Delicious Eating born in Ancient Rome

Delicious Eating born in Ancient Rome
14 July 2016 0 Comment

There are some things that just don’t change; eating well and using ancient ingredients like farrosurely must be one of those things? It has been in kitchens and cooking pots from the Middle East to ancient Rome forever and is still used in cooking in Italy to this day. The earliest evidence of domesticated farro was found at a site carbon dated around 7,700 BC, near Damascus in modern-day Syria. Wild farro was found at an archaeological site carbon dated around 17,000 BC, in modern-day Israel. Emmer wheat was especially valued in ancient Egypt, where it was the staple crop. References to the plant appear in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin sources. Farro later became an important crop in northeastern Europe, beginning around the 4th century BC.

Farro was very much part of a Roman’s staple diet and it might be assumed with some confidence that when Livy (59BC – 17AD) described the Roman General Aemilius Paulus‘ preparations for campaign when he ordered his praetor to sail ahead with “ten days cooked rations for 1000 men”, he was referring to pre-cooked farro. It might be said that the unstoppable Roman legions marched on a diet of farro, garlic and very questionable red wine, when available!

Though farro is no longer grown much around the world, Italy is an exception. Italian farro is popular beyond the country’s borders, especially in European health food and specialty stores. Farro is also grown today in Albania, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland, and the Carpathian Mountains on the border of the Czech and Slovak republics, though not to the extent that it is grown in Tuscany. And it’s here in Tuscany where I live that I sat down to the most exquisite bowl of farro salad recently, on a stinking hot day and ate and felt like a King. Often the simplest things in life are the most memorable and that simple salad made of this truly ancient grain had me grinning from ear to ear.

My good friend Leonetta lives in Pienza and I believe is some kind of genial witch in the kitchen, made this salad for me. Whatever she touches, mixes, pounds, rolls, bakes, boils or fries in her kitchen turns into something absolutely delicious to eat; for her eating with family and friends is life itself. I bought a bag of farro grown and harvested in fields owned and farmed by the monks of the medieval monastery Monte Oliveto Maggiore recently and thought she would appreciate the perfect grains, knowing full well she could make something delicious with them. And she did by softening the farro in water overnight. The next day she placed the pot on the gas with the farro inside and slowly brought it to the boil and let it boil for no more than 5 minutes. She had already made her homemade pesto which she put aside, steamed some fresh long green beans and let them cool. Once the farro had sat for a time she strained them into a metal mixing bowl – cooked and dry, not soft and mushy! Then she poured a small amount of her pesto (no more than a tablespoon) over the farro and turned the mixed about with a spoon, gently! Then she turned in the cut, steamed green beans, followed by a couple of handfuls of halved fresh cherry tomatoes, a slurp of her brother’s olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and then covered the bowl with plastic and popped it into her fridge. When she served it to me it was not overly chilled at all, because she had allowed a good two servings of the salad to sit in a bowl on the kitchen bench a good hour before serving.

We ate, we laughed, I paid her the compliments she well deserved and when I looked down at my plate I smiled, knowing this grain has been part of Italy’s history for thousands of years.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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