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

Fairly Balanced

My favorite ice cream treat is Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait.  It is a miracle of simplicity; vanilla soft serve draped in hot fudge sauce and studded with peanuts.

But who knew my affection was rooted in science?

While each component is plenty tasty on its own, it’s the contrasts that push it to icon status.  The hot/cold, salty/sweet, and creamy/crunchy excite us and satisfy the palate.  It’s called dynamic contrast.

The accepted definition for this term is: moment-to-moment sensory contrast from the ever-changing properties of foods manipulated in the mouth.All this fancy scientific palaver boils down to one thing: humans like contrast, and crave it.

The Kid recently found a dish on the website Smitten Kitchen, which was inspired by an Ina Garten recipe and features contrast.

Crusty Baked Cauliflower and Farro

Final amended recipe

I’m sorry guys, there are just a crap ton of ingredients in this dish.

2 cups cooked farro

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 large or 3 regular cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups coarsely grated Manchego

½ cup Marcona almonds, given a brief, rough chop into halves or thirds

1/2 cup full-fat ricotta cheese

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese

2 teaspoons dry thyme


Place farro into large bowl.

Par-cook cauliflower:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Brush a large baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread florets in one layer, drizzle with 1 more tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes until lightly browned and crisp-tender (they will finish baking with the farro). Reduce heat to 400 degrees.  Place cauliflower into bowl with farro.

Assemble casserole: Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to cauliflower and farro and stir to combine. Stir in manchego and almonds. Transfer half of the mixture to an oiled 10-inch ovenproof frying pan or equivalent baking dish. Dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta all over. Sprinkle remaining cauliflower and farro over the ricotta, leaving the pockets of it undisturbed.

In a small dish, combine panko with Parmesan, thyme and 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly mixed. Sprinkle over cauliflower and farro.

Bake casserole: For 20 minutes, until browned and crusty on top. Dig in.Do ahead: Farro can be cooked up to 3 days in advance, kept in an airtight container in fridge. Cauliflower can be cooked 2 days in advance. Casserole can be assembled and baked a day later, easily, although the crumbs might lose their crisp from absorbing the moisture below if not added right before baking. Casserole keeps for several days in fridge and longer in freezer.

The Kid loved this dish so much it was a struggle to leave enough for me to try.  I liked it a lot, but had a couple of tweaks in mind.

The sample I tasted had a lot of lemon zest; like a whole lemon’s worth.  It was too much.  It became very floral, and the flavor overpowered the other components.  We reduced it.

It needed crunch, and we picked nuts because they don’t go soggy.

We both thought about pine nuts, but Chinese pine nuts from the Pinus armandii can give you something called “pine mouth” which deadens your taste buds for a while and leaves you with a metallic taste for two weeks or more.   And unfortunately, it’s not usually easy to discern the origin of your pine nuts.So we chose Marcona almonds because they’re addictively tasty.  They were the perfect foil for the other ingredients.  It was a true balance of both taste and texture.

And, here’s one more contrast for you.

When I eat something outrageously delicious, it makes me want to cry; with pleasure, gratitude, and the ephemeral nature of the food. But The Kid gets angry.

Yeah, angry.I only offered another contrast.  I didn’t promise it wouldn’t be bonkers.

Thanks 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.

Farro from home

Did you know that there are three types of farro?First things first—do you know what farro is?

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

Evolutionally, hulled wheat is spread by being ingested by birds, digested, which removes most of the husks, then expelled far and wide, which then grow, and the cycle starts all over again.  Unlike civet cat coffee beans, which are culled from the droppings and used as is, the evacuated farro only acts as a seed.

This ain’t no Payday candy bar folks…

Farro is very similar to barley in both taste and texture.  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.

And many fans of old school hot cereal have unknowingly eaten bowls of farro in the form of ‘Cream of Farina’.  My mom’s a big fan; growing up, there was always a box in our pantry.    Now, about the varied types.

In Italy, there are three types of farro.   Farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande.  They are actually three distinct types of wheat; triticum monococcum, triticum dicoccum, and triticum spelta.

In America, for the most part, farro is farro—sort of.  The largest grain; the triticum spelta, is not sold as farro, but labeled and sold as spelt.  So, all spelt is farro, but not all farro is spelt.speltTo cook farro, I rinse it under cold running water first.  Then I put it in a saucepan using a ratio of one part farro to three parts liquid, either water or stock.  I add a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of kosher salt and a little pinch of freshly cracked black pepper.

I bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a high-ish medium low (4 on a ten-point burner), cover, and cook it 30-45 minutes or until it’s tender, and the liquid is completely absorbed.  I take it off the heat, leave it covered and let it sit for ten minutes or so.

Then you can dress it as you would rice, or any another grain.  Lately, I’ve been digging my spinach-avocado pesto with it.

Spinach-avocado pestoavocado pesto3 ½ cups raw baby spinach

2 avocados

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

5 green onions, roughly chopped

Juice of 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1 cup water (approx.)

¼ cup Chinese or regular chives chopped

Microwave spinach for until completely wilted.  Rough chop, and place into food processor.

When the farro has about five more minutes of sitting time, make the sauce. 

Add the avocado meat, green onions, cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Process, adding enough water until it becomes sauce consistency.

Pour sauce over farro and gently stir to coat.  Plate and sprinkle top with chives.

Serves 2-4 depending on side dishes and appetites.

I also like the idea of rendering some bacon or pancetta, and using some of the pork fat to sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic.  Then I mix everything into a fresh pot of farro.  It can be used in the place of barley in recipes.You can also turn this into hot cereal.  Make the farro with skim milk or soy or almond milk, and instead of salt, pepper, and olive oil, use a small pinch of salt, a couple teaspoons of vanilla, and some nutmeg.  Then dress each bowl with honey or maple syrup, and some fresh or dried fruits and maybe some nuts.

You can buy this pre-packaged, but that’s the expensive option.  I like to buy it in bulk.  It’s cheaper that way, and you only buy as much as you need.  For a first-timer, it’s an easy way to get just enough to try it.

Farro is kind of a split personality food.  It’s a comfort food that’s super trendy right now.  It’s as if Aunt Bee dyed her hair pink and became a barista.aunt beaThanks for your time.