Farro & Edamame: A new adventure with an ancient grain

Farro Pasta with Edamame, Almond and Mint Pesto

Farro Pasta with Edamame, Almond and Mint Pesto

I am an out-and-proud farro devotee. For the past few years I’ve been borderline obsessed with the ancient grain — utilizing it in as many applications as possible and encouraging other people to give it a try. So I was pretty excited when my husband recently brought me home a pound of farro pasta (which was especially sweet as he is not as enamoured with farro as I am).

Farro Pasta

Farro pasta — love its pretty color!

The pasta had been sitting in my cupboard, patiently waiting, while I investigated online looking for a perfect debut recipe. Finally I decided on a winner, this recipe for Farro Pasta with Edamame Pesto from The Kitchn. Given how well-known this web magazine is, I felt comfortable trusting their opinion and excited to try something new.

And I’m happy I did because this a recipe I’ll be utilizing again and again. I love different forms of pesto — broccoli pesto in particular, yum! — but hadn’t tried this combination before.

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Super Fabulous Farro Salad

Farro Salad with Dried Cherries and Almonds

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my love for farro knows no bounds. And while I still use it most often in place of rice in a multitude of dishes, I also love it used in a hearty salad, maybe on greens, maybe under some meat.

I made this particular version of a farro salad the other day when I needed something to accompany a pork tenderloin dish I was trying out. I had clipped a recipe for “Farro Salad with Winter Fruits” from an issue of Food & Wine and thought it would be perfect. Since I, of course, had forgotten to buy a few ingredients before starting, I did end up making some small changes as I went along. While I can’t speak for how good the recipe is as written, I can say the final product it inspired was nothing less than fabulous.

And it was very pretty to boot!

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Pork & Pineapple Revisited: Sriracha works its magic

Roasted Pork Butt & Pineapple: Resistance is futile

Roasted Pork Butt & Pineapple: Resistance is futile

So after my fabulous pork chop and fried rice extravaganza a few weeks ago, I have been daydreaming about the sweet and slightly spicy flavor combination of pork and pineapple. There was a voice in the back of my head, compelling me to go to the store and buy another pineapple. Which I did the following week — I have no willpower. Then the following day at work, as if she had been reading my mind, a coworker presented me with a perfectly adorable little pork butt.

That’s actually not as strange as it may seem, considering I work as a meat distributor. But it was a little unusual because the pork butts are supposed to come two pieces to a pack, with the pack weighing about 12-17 pounds. Yet somehow this singly packed pork butt managed to find its way to our warehouse. It weighed almost six pounds, which was just the right size for me to take home. Clearly it was a sign.

I braised half of it in a curry, with plenty of vegetables and some farro thrown in for good measure. But I kept looking longingly at the pineapple in my fridge and suddenly I remembered I had the perfect recipe to try out. I dug through my binder and came up with this gem: Slow-Cooked Sweet-and-Sour Pork Shoulder with Pineapple.

I will tell you a little secret. I haven’t done much low-heat dry roasting before. Give me a pork butt or a beef chuck and I immediately think of braising. I know barbecue restaurants often season bone-in pork butts with a dry rub and then cook them at a low temperature until the meat just falls off the bone. But while I’ve cooked that way with ribs before, it’s never been a technique I’ve used on this particular cut of meat — and besides my butt was boneless, giving it a higher chance of drying out. So I was a little apprehensive — I didn’t want tough pork, but I knew that I had to make that recipe.

I waited a day before biting the bullet…then I got to work.

First I cut the pork butt in a spiral, so it would lay flat. Then I got together all of my ingredients for the dry rub — Sriracha, hot smoked paprika, and garlic and onion powder. And salt and pepper, of course.

After you get the pork seasoned with the dry rub, slather the whole thing with Sriracha. It will be messy, I’m not going to lie. Then roll it back up into a log and tie it with butcher’s twine. Let it marinate at room temperature.

Once two hours have passed, it’s time to get started on the pineapple. Basically cut a ripe pineapple into one inch chunks. Put them in a roasting pan or large skillet and mix in equal parts apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Place the pork butt on top of that and stick the whole thing in your preheated oven.

This is about the time you will start to have regrets — because it already looks amazing but it won’t be ready to eat for another three or four hours.

The good news is this gives you plenty of time to drink a beer and mainline some Gossip Girl. That show is my latest obsession. I am currently in the midst of a pretty serious infatuation with Blair and Chuck.

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Why I think farro is the shit — with tasty recipes to back it up.

I have become kind of a farro pusher. Not the kind of pusher that stands out on the street corner whispering “Farro? Farro?” while slyly avoiding eye contact. That would be weird. Instead I’m the person who tries to make everyone in my life try farro at least once because I’m convinced they will love it just as much as I do.

Raw farro (semi-pearled)

Farro, for those who may not be familiar with it, is an ancient Italian grain related to wheat. It’s high in both fiber and protein and has a chewy texture with a slightly nutty flavor. You can buy it in a few different forms — from whole grain (which is the best for you nutritionally) to semi-pearled to pearled. You can also buy it as a flour to make things like pasta or bread. It should be noted I am not ambitious enough for that. I mainly just buy it semi-pearled because it cooks quickly, usually within about 20 minutes. Whole grain farro can take up to about 60 minutes to cook, which is way too long for my busy life.

The nutritional values of semi-pearled farro are still pretty good. A half of a cup of uncooked farro, which will plump up to about a cup after cooking, contains around 170 calories, but also comes with five grams of fiber and six grams of protein. This makes it considerably better for you than white rice — no surprise there. But even brown rice has a bit more calories per serving (around 200) and falls short of farro in terms of fiber and protein. Plus since it is harvested with its husk intact, which is then removed when it gets hulled, it is grown without the need for pesticides. Healthy and delicious? Check and check!

Since I  started buying farro regularly and cooking it at least once a week, I have discovered a ton of different ways to prepare it. And honestly, from farro risotto to farro Mexican “rice”, I haven’t made one variation that I thought sucked. I have to change my usages up often though because as much as he enjoys farro, my husband got a bit weary after eating it for dinner for a week straight. Luckily I am not one to suffer from farro burnout.

Cooked Farro (simmered with sliced onions)

To help combat any potential food boredom, a lovely thing about farro is its versatility. It can be served hot or cold in a salad or even cooked like porridge and topped with milk and cinnamon for breakfast.

It can also be used in any application where you would use rice. And since you can cook it by boiling it in salted water and draining it just like pasta, I think it’s even easier than cooking rice. No measuring necessary or keeping the pot covered, just let it simmer away and stir it every five minutes or so until it’s done. If you’re feeling frisky, you can throw some carrots or onions in  while it cooks for extra flavor, but it’s not necessary.

Since I am clearly a huge farro advocate, it’s only right that I would to try to tempt you into giving it a try with some lovely pictures and recipe ideas. And subliminal messages, but I promise you won’t even notice those…

First up is my Farro (better than) Waldorf Salad:

This actually came about because I had been craving Waldorf salad but wanted to make it as an entrée for dinner. I took some leftover cooked farro, probably about a cup or so, and combined it with a chopped Honeycrisp apple, a handful of toasted walnuts and some diced celery. In lieu of a dressing or even a vinaigrette (I was really hungry), I just splashed in a little olive oil and lemon juice to make it moist. Then piled it on a bed of baby spinach and topped it with some chevre.

The finished product was delightful. There was every element you could want in a salad — crunchy from the fruit and nuts, tangy from the cheese and citrus and chewy from the farro. It was light and fresh and I had to restrain myself from eating the container I had set aside for the next day’s lunch. It was hard. I actually had to leave the house to resist its allure.

This was great as a vegetarian meal but the carnivore in me thinks that if I’d had some meat to put on top, it would have been even better. Maybe a grilled chicken breast or some pork medallions. Or some crumbled crispy bacon if you swing that way.

Next up is my Fried Rice-style Farro with Vegetables:

Now I will straight-up admit this was a “kitchen-sink” style of experiment. I had cooked farro and blanched kale leftover from the night before. I had eaten a ton of meat earlier in the day (a requisite of my job) so I was looking for something high in fiber for dinner. This seemed like the easiest way to eat the mixture of random vegetables I had in my produce drawer without just making a boring salad.

I started with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced carrots and minced garlic in a hot lightly oiled pan. Once everything was tender, I threw in some soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced scallions and a dash of rice wine vinegar to keep the flavors bright. Next came the farro, kale and frozen peas which were tossed around until all the ingredients were well combined. Last came the scrambled eggs — which I will admit because I am picky about my eggs, I softly scramble in a side pan and then add them into the rice…err farro…afterwards.

It turned out so good! I shouldn’t have been surprised but I kind of was. This is why it’s always good to try new things.

And finally (at least for this farro post) comes the easiest preparation and the one I use the most often: The catch-all throw-in-whatever side dish. It will go with anything. I promise you.

I started by roasting veggies, a mixture of just about anything will work…Think cauliflower, carrots, peppers, onions, brussels sprouts. Or blanch some kale. Or sauté some mushrooms or cherry tomatoes. Frozen peas or corn? Sure, why not? Basically take whatever veggies you like and cook them however you like them best. While the veggies are working, boil a big pot of salted water. Stir in semi-pearled farro and cook for 20-25 minutes until tender (though still chewy). Drain. You’re halfway there!

I use the same pot and just put it back on the heat — I am all about minimizing dirty dishes. Then sauté up some minced garlic with a dash of chili flakes. Add the already cooked veggies and farro, maybe some stock or even a little water to help things along. Season it well. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or some cheese (goat, pecorino or feta are all delicious) maybe some herbs, chopped nuts or baby spinach. The only rule is make it taste good, though trust me, this won’t be hard to do.

Here’s some examples pulled from just the past few months at my house…

Seared flounder and farro pilaf-style with pecans, green onions and parsley.

Stuffed rabbit saddles with farro, brussels sprouts, carrots and chives.

Quail breasts with farro, roasted cauliflower, grated Parmesan and spinach.

Or if you just want to get a feel for farro in a simple form, try it as a simple substitute for rice. You can use it in soups or as a bed for a curry or a stew. I love to use farro where it has a chance to soak up sauces, like when I used it to sop up some cherry tomato-scallion goodness in my procrastinators chicken. Or when I made April Bloomfield’s Lyon-style chicken…That sauce was phenomenal and the farro let me savor every drop of it.

Plain farro topped with vinegar-braised chicken and roasted garlic. Perfectly simple.

Really — you can’t go wrong with any of these preparations. So, do yourself a favor — buy some farro (usually you can find it at upscale grocery stores but if you strike out there, you can order it online) and give it a shot.

But be careful, you might find yourself pushing it on all of your friends too. At least you’ll be in good company!

Chicken for procrastinators

I got off work early last Friday and it was a surprisingly warm day here in Portland. As soon as I got home, all I wanted was to sit outside in my backyard and enjoy the sun for as long as possible. After two hours of relaxing in my lounge chair, thumbing through magazines and drinking some wine, it hit me how hungry I was. I hadn’t even contemplated what I was going to make for dinner and by this time, my motivation level had dropped significantly.

A quick glance through my produce drawer brought to mind an old standby in our house — Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic. This is adapted from a recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen’s cookbook, and it’s even considered “light and healthy.” It’s also easy, versatile and — if I put my ass in gear — I could be eating it in less than thirty minutes.

Now the chicken and sauce alone would take much less than that, but I needed something more substantial. Luckily I keep a jar of farro on hand for times like these. I got a pot of water on the stove and quickly chopped up some veggies to roast (a mixture of brussels spouts, carrots, onion and cauliflower). While the farro cooked, I took a little time-out to have another glass of wine and spy on my neighbors. They are very strange and can put on a good show, so spying is a great time killer.

When everything was about ten minutes away from being done, I got to work on the chicken. The breasts are seasoned with salt and pepper and lightly dredged in flour. I minced two cloves of garlic, thinly sliced four green onions and halved a cup of cherry tomatoes. I kept another handful of tomatoes whole to add a little variation. A lemon and a hunk of parm rounded out my ingredient list.

Get your pan hot (I prefer non-stick) and drizzle in some olive oil. Throw the chicken breasts in. Now the recipe says to pound them but since the oven was already nice and hot from roasting the vegetables, I just figured I’d pop them in there to finish cooking. Once the breasts are just cooked through, take them out of the pan and put them on a plate.

In the same pan, throw in the minced garlic. Be careful because it will cook quickly and you don’t want to burn it. Just give it about thirty seconds or so, until it starts to sweat and smell delicious. Then in go the cherry tomatoes along with a small splash of water or chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and let that cook for a couple of minutes, until the tomatoes just begin to break down. Then toss in scallions, a squeeze of lemon juice and you’re all set!

The recipe calls for blue cheese but I didn’t have any, so once everything was plated up, I hit the whole shebang with some grated Parmesan. Seriously, this dinner is unbelievably simple, but the flavors are so fresh that it never gets old to me. And paired with farro to help soak up some of the sauce, it’s really my idea of heaven.