Food is my main motivator for travel. That, and taking photos: of the scenery as well as the food. The thing that excited me most about my trip to South-East Asia and Australia last year was the different tastes that awaited me in the five countries. From paad thai on the streets of Bangkok via smoked duck in Singapore to kangaroo in Adelaide, South Australia, it was a pretty epic range of tastes. One of my favourite destinations in terms of food has to be Italy. Italian food is so much more than just pizza and pasta – although the pizza and pasta are, usually, excellent.
I first had farro in Florence, in a tiny café nestled somewhere in the city’s ochre-coloured, labyrinthine streets. We took refuge from the baking hot sun in the middle of the day, and had several platefuls of a very memorable salad: farro with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. When I first tried it, I thought the mysterious grain was simply pearl barley, but that for some reason it tasted so much better than the dowdy English variety. Farro is in fact Italian pearled spelt, very similar to pearl barley but with a nuttier taste which makes it altogether more likeable. It’s great cold, in refreshing salads, or warm, with unctuous layers of tomato sauce poured over it.
It seems I’m not the only one who is a fan of farro: there was an Ottolenghi recipe in Waitrose Magazine this month for grilled lettuce with farro and lemon. Here, in keeping with Italian simplicity, I decided to combine my new favourite grain with some chicken baked with lemon, and some gently fried courgettes. A spray of roughly chopped parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon finished it off. This dish could work as well warm as cold – more suitable for lunch cold and dinner hot, maybe. But for the purposes of needing good midday light for the photos, I had it warm for lunch, rendering that previous claim somewhat redundant.
450g chicken thigh fillets
1 lemon, finely sliced
250g farro (available in Waitrose and some healthfood shops)
1 large courgette, sliced
1 tsp butter
1 handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the chicken in a baking dish along with a generous helping of olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake, covered, for around 20 minutes. Then remove the lid, pour away any excess water that has come off the chicken, add the sliced lemon and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, until the chicken is starting to crisp and turn golden brown, and the lemon is softened and charred in places.
While the chicken is in the oven, cook the farro in plenty of salted boiling water for around 10 minutes, until soft but still with a bit of bite to it. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and fry the courgettes until golden. At the last minute, add most of the parsley to the courgettes and let it wilt briefly, bringing out its vibrant green colour. Drain the farro, stir in the courgettes and parsley, then tear up the chicken pieces and put them on top. Garnish with some of the baked lemon slices and the remaining fresh parsley.