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Risotto Remix: Farro gives a classic Italian dish a whole grain twist

Risotto Remix: Farro gives a classic Italian dish a whole grain twist

Farro Risotto 2 sm text
I’m sure most of you have had or at least heard of risotto before — a creamy, classic Italian dish made with short-grain, arborio rice that’s a veritable blank canvas as it can be made with about a million different accompanying herbs, vegetables, proteins, etc. Well, I’ve recently come upon risotto in a slightly different form and I must admit that I’m quite smitten with it. What’s the difference in the recipe? Farro! Formally known as “farrotto” in Italian, it is made exactly like risotto except that the farro grain replaces the arborio rice. It cooks up just like arborio, creating a tender and creamy risotto-like consistency with a slightly nutty flavor, and, bonus: it has significantly more health benefits.

Farro is a grain that comes from emmer, a species of wheat and has been around since ancient Roman times — it was a staple of the Roman diet and was even used as currency at times. It has been grown in Tuscany for centuries and is always cultivated traditionally, without the use of pesticides. Besides being great because it’s a whole grain, farro’s other health perks include being high in fiber, B vitamins, and both simple and complex carbs.
This grain has quite a tough outer layer, or “hull”, and comes in three different forms: whole (hull intact), semi-pearled (semi-hulled), and pearled (hulled). While the semi-pearled and pearled versions are quicker-cooking, they do not have quite as much fiber and nutrients as the “whole” type of farro because said nutrients are mostly contained in the hull.

As I mentioned above, this super grain can easily be utilized in place of arborio rice for risotto. It cooks up to be creamy, but with a nice al dente bite to it — the farro’s starches are slowly released with the low and slow cooking, with each addition of cooking liquid. Farro can also be used in soups, grain salads, and it makes a great substitute for oatmeal in the morning.

This particular recipe for farrotto, below, is a very versatile vegetarian dish which can easily be made vegan by omitting the butter and cheese, and it also makes a great side dish pairing with beef, chicken, pork or seafood. I kept this particular recipe fairly simple, and it can also double as a good basic recipe for standard arborio rice-based risotto.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, head for the grains or bulk aisle, grab some farro, pick up some onion and herbs, and try this dish on for size. I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with it too.
Farro Risotto 1 sm text
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Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

Mushroom Salad 3 sm

Though it’s an oxymoron, a warm salad is the perfect starter or main course for your table any time of the year, and I have just the recipe for you: sherry-braised mushrooms sautéed with shallots, thyme, and garlic, tossed with mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino cheese.

Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat in a salad as they’re savory and hearty, pairing well with a variety of vinegars, nuts and cheeses. Many varieties of mushrooms are widely available in the winter and early spring months, which is why this is the perfect time to go foraging for tasty fungi at your local grocery store.

Though I didn’t go out and dig them up in my backyard, I’m using the term “wild mushrooms” with this dish because species of edible mushrooms that are either cultivated or harvested wild can be used in it. Examples of cultivated (or farmed) mushrooms include shiitake, Portobello, cremini, oyster, trumpet, etc.; mushrooms that are most commonly harvested wild (foraged) include truffle, matsutake, chanterelle, hedgehog, and, of course, the psilocybin-containing hallucinogenic ones (which I wouldn’t advise using in this recipe). Unless you’re a seasoned mushroom hunter, your safest bet is probably to buy them at the grocery store.

The key to this salad is adding the freshly sautéed mushrooms straight from the pan to the salad greens and tossing them together seconds before serving. The greens will wilt a few minutes after the hot mushrooms are added, so you don’t want them to wilt too soon before they’re eaten — they won’t taste bad, but a soggy pile of salad just isn’t pretty to look at.

Enjoy this salad as a main or first course, and pair it with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or a medium-bodied Pinot Noir.
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Brioche and Sausage Stuffing with Apples, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts

Brioche and Sausage Stuffing with Apples, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts
A revamped holiday stuffing sporting an array of awesome flavors

A revamped holiday stuffing sporting an array of awesome flavors

Besides the giant turkey, I bet if you asked most Americans what their favorite Thanksgiving dish is they’d say it’s the stuffing. Being included in that party, it’s only appropriate that my first official holiday-related recipe of the year is a classed up version of this favorite side.

For this revamped stuffing, I wanted to use a variety of tastes: buttery brioche bread, savory sausage, sweet apples, tart dried cherries, and crunchy hazelnuts. The pièce de résistance? Hitting the saute pan with sweet and smoky bourbon to deglaze it and concentrate the flavors of the alcohol.

My pro tip for stuffing: Don’t even think about putting it inside your raw turkey and baking it that way — always bake it separately. Stuffing baked inside turkeys gets soaked with raw turkey juices and almost never reaches the proper internal temperature, thus making it one of the biggest causes of food-borne illness during the holidays.

Stay safe and keep it tasty this Thanksgiving, and be sure to try out this updated take on the best addition to your holiday table.
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Pumpkin and sage give macaroni and cheese an injection of autumn flavors

Pumpkin and sage give macaroni and cheese an injection of autumn flavors

Pumpkin Mac text

Since I’m still on my comfort food kick and totally inspired by the season, I decided to whip up another classic dish and given it an injection of autumn: baked macaroni and cheese with pumpkin and sage. Sure, mac and cheese is great as it is, but you’d be surprised how much better it can be with the addition of pumpkin, giving it the slightest hint of sweetness. Sage is my absolute favorite herb to cook with during the fall and it pairs perfectly with pumpkin, so I figured, why not throw it in this dish, too?

I also wanted to write up this particular recipe to teach you readers a thing or two about classic cooking techniques. I recently featured a recipe here that used the classic “mother sauce” Béchamel — milk thickened with a roux (equal parts fat and flour) to make a white sauce. This one uses the basics for Béchamel but adds cheese to it, thus making it a Mornay sauce (read: fancy name for cheese sauce). See? You can make easy, tasty food and learn some fancy cooking skills along the way.

While you can use just about any cheese you’d like for this recipe, I suggest using a white, mild-flavored cheese, like white cheddar, Gouda, or Gruyere, as it won’t overpower the pumpkin flavor or hide the bright yellow-orange hue imparted by the pumpkin puree. And while this mac and cheese doesn’t need to be baked after the creamy sauce is cooked, popping it in the oven gives it a firmer texture and and crispy exterior.
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Savory makeover for a Thanksgiving classic: Sweet Potato and Smoked Gouda Gratin (with a secret ingredient)

Savory makeover for a Thanksgiving classic: Sweet Potato and Smoked Gouda Gratin (with a secret ingredient)

Cheesy, smoky, creamy and downright delicious!

Many people associate sweet potatoes as a sugar-sweet side dish for Thanksgiving — swimming in butter and brown sugar, and topped with marshmallows. While this classic dish is fantastic, I decided to give it a savory makeover this year with the help of a secret ingredient.

Instead of boiling and mashing the sweet potatoes, I went for a twist on the classic baked gratin dish. I thinly sliced the raw sweet potatoes into 1/8″ thick rounds (a mandoline would make this job even easier) and layered them in a baking dish, scattering grated smoked Gouda cheese in between each layer (ending up with three layers of potatoes). For a typical gratin, cream is poured over the layered potatoes before baking. To spice this up a bit, I added chopped garlic and Stubb’s Pork Marinade — which contains spices garlic, lemongrass and ginger — to the cream.

The result: a tasty casserole that’s cheesy, smoky, creamy, slightly spiced and with a hint of sweetness from the sweet potatoes. After tasting this, I may never go the typical brown sugar and marshmallow route for Thanksgiving again.
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