This farro, and no farther

You know the very best thing about farro?    Farro’s extremely versatile.  This chewy little grain which can be used in a myriad of delicious ways also tastes awesome as-is, right out of the cooking pot.

Farro is hulled wheat.  Wheat is either free-threshing, which means the outer sheath is soft and easy to remove, or hulled.  Hulled wheat normally includes wild wheat and other ‘ancient grains’.

It’s similar to barley in both taste and texture (but I like farro better).  It’s chewy and nutty.  Or, if you cook it a little less, it will be lightly crunchy and nutty.  I prefer softer, because then it’s as comforting as a new pair of flannel pajamas after a warm bath.  Farro’s also high in protein, fiber and B complex vitamins and it’s pretty low in gluten—so those are some really healthy flannel pj’s.And many fans of old school hot cereal have unknowingly eaten bowls of farro in the form of ‘Cream of Farina’.  But regular farro makes a pretty nifty hot cereal as well.  You can make a big pot when you have time, then just nuke and dress it for breakfast.

The grains actually have two cooking times and procedures to go along with them.

For the crunchier version, put salted water in a heavy saucepan like you would for pasta; but at least 6/1 water to farro ratio.  Bring the water to a boil, add farro, lower the temp to medium and cook, uncovered for around thirty minutes.  Drain and serve.  A serving size is ¼ cup uncooked.

But I just really enjoy the mouth feel that slower cooking gets you.  The other night I made a new farro recipe to go along with some parmesan crusted chicken cutlets.  I did all the prep work well in advance so, when we were about an hour and a half out from dinner, all I had to do was apply heat.

Farro Florentinefarro florentine3/4 cup farro

2 ¼ cups chicken broth

¼ cup dried mushrooms

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, cut into strips

2 teaspoons umami or tomato paste

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

4 cloves roasted garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1 teaspoon for roasting garlic

¼ cup Marsala wine

Salt & pepper

3 large handfuls of baby spinach

Parmesan cheese

Roast garlic: Set oven to 350.  Place peeled cloves on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil.  Close foil, making airtight package.  Bake for 45 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

To use, place roasted garlic on a dish and mash it, pouring any remaining oil on top.

Put all the ingredients except the Parmesan and the spinach into a heavy saucepan with a lid.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook for 45-55 minutes, or until the farro is tender and all the water has cooked in.

At this point, add the spinach on top and without stirring, re-cover and let sit off heat for 10-15 minutes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo serve, stir in spinach, and spoon onto plate, adding Parmesan to taste.  Serves 3.

I know that earlier I said farro’s like flannel pajamas.  But maybe it’s more like a little black dress.  You can dress this grain up or down, and serve it up plain or with lots of additions.

But maybe it’s more like a pair of bowling shoes, or a well-worn jean jacket, or a lacy bra, or…farro equalsThanks for your time.

Vegetable induced ennui

Petey and I have been married for over 33 years.  On average I cook six meals a week (that’s 5616 meals).  For the first 15 years of marriage though, I probably only cooked four times a week (3120).That’s a grand total of 8736 meals (you would not believe how difficult that simple bit of math was for me—and I was using a calculator).

The upshot of all this is that I have cooked a lot of food, including many, many, many side dishes.  And at about dinner number 1283, I started getting tired of my customary vegetable dance of, “microwave until hot and add melted butter”.I was desperate for a new song for my tired, boring veggies to waltz to.

I started by overhauling my preparation procedure for bags of frozen vegetables; peas, mixed veg, and other similar types.

First, the microwave got a pink slip.

Except for a very few exceptions, I now cook the veggies, frozen or fresh on the stovetop in a non-stick skillet.  It treats the vegetables with more respect, which always adds more flavor.  It also takes roughly the same effort, and can be prepped and ready to go well in advance.

The formula is simple and works with everything.  You can increase or decrease it depending on the number at your table.

Quick cooked Southern vegmixed veg2 ½ cups frozen vegetable

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon chicken base

¼ cup water

Pinch of sugar

Salt & pepper

¼ cup fresh herbs, chopped (optional)

Throw everything into a skillet.  Cover, turn on medium-high and cook until the veggies are hot and the liquid is bubbling.  Uncover and cook until the water is cooked off and formed a sauce.  Take off heat, stir in herbs, and serves.  Serves 4.

This technique also works really well with fresh carrots, with only a few tweaks.  Because they take much longer to cook, you need to start with more water.  Also, you can cut them into any size or shape you like (I usually cut them into slices on the bias), but it’s very important that they all have roughly the amount of same surface area, so they finish at the same time.You can also switch out the sweet component, and the spices.  I have used maple syrup, jam, brown sugar, sorghum, and even reduced root beer.  As for spices, nutmeg, Chinese five spice, and pumpkin pie spice all work.  You can mix and match to your family’s taste and what’s in your pantry.  No need to go buy something special, just work with what you have on hand.

Lately, I’ve been buying large bags of rainbow carrots.  The Durham Coop and Whole Foods normally carry them, at about $1 per pound.  You could also use this procedure with another root vegetable like parsnip or beets.

All in together glazed carrotshoney glazed carrots2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into similar sized pieces

¾ cup water

¼ cup butter

1-2 tablespoons buckwheat honey

10-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

1-2 teaspoons vanilla paste

Salt and pepper

Put everything into a skillet.  Cover and cook on medium-high until the carrots are tender (about 10 minutes).  Uncover and cook until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze.  Check for seasoning and serve.

The last recipe is for green beans.  It’s from my brilliant child, The Kid.  It’s truly my new favorite way to eat them.

The Kid’s marvelous green beansgreen beans

Garlic oil:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-6 garlic cloves

Put oil in a small pot.  Give each garlic clove a smash to bruise it, and drop it into the pot.  Turn on medium-low.  When the oil begins to simmer, turn off and let sit to cool.  Strain out the garlic.

1 pound green beans

Garlic oil

Salt & pepper

Line a large baking sheet with foil.  Toss beans with garlic oil, salt and pepper.  Spread out on baking sheet.  Place pan under broiler for 4 minutes.  Toss and cook for another 4-5 minutes until they’re cooked and blistered (in spots—not all over).  Serves 2-3.

I hope you enjoy these veggie ideas.  Maybe after the next thousand or two meals, I’ll come up with another new take on an old veg.Thanks for your time.

Within gitting distance

Before I get started with this week’s topic, I want to give everybody a heads up about something going on this weekend.On Saturday from 12-3PM, the Carolina Inn is hosting a Barbecue Throwdown on their front porch.  There will be eight local chefs (including the Carolina’s Chef James Clark), all trying to wind up the smoke and fire champ.

The event will be hosted by the radio announcer of the Carolina Panthers, Mick Mixon.  And music will be provided by the Gravy Boys.  There will be five judges plus the guests will also vote on a fan favorite.A portion of the proceeds will be going to TABLE, an Orange county charity that helps kids at risk for hunger.  They’re also asking that guests bring donations of non-perishable foods.  You can score tickets at:  Every ticket enters the holder into a raffle, too.

Petey and I will be there, and hope to see you, as well.

It takes quite a bit to get The Kid to do a characteristically very low-key, practically stationary happy dance.But one thing that mildly thrills my child is eating local.

Dinner last week was a banner meal.  A few weeks ago The Kid gave me a tip that the Durham Co-op had gorgeous, but inexpensive Denver steaks.  No fooling.  I went and scored two pretty specimens for around $6.

On the day The Kid and I made our pilgrimage to the Got To Be NC festival at the state fairgrounds, we also went to the state farmer’s market, in Raleigh.  Unbelievably and embarrassingly, it was our first visit.While there, I bought three jars of D’Vine’s sassafras jelly.  My child was hankering after peaches and strawberries.  On the way out The Kid stopped at one of the meat purveyors and along with a couple of steaks, picked up some fresh shitake mushrooms.

And after another quick trip to the Co-op for some local corn and pancetta, The Kid was ready to eat.

The protein was an extremely rare Denver steak smothered in a shitake mushroom sauce.

The Kid’s shitake sauce

shitake sauce

1 pound shitake mushrooms, cleaned sliced, with stems removed

Fat from cooking steak

½ cup sherry or cognac

1 ½ cup beef stock

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

3-4 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

While steaks are resting, turn the cooking pan on medium-high.  Without cleaning pan, add mushrooms, season, and sauté until the liquid releases then cooks out, and mushrooms start to caramelize.

Deglaze with sherry and cook until the pan is dry again.  Pour in beef stock.  Bring to a boil, and let cook until it has reduced to half, and thickened slightly.

Whisk in cold butter until the sauce has thicken and is glossy and smooth.  Add back mushrooms, check seasoning, then spoon over steaks.

The Kid then attended to a side dish.

To make this recipe you need to cut the kernels off the cob.  To do this, stand up the shucked cob on a cutting board.  Run a sharp knife down the cob, slicing off the corn.  This is kind of messy, but the sharper the knife, the neater it will be.  Some people swear by standing the cob in the center of a Bundt pan, but I never noticed a big difference in cleanliness.  After stripping, using the back side of the knife, scrape the cob, gathering the corn juice.

Fresh corn and pancetta

corn pancetta

5 or 6 ears of fresh corn and juice, shucked and off the cob

¼ pound pancetta, chopped

1 shallot, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Put pancetta in a skillet on medium, and cook until all the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crispy.  Remove and set aside.

Sauté shallots until they just begin to brown.  Then add corn, and turn to medium-high.  Stirring frequently, cook until it begins to caramelize around the edges and the moisture has cooked off.  Remove from heat, check for seasoning, and add back the pancetta.  Serves 2-3.


The Kid’s finished dish.  Dig those groovy black plates.

I think the only way The Kid would have liked the meal more is if there had been a produce picnic smack in the middle of the Durham garden in which it had been grown.

p rabbit

Thanks for your time.