about 3 cups cooked in the recipe that follows.
For the best flavor in the finished salad, dress the warm farro (or one of the substitutes suggested above) with some of the cider vinaigrette while the grains are still warm. That way they absorb maximum flavor.
Leftovers taste great; enjoy at room temperature or take the chill off briefly in the microwave.
Farro and Roasted Cauliflower Salad With Pistachios and Gruyere
Note: To save time, you can substitute a favorite rub for the homemade version below. Also, bottled vinaigrette, such as lemon or champagne vinaigrette, can be substituted for the homemade.
Makes 6 servings
- Roasted vegetable seasoning rub (recipe follows)
- Cider and agave vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 12 ounces small cauliflower florets, about 4 cups
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup uncooked pearled farro
- 4 loosely packed cups (3 ounces) baby kale, roughly chopped
- 1 large ripe pear, quartered through stem, cored, very thinly sliced
- 3/4 to 1 cup small dice Gruyere, Swiss, or Gouda cheese, about 4 ounces
- 1/2 cup roasted and salted pistachio nut meats, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (about 4 ounces) or chopped fresh strawberries or red grapes
Make roasted vegetable seasoning rub. Make cider and agave vinaigrette.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Put cauliflower onto a baking sheet. Add oil and toss to coat everything nicely. Sprinkle with 1 or 2 teaspoons of the roasted vegetable seasoning and toss to mix. Roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is golden and fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 quarts of generously salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add farro. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring often, until farro tastes tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Put drained farro into a large bowl. Stir in 1/3 cup of the cider vinaigrette. Stir in warm cauliflower and chopped kale; mix well. Stir in pear slices, diced cheese, and 2/3 of the nuts and pomegranate seeds. Sprinkle remaining nuts and seeds on top. Serve.
Roasted Vegetable Seasoning Rub
Makes about 2 tablespoons
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
Cider and Agave Vinaigrette
Makes 2/3 cup
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, preferably unfiltered
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon agave syrup or light honey
- 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix everything well in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to 24 hours at room temperature or refrigerate for several days.