As You Like It

This space has evolved into my confessional.  The embarrassing, the disgraceful, the hurt-y; if there’s a red face and burning ears involved, I’m there and have probably recounted it for you, Gentle Reader.These days it takes a lot more to set the blush scale into motion.  I’ve come to terms with my lack of both grace and tact.  But there’s still one category where I’m a tad insecure.

It’s food.  Not the cooking of it, I’m always learning and make an honest effort to grow.  But it’s my taste in food and my capacity to consume it, especially when young.I used to really enjoy sauerkraut mixed with grocery store onion dip.  I could can demolish an entire box of blue box mac in one sitting.  I ate those freaky little La Choy mini egg rolls by the dozen, dunked sour cream.  And once I set up my own kitchen, there was always a can of pre-made frosting handy for snacking.

Then there were canned wax beans.I’d drain them, toss into a saucepan with a too-large dollop of margarine.  Then I’d drop in a couple slices of American cheese food, and cook until it was a gloppy, homogenous mass.

Last week I visited the Carrboro farmers’ market and picked up some fresh Italian wax beans.  I’d never had Italian style (flat) before, and the last time I’d had wax beans, they were full of margarine and “cheese”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI decided to use my go-to veg preparation.

When preparing, regardless of the type, clean them, and cut into bite-size pieces.  If you’re working with a harder veg (Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, fall and winter squashes, anything that gives you strong resistance when you try to pierce it with a knife), it’s necessary to par-cook them so you don’t cook out all the flavor and color by braising them for weeks.Par-cooked veg

Hard veg, cut into chunks

1 large saucepan filled with ocean-level salty water

1 large bowl filled with ice, water, 2 tablespoons kosher saltBring the saucepan to a rolling boil.  Slide vegetables into water and cook until the colors are bright, and you can just smell them (4-7 minutes-ish).

Using a slotted spoon remove the veg and put into the salted ice water.  When they are completely cool throughout, drain into colander.When you’re ready to finish them, put them in a skillet (don’t overcrowd).  Then you need a couple more items.

First, a fat; butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, ghee.  For a whole skillet I’d say two tablespoons, max.  Then an acid; I usually use wine—1/4 to 1/3 cup.  But if you are using something much more acidic like lemon juice or vinegar, add it at the very end, because it’ll discolor the veg.  Then, a liquid; normally water, but you can use stock, juice, even tea.  The more liquid you use, the longer it will have to cook, so for tender veg, use much less liquid.Put everything into the pan along with a pinch of salt and pepper, then cover.  Cook on medium-low until the veg is tender-crisp.  Remove cover and let cook until the liquid’s gone.  For a tender vegetable, like peas, remove from heat as soon as liquid’s gone.  For harder veg, let them cook until they pick up some browning.This is a very versatile method which gives you plenty of ways to customize.  The biggest thing is to not overcook them.  If you went to all the trouble of getting fresh, keep it fresh.

And my wax beans?  I cooked them until they had a little browning, and then I tossed them with a little shaved cheese from the “Under $5” basket at Whole Foods as nod to that earlier, scarier dish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for your time.

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.