Earlier, when I was back in Milan, I mentioned the restaurant La Latteria San Marco (Via San Marco 24) in the Brera neighborhood. Maria presides over the restaurant -- taking orders, seating guests, and managing the small crowd that inevitably forms outside the doors of the tiny nine-table eatery In a combination of broken English and Italian, I asked her about the restaurant and found out that it had been in operation for 40 years and that the menu, which changes daily, combines cuisine from Sicily, where she was raised, and from Tuscany, where her husband Arturo comes from. Due to the language problem, this was about as far as I got.
The food is amazing and simple -- dishes like polpettine al limone (slightly flattened meatballs oozing with cheese and doused with a lemony sauce) and contorni like a simple mash of squash. The crumbly crostata served for dessert was baked by Maria at home and filled with what tasted like creme fraiche and topped with orange marmalade.
But, one of the best things I had, and truly one of the simplest, was a first course of farro with mozzarella di bufala and cherry tomatoes. It was nothing more than the farro -- the barley-shaped ancient grain -- boiled in salted water and served warm and topped on one side with the tomatoes and the other with cheese. Maria dropped a bottle of extra virgin olive oil off at the table for dressing the dish as you might dress a salad table-side. The farro had a chewy texture and nutty flavor. You might think that this sounds like an ascetic dish. Boiled grains? But, the olive oil and creamy mozzarella offered some richness, and the tomatoes provided a fresh and juicy textural contrast. It was excellent, healthful, and very easy to replicate at home. Some recipes will tell you to soak and cook the farro for hours, but for this dish, I found that boiling the grains in salted water for 15 to 20 minutes (before draining them) yielded just the right consistency.
A cursory search for information online about farro will tell you that the grain is simply Italian for spelt, or the opposite: a grain that is similar, but something else entirely. If you know more, please fill us in below in the comments. You can find farro at gustiamo.com, Chefshop.com, and Ditalia.com, among other purveyors.