Probably the most important thing I have learned in Italy is to spend more time shopping and less time cooking. My mother-in-law, Tina, taught me this. Choosing fabulous ingredients means you don’t have to do a lot to make it taste good. The recipe I offer here, for chicche, warm truffled farro salad, is a perfect example of such simplicity.
Years ago, I was taking my mom to Umbria, and we stopped overnight at a castle that a friend had just converted into a hotel and restaurant. It was run by a group of locals who had restored the castle from ruins. That night, we ate at the restaurant, where this delicious dish made with simple, inexpensive local ingredients was served as the appetizer. The young woman who made it wasn’t a professional chef: she was the next-door farmer’s daughter.
Combining grain and legumes is a classic of the cucina povera, or poor cuisine, as it creates the perfect protein without meat. Just about every culture has some sort of a bean and rice dish or, in this case, chickpeas and farro. Farro, or spelt, is grown primarily in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany. It is one of the oldest grains in cultivation. Lower in gluten than wheat, it is rich in vitamins and iron. A classic recipe in Italy is pasta e fagioli, a pureed bean soup with pasta cooked in it. You can also substitute farro for the pasta for a rich soup. I suggest parboiling the farro in salted water first, then adding it to the soup.
In Tuscany, we are lucky to have a large supply of truffles all year long too. There are varieties of black truffles that are less expensive than the precious white truffles. I find that the black truffles are better in cooked dishes. The white truffle is traditionally just sliced raw onto a dish as heat kills the perfume and flavor.
This recipe can be served as a starter to a more elaborate meal or as a meal on its own. Use pre-sliced black truffles, which are an elegant addition to this dish, or the less expensive truffle sauce is equally good. The poor man’s version, which you see in the photograph, is made with black olives, capers and black truffle bits all ground up. If you want to skip the truffles, some sliced dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and then sautéed in garlic, would be a great substitute.
Chicche (warm truffled farro salad)
200g dried chickpeas
200g small cherry or datterino tomatoes
100g black truffles, sliced, or 200g truffle sauce
Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. (If you use canned chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly.) Cook the chickpeas in the same water with a branch of rosemary and a garlic clove for about 1 hour or until tender. Salt the chickpeas at the end of the cooking time in their water.
Cook the farro in lightly salted water until tender. Do not overcook the chickpeas or the farro!
Finely chop the garlic, basil, sage, rosemary, chili flakes, and oregano. Lightly sauté the herbs in olive oil, then add the tomato bits. Add the drained chickpeas and farro, drizzling with a bit of broth until cooked. Turn off the flame, stir in the truffles and serve with slices of fettunta, Tuscan garlic bread. (Toast a thick slice of Tuscan-style bread, then lightly rub it with a clove of garlic. Pour top-quality extra-virgin olive oil over the bread and season with a little salt.)