When I mention the burgeoning olive industry and fine quality of olive oil produced in Texas, I’m usually met with a surprised look. Since the region has been gaining popularity for its wines during the past several years, it’s only natural olives should follow.

To celebrate the olive industry in the San Antonio and surrounding Hill Country area, the San Antonio Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier has organized an olive festival the past two years called Olives Ole. Some items included olive and oil tastings, cooking demos and olive tree sales. Then there were booths offering diverse food made with local olive oil and/or olives. One of Les Dames members, Sandy Winokur, owns and operates Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard about half an hour south of downtown. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many ladies of our local Les Dames chapter, and I find it energizing that we have so many talented and accomplished women in the area’s culinary industry.

So last spring at Olives Ole, I had a serendipitous meeting with another lovely member of Les Dames, Rollie Blackwell-Devlin. I had sampled the long olive bar and wandered around the grounds of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, but was getting to be hungry again. So I headed to the food booth area and chose the Farro Salad. Randomly, I sat at a table nearby and remarked to my table companions how delicious the salad was. “That’s my recipe!” replied the lady next to me. And that’s how I met Rollie.

I was lucky that she enthusiastically shared her recipe with me. This dish featured at Olives Ole was adapted from a recipe from her forthcoming cookbook. It will be a cookbook on Texas Hill Country cooking–her own creations from local farmers and wild game. (She and her husband run a working deer ranch.) She’s securing a publisher right now, so stay tuned for updates on this!

Rollie also runs a delightful, intimate B&B in the Texas Hill Country called Stony Ridge Ranch near Hondo, Texas. You can spend a weekend in one of the luxurious, peaceful guestrooms, sip some Texas wine on the porch and let Rollie cheerfully make breakfast the next morning. There are also options for cooking classes. What could be better than relaxation and a little time in the kitchen in the Hill Country?

For the olive oil in this recipe, I suggest a quality regional Texas oil, such as one from Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. They offer an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Blend from Spanish olive varieties that is mild and fruity, and which my Greek palate thinks is comparable to many oils I’ve tasted over the years, in Greece and elsewhere.

Italian Farro Salad with Feta

Recipe and photo by Rollie Blackwell-Devlin.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

Farro is one of the oldest grains on Earth and is now grown primarily in Italy. It is a wonderful source of protein and iron. It has a delightful nutty taste and so is wonderful as a salad here, or cook it as you would rice and add vegetables to it. Look for it at Costco, Whole Foods, Central Market. This dish is delicious–so I hope you will try it–and experiment with your own ideas!

4 cups water

1 1/2 cups Farro

1 teaspoon salt

1 red bell pepper finely chopped

1/2 medium red onion finely chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries finely chopped

1 cup celery chopped

1/4 cup parsley finely chopped

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 medium garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon mixed dried or fresh herbs

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon course ground pepper

Method:

Combine water and farro in a medium saucepan and add one teaspoon of salt, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until the farro is tender. In a large bowl, add the bell pepper, onion, dried cherries, parsley, and feta. Drain the farro in a wire colander and let it sit to cool. Add the cooled farro to the large bowl and combine all veggies. In a small bowl, add the balsamic vinegar, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Whisk well with a fork. Add to the farro and mix all well. Serve as is, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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