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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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May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games’ sweet and savory Lamb Stew with Dried Plums Over Wild Rice

May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games’ sweet and savory Lamb Stew with Dried Plums Over Wild Rice
Katniss' favorite meal of lamb stew with dried plums and wild rice.

Katniss’ favorite meal of lamb stew with dried plums and wild rice.

If you’ve ever read The Hunger Games trilogy, you’ve probably noted that the most memorable dish in said texts is Katniss’ memorable meal of lamb stew with dried plums over wild rice. Her first taste of it in book one is at the games training center in the Capitol, and she is later rewarded with more of it later on during her time inside the game arena (it pops up in the following books quite a few times as well).

To create this dish, I used my favorite Irish Guinness beef stew as the base recipe: swapped out the beef for lamb, traded the Guinness for red wine, and threw in some dried plums (a.k.a.: prunes). Otherwise, the base is simply, onions, carrots, potatoes, fresh herbs and tomato paste — all items that can be easily found at your local grocery store.

This rustic lamb stew is incredibly easy to make and is the perfect dish to serve over these next few chilly months. The lamb is tender and slightly sweet, further enhanced by the herbaceous rosemary and sweet prunes. If lamb is too pricey for your budget, simply use beef or pork stew meat in its place. This can be simmered on the stove top for about 45 minutes, or cooked low and slow in a slow cooker over the course of a few hours. It is great served on its own, but to keep with the original inspiration for the dish, it’s even better served over wild rice (though I prefer a wild rice blend as wild rice can be rather chewy and rather costly).

Put yourself in Katniss’ shoes and volunteer yourself as tribute for cooking up this heartwarming meal. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

(P.S.: Happy New Year!)
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Savor summer’s end: Savory heirloom tomato cobbler

Savor summer’s end: Savory heirloom tomato cobbler

Proving that tomatoes can turn a classic dessert into a savory delight.

Even though turning on the oven in the middle of August isn’t on the top of most people’s list, there are a few dishes that are worth the extra mercury on the thermometer. Tomato cobbler is one of them.

“Cobbler? But that’s a dessert!,” is the reaction of most folks. Not in this case. This cobbler is a savory take on the classic sweet dessert and uses fresh and juicy summer tomatoes in place of the fruit (though, technically, tomatoes are also considered to be fruit).

Why tomatoes, you ask? Sure, you could throw them in a nice, cold salad, but have you ever popped them in the oven and baked them until they burst? Their natural sugars are enhanced with the application of heat and roasting them brings out their sweetness and even more flavor over eating them raw. In short, roasted tomatoes are a-mazing. If you have access to heirloom tomatoes, splurge and use them in this dish as they have even more “meat” and flavor to them than most tomatoes in the market.

To make this easy tomato cobbler, the vegetables (or “fruit and veg”) are cooked in a pan and poured into a baking dish over a cornmeal batter. To give it an even more homey and rustic look, use an ovenproof or cast iron pan to cook, bake and serve it in. And if you get the hankering for this savory side dish and tomatoes aren’t in season, simply use drained, canned tomatoes (the no-salt added kind). It tastes great when served fresh out of the oven, but tastes even more heavenly if it is allowed to sit and cool a little while and served at room temperature. It also makes fantastic leftovers when reheated and served the following day.

Grab the sumptuous flavors of late summer while you still can, crank up that oven, and make this mouthwatering cobbler as soon as humanly possible.
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Swoon-worthy ‘Shrooms: Mushroom Bourguignon, a vegan take on the classic French dish

Swoon-worthy ‘Shrooms: Mushroom Bourguignon, a vegan take on the classic French dish

What if I said that you could take an amazing dish that’s traditionally made with beef and make it equally as delicious with a swap-out of mushrooms?

If you’re thinking about taking on the seemingly daunting task of cooking for your sweetheart this Valentines Day, but haven’t a clue what to make, then you’ve come to the right place. Yes, you could go the usual route and do the steak and potatoes thing, but it’s so…common. And what if your date isn’t of the omni/carnivore persuasion, eh? What if I said that you could take an amazing dish that’s traditionally made with beef and make it equally as delicious with a swap-out of mushrooms? Now you’re curious. Read on.

The following is a great twist on the classic French dish, Boeuf (beef) Bourguignon, where beef stew meat is cooked with carrots, onions, herbs and tomato paste. It is then simmered in red wine until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened and concentrated all of those lovely flavors into a savory, gravy-like sauce. This mushroom bourguignon replaces the beef with hearty mushrooms, like portobellos and criminis, but uses the same techniques — and most of the same ingredients — as the original. The traditional dish uses pearl onions, but I opted for peas as they give the dish some more color. Even better, this mushroom version takes a fraction of the time to cook.

Lastly, I must give credit where it’s due. This recipe was adapted from the original incarnation of Mushroom Bourguignon by Deb Perelman on SmittenKitchen.com. It’s featured in her new cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and the first time I laid eyes on the recipe — and the book — I was smitten. I highly recommend picking up this book; it’s full of dazzling looking dishes that are great for cooks of any skill level, and it features both meat and vegetarian main dishes.
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