ferragosto farro pesto and crab salad

August is vacation month in Italy, when most shops close for a week or two or more while the people who usually man them vacation along with many other Italians. August 15 is the national holiday called Ferragosto and the week of Ferragosto is usually always part of this shut down activity. Italian cities which normally have chaotic traffic and noise are almost deserted on Ferragosto, except for some locals who hang around during this time and of course the tourists are out in force in the parts of town that attract them, since June through August is high season for tourism. Rome can be quite pleasant during this period, since there is still a vibrant night life in the streets and on the Tevere river banks for those who remain behind. If the weather cooperates, the eternal city can be a terrific place to be on this holiday.

For three summers in a row, we passed by this food shop (prepared foods, specialty products, bakery, fresh pasta, lunch items, takeout)  in the bus so many times, La Madia, only a few blocks from our "home" away from home in Rome, always a bit curious about what it had to offer. Finally on Ferragosto near lunch time we are walking by on foot from a morning excursion to the Roman Forum Museum, so we check it out. We discover a pesto farro salad and a red rice salad with baby shrimps and melon and a black rice salad with soft (but firm) cheese chunks, corn and cherry tomatoes, all of which we sampled and loved, enough to buy a half kilo each of red and black rice, which we later found much cheaper in the US at Whole Foods. The farro pesto salad was the high point so it was on the agenda for reproduction after our return soon after. We were not disappointed, although it could have used a bit more crab meat. Sticker shock at the big box store Costco almost shut down the idea, since the first crabmeat containers we saw were for 17 and 23 bucks apiece. Fortunately we found cheap canned crabmeat near the canned tuna, a bundle of 4. This recipe could have used two cans instead of bob's initial guess at one, made without ani's consultation since she was at fitness class while bob got dinner ready for her when she returned. How nice. [Of course ani had done this all summer when bob returned late from "work" at the university in Rome.]


1 c uncooked farro
1/2 -3/4 c pesto sauce
1/4 -1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 small (not baby) zucchini, julienned
2/3 c chopped cherry or grape tomatoes
a handful of chopped arugula, the amount more or less to your liking
2 6oz cans crabmeat, or better stuff if you can afford it
some fresh basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (optional)


  1. Cook the farro according to the instructions and taste to make sure it is softened sufficiently. Depending on the type of farro processing (whole, pearled, etc) the boiling time may vary. Our package said 30 minutes, but bob made sure with repeated tastings up to 45 minutes. So this is the advance prep time needed to put this together.
  2. Cool the farro in cold water. Then drain and return to the pot (or serving bowl if you like to be more fancy).
  3. Mix in the pesto sauce and enough olive oil to lubricate the farro, and mix in evenly the zucchini, tomatoes, arugula and crabmeat and the chopped basil leaves, salt and pepper if you like, more oil if needed.
  4. Refrigerate.
  5. Serve.


  1. We had some frozen homemade pesto (minus the parmigiano, we added in a bit during the prep) in the fridge that we thawed for this, a bit dry so we needed more olive oil to compensate. Only add enough olive oil to lubricate the farro sufficiently, a judgement call.
  2. bob's mother-in-law took one bite and smelled something fishy, end of story. Maybe it was cheap crabmeat. Whatever. You can also make this without crabmeat, maybe even substituting a cup of recipe ready chick peas for example. Your call. But then you'd have to change the name of the recipe slightly. ferragosto farro pesto and no crab salad?
  3. Red rice and black rice are whole grain products, healthy, produced in Northern Italy.
  4. Ferragosto Wiki.
  5. La Madia, Gastronomia-Panetteria, via Sebino (Angolo via Chiana), Roma. We'll be back.
  6. Illustrations available.
farropestosalad.htm: 4-sep-2011 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]