I saw a recipe online for spinach salad, feta, toasted farro, grilled onions and calabrian chillies and I wanted it. Even with a title as long and ridiculous as that, I thought it sounded seriously edible and properly substantial even for a wet night in February. I think it was the idea of toasting the farro presumably to make it rich in flavour and to give some overall warmth to balance the slightly bitter metallic flavour of the spinach. And, you know I don't use feta enough and I am totally thoroughly in love with blackened onions, hot or cold but best of all just below warm.
I didn't have any farro, and the lovely posh Italian shop at Mercato Metropolitano only had it as a mix for soup. Didn't have feta either or, for that matter, any spinach. The salad bowl was looking potentially bleak.
I did have some pearled barley, and half a bag of wild rocket that needed using, eggs because I always have eggs and an airtight tub of toasted pumpkin seeds. Plus there were a couple of pointy peppers that might add a sweet note and a fab flash of colour. To counterbalance the peppers I decided to grill slices of seville orange for a bitter caramel note. And I thought of bacon - because everything tastes better with bacon.
Of course I had no onions but the shop round the corner had bright bunches of spring onions. It was far too cold/dark/bleak/generallyFebruary to cook outside so I dragged the ridged cast iron pan from the bottom of the drawer and thereby set about making an entirely different dinner.
Barley, Rocket and Grilled Orange Salad
Serves 2 for dinner with enough over for lunches next day
250g pearled barley
1 bay leaf
2 pointy red peppers
1 Seville orange
6 spring onions
3 rashers of bacon
A couple of generous handfuls of rocket
A tablespoon of toasted pumpkin seeds
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Spread the barley out across a flat oven tray and toast in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for about ten minutes till the grain colours lightly and smells a bit toasty. I have to say I'm not convinced it had any noticeable contribution to the flavour of the barley so feel free to skip this step if it seems like a faff.
Tip the (toasted or not) barley into a saucepan, add water to cover by a couple of inches, drop in the bayleaf and cook over a medium heat until it comes to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the barely until fairly tender but still with a bit of resistance. This will take about 30 minutes - add a generous teaspoon of salt halfway through. Drain and set aside.
While the barley cooks, roast the peppers whole in the oven at 200C/400F/Gas 5 for 20 minutes or so, turning occasionally, until the skins are blackened and blistered. Put them into a small bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. The steam will loosen the skins further making them easy to peel. When they are cool enough to handle, strip the skin away and discard it along with the seeds. Cut the flesh into finger sized strips and tip into a large salad bowl.
Heat the grill pan over a high flame. Cut slices across the orange, about the thickness of a thick pound coin, including the skin saving as much of the juice as you can in a small bowl. Discard the many seeds. Brush each slice with olive oil and lay them out in the hot pan to sear, turning them after a couple of minutes to caramelise the other side. Put the cooked slices into the salad bowl till they're cool enough to handle, then cut them into 1 centimetre squares and return to the bowl with the peppers.
Cut the base and scraggy tops off the spring onions and cut each one in half from top to bottom, brush the cut sides with olive oil and put them into the hot pan. Griddle till they start to blacken, turn
Next cook the bacon rashers in the hot griddle pan till they crisp as much as you like. Leave them to cool in the salad bowl, then cut into 1 centimetre strips and return to the bowl.
Add the cooked, drained barley and the rocket to the salad bowl. Whisk the olive oil and sherry vinegar into the orange juice you saved earlier (you did remember that, didn't you 😌) and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing - taste and adjust the
Poach the eggs till the whites are just set and the yolk remains runny. Serve the salad into 2 bowls and top each with a poached egg and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds.
Dinner is done.
If you go for leftovers for lunch next day - and I would recommend it - it's very good topped with a sliced boiled egg.