Pantry Raid

Famous for their navy beans…and a few other things.

It all started with a free can of navy beans and a bag of frozen meatballs.

The meatballs were extras from The Kid’s birthday dinner.  They’re kind of complicated and labor-intensive to prepare, so I always make tons, and freeze what doesn’t go into the birthday pink sauce.

I love the extra meatballs cooked slowly in Sweet Baby Rae’s barbecue sauce and topped with melted sharp Cheddar and sprinkled with shards of crispy bacon.  I serve them with macaroni and cheese, and roasted broccoli.

Sounds delicious, right?

Well, Petey, normally the least picky of men, is not a fan so the barbecue prep is very infrequent.  I’m always looking to come up with something different as a replacement.

I love farro.  So, I decided to make a one-pot meal with farro, the meatballs, and to take the opportunity to use up some pantry odds and ends, like the navy beans—my local co-op was giving a can to members every time we shopped there in August.  And, the bit of spinach I had which was too old for salad but not enough for a full side dish. 

If you don’t have a bag of homemade frozen meatballs, most supermarkets sell them in their freezer section.  Really though, you can use this recipe as a jumping off place.  Use your own leftovers and bits and bobs.  Farro is not only awesome tasting, it plays well with almost any guest stars—you can even go sweet with it, and have it for breakfast, ala porridge.

Farro and meatballs

½ cup dried mushrooms

rehydrated in

3 cups chicken stock

3 cups water

splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dry thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

1 ½ teaspoons umami powder (such as Trader Joe’s) or 1 anchovy and extra splash of Worcestershire

Bring all ingredients to slow boil then cover and let sit off heat for at least thirty minutes.  Then drain over cheesecloth or double layer of paper towels in fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid for cooking the farro. 

Give the mushrooms a very brief rinse, then chop very finely. 

And, the rest of the story

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cups farro

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2/3 cup Marsala wine

1 can navy beans, drained

2 teaspoons honey

zest from one lemon

2 bay leaves

2 big handful spinach or other cooking greens such as kale or collards

18 small meatballs

Heat olive oil in large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Add mushrooms and onions and sautee until the liquid has cooked out and the veg are lightly browned.  Stir in farro and cook until it has begun to toast.  Add tomato paste and cook until the paste has darkened in color and there’s lots of browning on the bottom of the pot.

Stir in Marsala, scraping up all the bits (called fond) on the pot.  Cook until almost all the wine’s cooked out. Add reserved stock, beans, honey, lemon zest, bay leaves and greens.

Place the meatballs evenly on top, nestling into the farro.

Cover and lower to medium-low.  Cook 45-60 minutes or until the liquid has cooked out and the farro is cooked.  Take off heat and let sit, covered for 20 minutes.

Makes 4-6 hearty servings. 

This turned out so tasty.  Petey and I ate way too much the first night, and The Kid stole a large portion of the leftovers to take home.  Add a little liquid and it nukes up beautifully.

And if it was good in the middle of a hot, sticky NC summer, imagine how toasty and satisfying it would be one cold winter’s night.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

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