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Tapenade And Farro Are The Perfect Meet-up

September 19, 2013

Salty, fragrant tapenade and chewy, nutty farro — an heirloom grain now favored in salads and side dishes — are unlikely partners. Tossed together in an easy-to-prepare dish, they surprise with a cascade of textures and flavors.

Inquisitive cooks looking to explore new boundaries while remaining grounded in the familiar often start with a tried-and-true recipe and add ingredients to create a new dining experience. Just look how every child’s go-to dish, the supremely ordinary macaroni and cheese, has taken on new colors with the addition of fine-dining ingredients such as expensive cheeses, shiitake mushrooms, truffles and lobster.

During the summer, easy-to-prepare tapenade frequently joins our lunches along with guacamole, fresh tomato salsa and grilled corn and parsley salad as starters for a leisurely meal. Farro can make an appearance in a salad of roughly chopped black kale with scallions but more often than not waits in the wings until temperatures drop. In those cooler times, farro shines as a warm and savory accompaniment to roasted meats, poultry and fish, a happy replacement for the more familiar starches of pasta and potato.

Sending these two old friends on a blind date seemed like a good idea as savory farro makes a perfect match for the salty heat of fragrant tapenade.

Tapenade With Farro

Use any kind of olive you enjoy and, for convenience, use pitted ones, which are easily found in most markets. Green olives add a bit more flavor than dark ones and so work better for this dish.

Farro is prepared in the manner of risotto, first sautéing and braising the grain with stock. Home-prepared stock is best and, for this dish, a lighter vegetable one is preferred. In this case, since I had just made grilled corn salad with parsley, there was a surfeit of corn cobs available. Nine cobs in two quarts of water boiled for 30 minutes yielded three cups of stock, more than enough to make the farro for this recipe.

Serves 4


For the tapenade:

2 cups or 6 dry ounces pitted olives

1 garlic clove, skin on

½ cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped

½ cup tomatoes, washed, roughly chopped

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, to taste

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

⅛ teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

⅛ teaspoon dried pepper flakes, finely chopped

Sea salt, if needed, to taste

1 anchovy filet (optional)

For the farro:

1 tablespoon olive oil

⅛ teaspoon sea salt

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup farro

2 cups stock (preferably vegetable, homemade)

Cayenne pepper, if desired, to taste


For the tapenade:

1. Reserving the brine, drain the olives and set aside.

2. Using a paring knife, skewer the garlic with its skin still on. Hold the clove over an open flame until the skin burns off. Allow to cool. Remove the burnt skin and root end and roughly chop.

3. In a small electric food mill, combine all the ingredients. Pulse to chop, being careful not to over process.

4. Taste and adjust flavor with additions of lemon juice, olive oil, pepper flakes and sea salt as needed.

5. To mellow and combine the flavors, allow to sit for several hours.

Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days.

For the farro:

1. On a medium flame, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and seasonings. Add the farro and stir to coat.

2. Keep a close eye on the farro, stirring frequently to brown but careful not to burn the grains.

3. Add ⅓ cup stock at a time, mix well with the farro. As the liquid evaporates, add another ⅓ cup and continue until the farro is al dente.

4. Remove from the flame and allow the farro to cool.

For serving:

– To finish, toss three-quarters of the farro and tapenade together. Before adding the final one quarter of each, taste and adjust the proportion of chewy (farro) to spicy-salty (tapenade).

– For more saltiness, either season with sea salt or add a teaspoon or two of the olive brine.

– For more heat, dust with cayenne.

– Serve at room temperature as a starter with fresh bread or as a salad served on a bed of greens.