I hesitate to encourage a variation on the classic caprese salad. Despite the fact that a quality insalata caprese is more dependent on a keen eye and savvy shopping than actual culinary technique, I know many a food traditionalist who would wag their chef's knife at me for such treachery. I admit that the combination of juicy, ripe tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, fragrant basil, herbaceous extra-virgin olive oil, and the bite of black pepper is an expression of simple ingredients at their finest. And yet, I insist that this recipe is worthy of breaking the rules.
Not only have I roasted cherry tomatoes here (!), I've add farro, lemon rind, and fennel (!!). Devious indeed, but the standard caprese salad that needed to be promptly devoured is now lunch box-ready and equally delicious served warm or cold. The whole caramelized tomatoes stand up to the chew of nutty farro, and their sweet juices swirl with olive oil for a natural dressing. Punctuated by tangy lemon, basil, and salty cheese, this salad is perfect underneath roasted chicken, slices of flank steak, or eaten with a spoon for a light lunch.
Cooking a large batch of farro in advance to have on hand for salads like this one is the best way to get a quick meal on the table on busy weeknights but special enough to serve on a platter for casual dinner parties. To roast the tomatoes, I keep the oven at 350°F. This gives them plenty of time to burst, partially collapse and develop just enough char without burning. Make sure you use a rubber spatula to scrape up all their glistening juices.
Roasted Tomato Farro Salad
1 cup farro
4 cups water
1 pint (about 1-pound) cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup small diced parmigiano reggiano
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
2 tablespoon basil, chiffonade (cut into long thin strips)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest from one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
In a large pot, bring the farro and water to boil for 5 minutes. Adjust the heat down and simmer for 2 hours, or until the grains are chewy and tender. Drain.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss cherry tomatoes with the 2 tablespoons olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Set them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for about 20-30 minutes, until collapsed and slightly charred.
In a medium bowl, combine cooked farro, warm roasted cherry tomatoes, parmigiano, fennel, basil, lemon juice & zest, the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and sea salt. Gently fold to incorporate, adding additional salt, to taste.