Is there anything more glorious than preparing a meal on a summer evening at a beach house? I feel like I could write a Haiku about this. Sand running through your fingers, backdrop of crashing waves as you discuss tonight’s dinner menu with companions. Noticing your salty, sun-kissed skin on the way to the farm stand for vegetables. On to the fishmonger for catch of the day—it will be grilled, of course. Back at the house, on the deck. Glass of rose in hand. Running to the garden barefoot for fresh basil and mint. I should shower! You say. Nobody showers. Somebody makes guacamole. Opens another bottle of wine. Dinner served long after the sun disappears in a haze of brilliant hues. The air has a chill, grab a sweatshirt. Stare up at the stars. The languid day is infinite. You feel the happiest, and most content, you ever feel. This is summer.
I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this type of beach house living the past two weekends on the East End of Long Island— where, to my delight, I witnessed the comestible shift the local farming community has made on the region. Of course, traditional New England summer fare like lobster, mayonnaise, buttery potato buns, coleslaw, and corn remained prolific. But seeping through the culinary seams was produce—fresh, abundant produce!—thanks to a strong agriculture community and a more health-conscious, sustainable-minded population.
Propelled by its maritime climate, the 400-year-old East End agricultural industry sees revenues of over 1 billion dollars a year, and the signature “Grown on Long Island” label emanates reverence and pride. The value on produce is omnipresent. Farm stands and cultivated fields dot the roads. The source of a vegetable accoutrement mentioned proudly on a restaurant menu. Caravan, a take-out shop in Amagansett, offering a weekly list of prepared meals driven by what’s available at the surrounding farms.
As a self-proclaimed vegivore (who, during the latter weekend, happened to also be accompanied by a vegetarian), I was thrilled at the emphasis on local produce, fresh salads, and whole grains. But as a member of our eating society, I was simply proud. Is the farm-to-table mindset finally leaving an indelible mark on our culture? Of course, we gravitate towards fresh produce in the summer, because it is prolific and the season is short. But are we finally ready to seize the trend year round? Give picking through wintered greens the same enthusiasm we give to finding dark cherries or powering through a watermelon? I dare to hope.
Below is a recipe for Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad, a sensational summer dish filled with seasonal delights. From the farm, tomatoes, radishes, and arugula. From the garden, fresh parsley, basil, mint. From the pantry, a splendid and slick vinegary, lemony, olive oil dressing. The farro is sweetly nuanced with apple cider and bay leaves; toasted pistachios and shaved Parmesan add a nutty, salty finish. The salad energetically welcomes a topping of grilled scallops or shrimp, but is wholly satisfactory on its own, too. In true dietician’s daughter-fashion, I halved the olive oil and doubled the greens, adding baby kale along with arugula and extra tomatoes and radishes. I imagine fresh blueberries, cherries, or diced peaches would work wonderfully in the salad too….and it goes really nicely with a side of corn on the cob. Can I say it again? This is summer. Cherish it while it’s here.
Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (adapted from the New York Times)
Serves 6 dainty eaters, 4 hungry ones
1 cup farro
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp kosher salt, more as needed
2 bay leaves
3-4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (slivered rind optional)
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
½ cup chopped toasted pistachio nuts
4 cups arugula leaves (baby kale and spinach work too)
1 cup parsley or basil leaves, torn
1 cup mint leaves
1 ½ cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
¾ cup thinly sliced radish
Maldon or other flaky sea salt, for Finishing
1. In a medium saucepan, bring farro, apple cider, salt, bay leaves and 2 cups water to a simmer. Simmer until farro is tender and liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If all the liquid evaporates before the farro is done, add a little more water. Let farro cool, then discard bay leaves.
2. In a salad bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Add farro, cheese and pistachio nuts and mix well. This salad base will keep for up to 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator (bring to room temperature before serving). Just before serving, fold in arugula, herbs, tomatoes, radish and flaky salt to taste.