Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil

tomatoes mushrooms

In August, most of the businesses in Paris shut down while a vast number of people take their annual holiday vacations. And in case you think that’s a grammatical error, in French one says les vacances, in the plural. So if you have a problem with that, I would tell you to take it up with them yourself, but right now most of them are unavailable at the moment.

It sounds odd, but I know several business in America that follow the same model of shutting down for a few weeks so everyone can go on holiday at the same time, negating the need for constantly changing schedules the rest of the year to adapt to everyone’s particular vacations. (Although I am awaiting the results of a medical test and it would have been nice of the doctor to let me know that he was leaving for three weeks.)

Bread bakeries, which are an integral part of French life, also close up shop for two- to four weeks. But each shop plans their vacation(s?) in conjunction with the neighboring bakeries, by law, and posts those locations on their door so you can always be assured of fresh bread no matter what neighborhood you live in.

That’s great—in theory, but the other day I walked from bakery to boulangerie looking for one that was open near where I live. Sure, they listed the nearest bakery that was supposed to be open, but of course since most bakeries are only open five days out of the week (and deservedly so; I worked in a bread bakery and it was the hardest I’ve worked in my life—well, until the elevator in my seven-story building went out of service at the beginning of the summer), I just happened to be out of bread on one of the two days the other bakeries just happened to be closed.

roasted buckwheat

So considering the carb-free month that was ahead of me, and since I didn’t have any bread to carry up the seven flights of stairs, I took a walk by my local thrift shop. And although I don’t go in each and every day (although it sure looks like it from the things piled up in my apartment), I always press my nose up against the window, getting dangerously close to what the French call lèche-vitrines, or “licking windows”, which actually means “window shopping”.

I kept my tongue firmly in my mouth—thank you very much—but I nearly started French kissing the window when I saw what looked like the rim of a giant Gascon cassole inside. And when I went in, sure enough it was.

basil pear-shaped cherry tomatoes

I don’t know the word in French for that, so pardon my English, but I just about plotzed. According to the price tag, it had been in the store for around two weeks and no one else had bought it. Likely no one was feeling much like making a dish loaded with duck fat, meaty sausage, beans, and preserved duck, ie: cassoulet, in the middle of August. Which I can’t say I blame them for. But on the other hand, with bread a rare commodity at the moment, a nice bowl of white beans sounded pretty good right now. It was only €5.90, a price that was just too irresistible to pass up…even though delivery wasn’t included.

farro salad

With the newest addition to my ever-expanding collection of things I have zero room for, since I didn’t feel like making cassoulet at the moment, I decided to make a salad with the half-bag of sarrasin that I had on hand. I reasoned that using the leftover handful of buckwheat, I’d be clearing at least a little more room for the new guy on the block.

Well, the buckwheat kernels looked lovely (see above), but turned into an angry, monstrously jellied blob within a minute of cooking. Thankfully I had a bag of farro on hand, and reasoning that if I used that up, perhaps I’d be making room for the next trip to the thrift store.

Even if you don’t have farro on hand, just about everything else in this dish can be found pretty easily. If you can’t get farro, wheat berries are available in most natural foods stores or try it with cooked barley. Feel free to serve the salad in whatever kind of bowl you have—or can carry home.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil

Six servings

When I tasted the salad, I couldn’t put my finger on what missing the first time around. I thought perhaps nuts, dried fruits, chile powder, might be the key. Then I realized it was the bitter greens (radicchio), which I like sautéed, because that seems to accentuate their bite. But if you can’t find that, use Belgian endive, frisée, kale, mustard, or another green. For more crunch, you can leave it raw and toss it in with the tomatoes.

Of course, you can vary the ingredients: cooked asparagus slices, peas, fava beans, and butternut squash come to mind. (If using squash, a pinch of cinnamon would be nice.) I use basil, but another herb, such as fresh dill, mint, or flat leaf parsley would work as well. If you have any feta, try crumbling some on top.

Farro Salad

  • 1 1/2 cup (825g) farro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts (2l) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound (225g) mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • 1/2 cup (90g) green or black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 cups (30g) loosely packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound (225g) cherry tomatoes, halved, or quartered if they're large
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and diced


2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons (75ml) olive oil

1. In a large pot, cover the farro with the water and bay leaves and cook at a low boil, stirring infrequently to make sure they’re not sticking to the bottom, until cooked. Add more water during the cooking if necessary. Depending on the farro (check the package), it can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes to get cooked.

2. While the farro is cooking, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-to-high heat and sauté the mushrooms seasoning them with salt and pepper until they’re seared and cooked through. Add the thyme, then stir in the garlic and radicchio and continue to cook until the radicchio is wilted and cooked through. (It will discolor, which is normal, and will be delicious.)

3. Once cooked, transfer the vegetables into a large bowl.

4. When the farro is completely cooked (it will still be toothsome, but soft enough not to have any crunch left), drain, pluck out the bay leaves, and let sit until room temperature.

5. Once the vegetables are cool, if they’re not in bite-sized pieces, spread them on a cutting board and chop them a bit until they are, then return them to the bowl.

6. Add the olives, basil, tomatoes, and onion and farro to the vegetables.

7. Briskly stir together all the ingredients for the dressing and stir the dressing into the salad. Serve at room temperature.

Variations: To make the salad heartier, toss in chunks of feta cheese, roast chicken, grilled tofu. A squirt of lemon is also nice to brighten the flavors. You can also serve the salad warm by mixing together all the ingredients and serving while still warm.

Storage: The salad can be kept up to three days in the refrigerator. Let come to room temperature before serving.

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  • August 27, 2010 9:27am

    It’s a good thing your elevator was working, so you didn’t have to schlepp the heavy cassole up the stairs…although no bread, weights and 7 flights of stairs…mmmh, could be a new work out program!

  • August 27, 2010 9:51am

    Hilarious! I had no idea buckwheat could go jelly and blob like, though… shall definitely stick with farro seeing as its got the DL mark of approval :) (Is there any other valid mark in this world?)

  • August 27, 2010 9:53am
    David Lebovitz

    NaF: I did carry it up the stairs. And have the leg muscles to prove it!

    Hannah: I know buckwheat can be easily overcooked, but I just brought the water to a boil and voilà!, it turned into a big blob. I love farro and whenever I go to Italy, I always stock up on bags of it.

  • August 27, 2010 10:16am

    Yummy. I have done a variation of this will fall ingredients (potimaron and goat cheese over farro), but the summer ingredients sound divine! Must try soon. And where on earth is there a thrift shop in the Marais? I have never noticed one and I do tend to notice those things! Nice find!

    Maureen in Oakland.

  • August 27, 2010 10:47am

    oh, wait, I just re-read the post. The elevator is still not working??? Well, I’m sure your legs look fab! ;o)
    P.S. If you ever need farro from Italy, let me know.

  • Margaret
    August 27, 2010 10:57am

    Hmmm– my fav dish to eat when I go to Te Trattoria in San Antonio — now I have a a
    recipe! When are you going to visit us David?

  • August 27, 2010 12:19pm

    It seems your buckwheat is in fact kasha, which is roasted buckwheat (as far as I can tell from the colour). You don’t need to cook kasha. But if you wish do to so, the best way is just to soak it with warm water as you would so with bulgur.

  • August 27, 2010 12:25pm
    David Lebovitz

    kecily: The package did say in parenthesis (kasha) although the directions said to boil it. I really barely cooked it; I just brought it to a boil and the whole thing solidified immediately. Well, at least I found a way to use it up ; )

    Margaret: Am waiting for my plane ticket back. I love San Antonio…and puffy tacos at Los Barrios!

  • August 27, 2010 12:27pm

    Oh yes, buckwheat’s a verrry tricky one, as opposed to any of the wheat berries (I think farro is actually an Italian version of spelt), which you can basically cook for hours and it will still hold it’s shape. I cook with buckwheat quite alot, and I’ve found that the key is to keep the temperature of the water down once it’s come to a boil. I’ve tried just about every soba noodle and buckwheat pasta product I’ve come across here, if you ever need to venture into that area … there’s a few good ones out there I would recommend that are easy to manage and taste decent too!
    Mmmmm..very tasty looking salad there David, and funny …. I noticed during the Easter (?) period that many boulangeries in the neighborhood will post & alternate their closing periods … another testament to the importance of the pain quotidien here … But luckily, I haven’t had any problems finding my daily pain au chocolat ! :)

  • August 27, 2010 2:43pm

    It’s funny, I am so in need of a new wardrobe but I simply can not make myself go and shop – kitchen equipment on the other hand. Well apparently there is always something I MUST have! Yesterday I stumbled across an amazing shop called http://www.Manufactum.de and almost spent 27 Euros on a contraption that lets you cook chicken vertically thereby ensuing crispy skin ALL over, not just the front. But by some miracle I contained myself and bought a chocolate pudding made by monks for 1.90 Euros. I am having serious cassole envy though….

  • August 27, 2010 2:50pm
    David Lebovitz

    Foodie in Berlin: A friend of mine in Gascony tried exporting the cassoles to the states and elsewhere. But the costs and work involved made them very expensive. Plus they’re breakable, so that was another issue. I don’t even know where one would get a authentic one, like this, in Paris. I scored.

    The same friend brought me a set of individual ones, which I love more than anything. Ok, I love my friends who bring me gifts as well–!

  • August 27, 2010 2:53pm

    I have a number of French friends here in Berlin. Let me see if I can somehow cajole them to bring me back a cassole…. I know, lame rhyme. I couldn’t help myself….

  • August 27, 2010 3:34pm

    Since I’m in the middle of moving I am realizing just how much kitchen STUFF I have. Mountains. I have mountains! Because I too find treasures in thrift stores and love them, and, well there is always room for one more… until you hav eto pack it and move it!

  • August 27, 2010 3:46pm

    It would have been negligent to pass by this beautiful bowl and leave it to languish another day in the shop!

  • August 27, 2010 3:51pm

    I’ve had good luck retaining the structural integrity of buckwheat by frying the the hard pellets in some oil before cooking them in stock, much like a risotto.

    Also: your weblog is the very best!

  • Connie
    August 27, 2010 4:56pm

    Can’t wait to cook this recipe, looks FAB! I’ve been cooking your Israeli couscous, preserved lemon and butternut recipe for a while now, looking forward to this one.

    Remind me: farro, spelt, and épeautre are all the same thing, right? Some kind of heirloom triticum wheat? And just for drill, what’s the diff between the Gascon cassole and a provençal tian? Conical earthenware…look pretty similar to me.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog!

    Thanks for the great blog!

  • August 27, 2010 5:12pm

    fantastic pics!

  • August 27, 2010 5:48pm

    Ah! What would I do without bread?! I never knew the people went on their vacations like that, I think that is a nice thing to be able to do. And everyone can respect it.

  • August 27, 2010 5:55pm

    This sound fantastic! I’m a big fan of Farro but can’t seem to find it in Utah so far.

  • Joan M
    August 27, 2010 6:16pm

    Farro is great and is carried by my local Costco (Santa Cruz, CA), but even better is petit epeautre which I stumbled across in a supermarché last year in Provence. It is another ancient version of wheat. I have searched and searched online but no one in the US seems to carry it. This year (in Burgundy) I was only able to find it in a little bio store. I grabbed several bags to bring home. My son lives in Paris and petit epeautre is going on the growing list of things he has to bring when he comes home.

  • August 27, 2010 6:31pm

    i’m used to cook only one brand of buckwheat, it is sold in Match supermarkets in the poland products aisle. I don’t have the box on hand right now but it is red and what’s pretty cool is that the buckwheat is presented in 4 little bags. those transparent bags are similar to the ones sold with rice inside, meant to bring the cereal to a boil without having to strain it later.
    My kasha too needs to be boiled, during 20 minutes according to the instructions. it is sometimes gooey at the beginning but inside the bag, it finally becomes soft and tender, each grain separated hmm… recognizable at least :D, from the other.

    maybe if you can’t find kasha sold inside those cooking bags, you would be glad to use something like this if you need to boil a next batch ? When I cracked opened a bag once, I used this device instead and it worked nickel :).

  • August 27, 2010 8:02pm

    I love warm/tepid salads like this – tabbouleh (which is a *bulghur* salad with parsley, not a parsley salad with bulghur – if only the average “Lebanese” restaurant could figure it out … but that’s another conversation entirely) is my favorite but I also like salads with, quinoa, rice, you name it.

    However, for some reason I never have farro in my house. I can’t even remember the last time I ate any. I think a salad is in my future.

  • August 27, 2010 11:03pm

    I love love LOVE the fact that France (or just Paris…) has a law to insure bread availability!
    Priorities. For reals.

  • August 28, 2010 1:36am

    Hey! I made a cassoulet a few weeks ago, though it was totally inauthentic and I’ll probably never make it again. I bet the real stuff is nice. I sure do love your cassole though; very pretty.

    Thanks for the salad recipe!

  • August 28, 2010 2:39am

    I can just about smell the summer in this recipe – and boy, are we ready for summer down under!
    I think that this would work very well using freekah (roasted, green wheat) too, which has a delicious nutty flavour.

  • August 28, 2010 3:12am

    Farro is our go-to grain in this household. We love it. Lovely shots.

  • histmedphd
    August 28, 2010 4:10am

    The French also say, “les cheveaux,” and when they are learning English, they will invariably talk about their “hairs” or getting their “hairs” cut. But, an English-speaking person wouldn’t write “hairs” (or “vacations”).

  • Ann K.
    August 28, 2010 4:09pm

    Hi David,

    Oy! Surely you must know how we deal with the blobby kasha problem when making Kasha Varnishkes. Moisten the kasha with a little beaten egg and toast the kernels in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they’re dry and aromatic. You’d then add the kasha to your sauteed onions along with broth or water, cover, cook about 10 minutes.

    So easy, so delicious!

  • Elizabeth
    August 28, 2010 7:09pm

    Dear David,

    I love you.

    I am sure you get this all the time but wanted to put it out there.

    Don’t worry, it’s not in a stalkerish, “We’re destined to be together” kind of way. But anyone who can get me off bread salad in August is obviously worthy of my most significant emotional levels.

    Love your writing, too!

  • August 28, 2010 9:01pm

    Hi David,

    I’m having a problem accessing the comment section from the e-mail sent to me. When I Google your blog there is no problem. Also your post arrives a day or two later. Anything I can do to correct the problem? I look forward to your blog but hate getting it late.

    Hi Joan: If you subscribe to the site via email, and want to leave a comment as well as read the entire post, you’ll need to click the link in the email to take you to the site directly. I publish what’s called a ‘partial feed’ because folks take (ie: steal) feeds and content, and republish them on websites & I prefer to keep my content here.

    Am not sure why yours comes a day late, but that’s how Feedburner works. I suspect it’s because I live in Europe and is because of the time difference. If you want to get it immediately, you can subscribe to the RSS feed and get it immediately when it’s published if you use an RSS reader. Thanks! -dl

  • August 28, 2010 11:08pm

    Hi David,
    Thanks for this delicious-looking recipe! I just scored some great kitchen items at a once-a-year sale here in San Diego. People literally arrived at 4 am to be first in line. That’s dedication!

    I am going to try this recipe with red rice, as I am gluten-intolerant and farro is out. I think it will give me the most similar experience… hearty and nutty. I have only had kasha once and it was so awful I’m been loathe to try it again, even though it is gluten-free. But maybe your reader’s idea of toasting it first might work. Thanks!

  • August 29, 2010 4:52am

    This looks delicious! I’m going to try substituting the farro with red quinoa and hope it won’t get too gluggy.
    And thank you for reminding me of the brilliance of baby cakes,my addiction to their cornbread is back.

  • Gavrielle
    August 29, 2010 4:55pm

    Argh, the crowded kitchen problem. I’ve had to apply a strict “if one comes in, one goes out” policy, and this applies to cookbooks too. So when my copy of Ready For Dessert arrives, sorry, Be Bold With Bananas*, your time is nigh.

    *Actual title. Actually, that’s why I got it in the first place.

  • August 29, 2010 5:21pm

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the explanation. I took your suggestion and subscribed to the RSS feed and everything is hunky-dory.BTW, I just have to say that you look so much like my son, Raphael.He’s part French-Canadian and part Lebanese.The resemblance is uncanny!

  • Cecily Shores
    August 29, 2010 7:05pm

    Dear David,
    Merci for the recipe! I just made the salad with two substitutions, parsley for basil and wheat berries for farro (cuz I am a girl on a budget and it is what I had on hand). It is slammin’

    I had vowed to not try wheat berries again when another recipe failed me. I now am quite happy with what you’ve given me.

    Oh, and don’t get me started on bowls!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences which are just as valuable as your recipes.


  • August 29, 2010 7:13pm
    David Lebovitz

    Cecily: I love farro, but also know that it can be very expensive and/or hard to find the farther away from Tuscany ones gets. I really love wheat berries and they’re inexpensive and widely available; am glad you like them, too!

  • August 29, 2010 11:42pm

    Salads like this are just perfect for summer! That buckwheat looks pretty disgusting, good call on the farro! I also love quinoa, bulgur and barley for these kinds of salads.

  • August 30, 2010 12:54am

    mm this looks so beautiful and summery! don’t swelter too much in the Parisian August!

  • August 30, 2010 4:34am

    Now this salad really brings the summer into our winter’s day here in Sydney. Thanks David.

  • August 31, 2010 5:41am

    Any excuse for a grand vessel.

    Though I must say, this is a rather dashing excuse, to boot.

  • oliverde
    September 1, 2010 6:09pm

    What a find! At a great price too….I always think food tastes much better out of vessels one loves, no? ;-)

  • Matt
    September 1, 2010 8:40pm

    Hi David:

    What do the French call a thrift or second hand store? I would love to search some out next time I am in France.

    PS What a great find!

  • September 2, 2010 10:21am

    i have been a reader of your blog and love your pictures of yummy food..

  • September 2, 2010 5:03pm
    David Lebovitz

    Matt: The organization of thrift stores in France is Emmaus, which is a benevolent organization and has shops around France. Other stores that sell knick-knacks are called Dépôt Ventes, which are often consignment shops and there are brocantes which aren’t thrift stores, but sell used goods.

  • Bud
    September 8, 2010 8:10pm

    Great salad. Substituted red wheat berries for the farro as it was too expensive to potentially use once. Added some spicy peppers for a bit of kick.

    Piece of grilled chicken / fish and a couple of ears of corn and I was all set.

    Definitively will make again.