Putting Spring on Your Plate

Finally, spring has arrived on the calendar as well as in the garden outside my home in the northeast. Friends are plucking tender sugar-snap peas off the vine and pulling the season’s first, mild radishes out of the soft earth. At farmers’ markets, crisp, just-picked asparagus are so sweet that you can slice a chubby spear, uncooked and enjoy it added to a green salad.

These lovely vegetables remind me that in Italian, "primavera" is the word for spring and also is used to describe dishes loaded with spring’s tender vegetables. The most famous one, pasta primavera, combines spaghetti with asparagus tips, zucchini, green peas and broccoli florets. Actually invented at Le Cirque, a posh restaurant in New York City, pasta primavera is finished with a tomato sauce made with cream, cheese and butter.

Looking to eat more whole grain, recently I tried replacing the pasta with farro, an ancient, unhybridized form of wheat native to Italy. Uncooked farro looks like paler brown and white, slightly dusty whole-wheat berries. Boiled like rice, cooked farro is pleasantly chewy. Its plump kernels taste nutty and slightly sweet. Combined with spring vegetables and tossed with lemon and a touch of olive oil, it makes this lovely, sustaining salad.

Look for farro at upscale supermarkets, Italian markets and some natural food stores. Or, to make this salad without farro, you could replace it with bulgur.

Farro Salad Primavera - Makes 4 servings.

3/4 cup farro
3 cups cold water
12 small sugar-snap peas
5 fresh asparagus spears, in 1-inch pieces
10 grape tomatoes, halved length-wise
2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots
2 large white mushrooms, stemmed
1 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
Ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

In medium saucepan, combine farro with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook until farro is slightly al dente, about 30 minutes. Drain in colander, then rinse farro under cool water and drain well. Place cooked farro in mixing bowl.

Steam the peas and asparagus for 3 minutes. Immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and keep them crisp-tender. Drain well and add to farro. Add tomatoes and shallots to farro.

To cube mushrooms, cut one vertically into 6 slices. Holding it together, rotate mushroom 90 degrees and make 5 cuts. Lay resulting matchsticks on their sides and cut crosswise, making cubes. Repeat to cut second mushroom. Add mushrooms to salad. Grate zest from half the lemon and add to salad.

For dressing, squeeze one tablespoon juice from lemon into small bowl. Mix in salt until it dissolves. Add 4-5 grinds pepper. Whisk in oil. Pour dressing over salad and toss with fork to combine. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 170 calories, 6 g total fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 25 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 300 mg sodium.
Note: If desired, you can assemble salad up to 1 hour before serving, then add dressing at the last minute.

The Author:

AICR offers a Nutrition Hotline (1-800-843-8114). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday, this free service allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided more than $82 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Web address is www.aicr.org.

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