Thanksgiving Salads

Our Thanksgiving feast surrounds the turkey, gravy and stuffing with lots of vegetable side dishes: mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, succotash, winter squash, rutabaga, all offering rich, sweet, earthy and pungent flavors as well as soft, dense textures. In past years, to balance these heavier side dishes, I’ve experimented with opposite flavors and textures, most often in salads. Celery root and apple salad dressed with apple cider vinaigrette has been a good choice, both crisp and acidic. It’s pretty, too, with additions of toasted nuts and chopped parsley or arugula. Or I’ve made a simple salad of mache and sherry vinaigrette, fresh green contrasting the other mashed, roasted and pureed vegetables. Some years a guest will bring pickled vegetables or sweet and sour red cabbage and I skip a salad altogether because these acidic flavors work well to balance the richness of the other vegetables. This year, when we’ll have the same line up of rich side dishes, I’ve settled on a radicchio and pear salad, going for the pleasantly bitter flavor of radicchios and the fresh sweetness of the pears.

Radicchio and pear salad was an easy choice this year because the red and green radicchios and the pears from the kitchen garden have been so beautiful.

Radicchios in basket

Radicchios cut in basket

I’ve made this salad several times already. It goes together quickly, easy to do at the last minute.   The green is Sugarloaf chicory and the red is Indigo radicchio. I usually slice the crisp leaves rather than tearing them because it’s quicker and I like their ribbon-like shape. The pears ripening now are Conference and Comice. I quarter them, peel them and then slice them into chunks. Toasted hazelnuts add their sweet, nutty flavor and some crunch. I’ve tried both sherry vinaigrette and balsamic vinaigrette and prefer balsamic because its complex sweetness complements the slight bitterness of the radicchio. Finally, this is a beautiful salad, one more reason to include it on the Thanksgiving table.

Radicchio salad T-day

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What is a shell bean?

“What is a shell bean?” a friend asked me the other day when I was describing succotash, a traditional New England dish of corn and shell beans that I often serve at Thanksgiving. We’d been talking about her dry bean crop and the varieties she’d just harvested. “A shell bean is the bean fully formed in the pod but not dry yet,” I said, adding that I often harvest beans at this stage, remove them from the pods, boil them to eat right away with just olive oil, salt and pepper, or blanch them and freeze them so I can have shell beans in the winter.

Shell beans harvesting

Shell beans on terrace The idea of a shell bean was completely new to her and I realized that my answer wasn’t making sense. I’m so used to calling the plump, fresh bean harvested in mid-summer a shell bean and the smaller, hard, dried bean harvested in early fall a dry bean that it never occurred to me that this fresh shell bean stage could be so unfamiliar.

Later, wondering if I was trapped in my own bean universe, I turned to seed catalogs to see how others talk about these two bean stages. Territorial Seeds refers to shelling beans and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco refer to shell beans but the harvest stages are the same. Territorial advises: “For shelling beans, pick when the seeds are fully formed but still soft and green. For dry beans, maturity can take 3-4 more weeks depending on the weather. Harvest when 90% of the leaves have yellowed or fallen off.”   Johnny’s advises picking shell beans “when beans are plump inside pods” and harvesting dry beans “when at least 90% of leaves have fallen and pods are dry.”

In the Fedco catalog, there’s a “Shell and Dry Beans” section with some introductory sentences advising gardeners to “Harvest shell beans when the beans are plump inside pods. For dry beans allow pods to dry on the vine until pressing the beans with your fingernail leaves no indentation.” In the descriptions of the beans that follow, Fedco’s catalog writers often characterize qualities of the shell stage and the dry stage. Silver Cloud Cannellini beans “make amazingly early and absolutely superb shell beans…When dried and cooked its smooth, meaty texture and dense meaty flavor are prized in minestrone.” Limelight is “excellent both as a shell and a dry bean.” Tiger Eye makes “superb fresh shell and delicious baked beans …Wide 4” pods fill with large flattened kidney-shaped seeds mostly white at the shell stage but taking on more yellow as they dry.” Jacob’s Cattle “if harvested earlier…make superb shellies.”

Any bean can be harvested at the shell or the dry stage; even green beans that have grown too tough to eat green can hold tasty shell or dry beans. In my years of harvesting beans at shell and dry stages, I’ve come to favor certain beans at the shell stage and others at the dry stage. Cranberry, the pole flageolet Soissons Verte, Good Mother Stallard and all runner beans taste best to me at the shell stage while cannellini and black beans taste better fully dried then rehydrated.

Soissons Verte

Bean Soissons Vert

Good Mother Stallard

Beans Good Ma S

Runner Beans

_DSC6515

But if your intent is growing dry beans, even seed catalog descriptions might not encourage shell bean harvest. The phrase “shelling beans” might signal only the process of removing the beans from the pods. Yes, you do shell both shell beans and dry beans, along with peas, so the term is confusing. And if you didn’t grow up eating shell beans as I did, maybe you have to discover shell beans by chance as my friend Carol did, explaining: “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.” It’s true. As a bean tasting  we did a few years ago revealed, shell beans are rich and creamy, fresh tasting and nutty, needing nothing but a little olive oil and salt and pepper, or maybe a little corn, to make a meal.

Bean tasters

Bean samplesDry beans are very good, but they aren’t the same; they’re starchy and less sweet, wonderful at absorbing other flavors but not so good alone.

Or maybe you can discover shell beans at Thanksgiving dinner. As I do nearly every year, I’ll serve succotash at Thanksgiving, using a mix of Cranberry, Aunt Jean and Soissons Verte shell beans and sweet corn I’ve frozen in the summer in anticipation of this holiday meal. I’ll be sure that my friend tastes these shell beans and hope that my answer to her question: “What is a shell bean?” will finally make sense.

Succotash bowl

My favorite succotash recipe

1 ½ Cups fresh corn cut from the cob or frozen corn thawed

1 Cup fresh shell beans or frozen shell beans

1 Garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add fresh or frozen beans; simmer until soft, about 7-10 minutes but check often. When soft, drain and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil, add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes

Add fresh or thawed corn and cook, stirring frequently, until hot

Add beans to corn, mix, heat through and serve

Serves 4

Easy to double or triple

For an interesting history of succotash, see this article from Yankee Magazine.  And for more history and some tasty variations on the basic succotash recipe, see David Tanis’s New York Times City Kitchen column Yes, Succotash Has a Luxurious Side.

Feeding the Kitchen Garden Beds: Cover Crops and Compost

I’ve just finished the last big kitchen garden task of the year, planting cover crops in the eight beds that have held summer and storage crops since late spring. It’s a multi-step process that starts with cutting back and hauling away for composting the spent foliage of corn, beans, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, squash, onions and potatoes. The next steps focus on replenishing the soil that supported all this food from spring to now.  They are the most important things I do for the kitchen garden.

Our soil is clay loam that I learned early on needs infusions of organic matter every year to sustain the next year’s crops. The sources of organic matter I’ve settled on are winter cover crops and compost. Without them, clay loam becomes more clay than loam. To avoid this scary fate, every fall I spread the beds with a sprinkling of complete organic fertilizer, lightly work in a 2-3 inch layer of compost and then scatter on seeds of a cover crop and rake them in.

Cover Crop seeding

Cover Crop raking in

In the past, I’ve covered the beds with Reemay to protect the seeds from birds until they germinate and begin growing, but this year I spread a thin layer of the mulch over the bed, recycling the mulch that had kept down weeds and kept in moisture in the beds all summer. I’m hoping this mulch will protect the germinating and growing seeds and will also break down over the winter and provide one more source of organic matter.

Cover Crop mulching

For the past few years the cover crop I’ve used is Merced rye from Osborne’s Seeds in Mt. Vernon. The rye replaces Austrian Field Pea which I used for years until I discovered that it was harboring a population of pea weevils that later feasted on my sugarsnap peas and fava beans. (For more on pea weevils see the entry for April 29, 2014 on Linda Gilkeson’s Gardening Tips ) I’m hoping the rye will break this cycle.

As the Osborne catalog description says: This vigorous winter cereal grain is a great choice for winter cover and soil stabilization. It grows rapidly in cool weather, forming a dense stand with an extensive root system that absorbs unused soil nitrogen and loosens heavy soils while suppressing weeds. It is important to incorporate quickly once mowed, or the stalks will become very woody. Rapid growth in the spring can be controlled by mowing. Sow 90-110 pounds per acre, increase as it gets later in the season or if your seed bed is rough. I follow their advice and mow the rye down with the mulching lawn mower several times from late February through mid-March. Then I’ll cover the beds with black plastic or a tarp and let the cover crop rot down for about a month. I experimented with this step several years ago and was really pleased to find that the rye grass as well as the roots broke down considerably under this cover, leaving friable soil nearly ready for planting.

Planting the cover crop is easy. The challenge is having enough compost to add to all the beds. Despite our efforts, we haven’t been able to make enough compost each year for all our beds. There’s usually enough to use in the fall or in the spring when I plant buckwheat in the beds that have held winter crops, but never enough for both seasons. Fortunately for us, though, there’s a great source of compost right here on Lopez Island. At Midnight’s Farm, David Bill and Faith Van De Putte have been making compost that is a perfect for our garden. Check out the Midnight’s Farm website and be sure to watch the 3-minute video that describes the compost making process.

A couple of weeks ago we stopped by Midnight’s Farm in our small pick-up truck for a yard of sweet-smelling compost that was enough to add to this fall’s eight beds.

Compost David filling truck

A bonus of driving to Midnight’s Farm is getting what David calls his “five-minute tour” of the compost operation, two minutes longer than the website video and just as inspiring.

Compost with David Bill

In fact, a few days later as my husband Scott was chipping up our corn stalks and other summer garden foliage and building our compost bins he imagined just taking all this garden waste to David next year and letting him and his machines do the work. It might be hard to give up making our own compost, but then again, it might not.

This week, the fall rains have begun in earnest, watering down through the layers of mulch, cover crop seeds and compost to the kitchen garden soil, starting the process of rebuilding the soil for next year. The next kitchen garden task won’t be for a few months when seed catalogs start arriving and I begin January by ordering seeds for the year ahead. But for now, the garden is resting and so am I.

Slow-Roasting Tomatoes

 

Plum Ts and toes

This year I have a very big crop of Fiaschetto di Manduria, an Italian plum tomato from Uprising Seeds. I grew this variety for the first time last year, attracted by the catalog description emphasizing its adaptation to our climate, its 2-3 ounce size, productivity, suitability for drying and determinate habit. Because of the advertized determinate habit, I grew last year’s plants in the cold frame where they produced well despite outgrowing the cold frame’s protection, and the manageable-sized crop made nice dried tomatoes. This year I grew a few more plants, six instead of four, and planted them in the greenhouse. Yikes! In this warmer environment, they grew twice as tall (definitely not your standard determinate habit), spread out in all directions, and produced at least four times as many tomatoes as last year’s plants. Now I understand the warning in the catalog description: “These small, 2-3 oz, plum shaped tomatoes…hang like grapes from the bushy determinate plants in such prolific quantities that we eventually had to just stop picking them because we couldn’t keep up with the processing.”

Luckily, I haven’t had to give up on picking. Just as the plants were sinking under the weight of ripening tomatoes, I found a great way to keep up with the processing. A September 6, 2017 Food 52 column titled “Molly Wizenberg’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Sea Salt & Ground Coriander” arrived in my email just as the harvest was getting overwhelming. I remembered hearing about this recipe from Orangette years ago and I was grateful to be reminded of it again. As the author of this Food 52 column notes: “This is the single most genius thing you can do to a tomato. They’re best and most outrageous when made with ripe Romas or other meaty types, but as Wizenberg points out, slow-roasting will bring out the tomato in even the pale and off-season, if you feel the need. Make a lot. They keep for a week in the fridge, and are just fine in the freezer. Adapted slightly from Orangette and A Homemade Life (Simon & Schuster, 2009).”

Here’s the recipe:

drying plum Ts set up

Makes as many tomatoes as you want to cook

 Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma

Olive oil

Salt

Ground coriander

Heat the oven to 200° F. Wash the tomatoes, cut out the dry scarred spot from the stem with the tip of a paring knife, and halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.

Dried tomatoes in pans

Still warm on the baking sheet, these slow-roasted tomatoes are amazingly delicious. It’s very easy to stand there and snack on them. The ground coriander is a subtle but perfect flavor addition, providing slightly nutty, very slightly curry overtones to the tomato’s sweetness. They are lovely as an appetizer with cheese and bread. Lightly chopped or pureed, they would make a perfect sauce for pasta or roasted vegetables. I’ve already roasted enough tomatoes to pack eight pint-jars for the freezer and will fill a few more jars with the last of the harvest. They will be a highlight of this winter’s meals.

Dried tomatoes in jars

And if you don’t have plum tomatoes to roast, cherry tomatoes, larger plum tomatoes like Speckled Roman or Amish Paste, or even big, lumpy heirlooms like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter or Pruden’s Purple all roast well with this technique. I roasted a pan of Sunchocola and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes the other day, transforming them into concentrated tomato-flavor treats.

drying cherry Ts terracotta

I also tried small a pan of Speckled Roman and Amish Paste and one Mortgage Lifter, equally delicious and already packed into freezer jars for winter.

Will I grow Fiaschetto di Manduria in the greenhouse next year? Yes, but no more than six plants.

 

 

 

Beans and Tomatoes

As summer turns toward fall, the kitchen garden is providing an abundance of beautiful beans and tomatoes.

Beans in basket

Tomatoes '17 on table

The simplest preparation of these two stars of the season relies on olive oil and salt. Beans cook quickly in boiling water, emerging tender but still slightly firm after no more than five minutes. Drained, drizzled with olive oil then sprinkled with salt, they are pretty in a shallow dish, their shapes round or flat and their colors green or yellow, their rich bean sweetness delicious hot or at room temperature. Tomatoes need no cooking, just slicing, halving or quartering. Arranged in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and maybe a little basil, their shades of red, orange or yellow hint at their variations in tomato flavor, sweet and rich to bright and acid, each as good as the next.

tomtatoes and beans in bowls

Beans and tomatoes star on their own but lately I’ve been pairing them with starches, specifically potatoes with beans and tomatoes with bread, to make a main course salads. One of my favorite bean and potato dishes is David Tanis’s variation on the classic nicoise salad from his June 22, 2012 New York Times City Kitchen column. I modify his vinaigrette recipe depending on whether or not there are anchovy eaters in the crowd but even without this flavor, the mustardy, herby vinaigrette is robustly flavorful, just what the potatoes need as the base for earthy beans and rich hard-boiled eggs. This summer I’m using either Daisy Finn (right) or German Butterball (left) potatoes, the varieties I’m growing this year.

Potatoes in basket

Bean Potato salad

As with many recipes for summer potato salads, this recipe invites additions and substitutions, but while I make some slight variations, adding cherry tomatoes or fresh peppers, I but don’t stray too far from this great recipe.

There are as many variations on the Italian tomato bread salad panzanella, as there are variations on the French salade nicoise. The recipe I use as my starting point comes from Orcas Island chef Christina Orchid who published it in the Islands Weekly years ago. Here’s the recipe from her website http://redrabbitfarm.com/classes/:

Panzanella: Italian style bread salad.

1 loaf hearty artisanal style French or Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes.

1/2 cup grated Reggiano parmesan cheese or grana panda

2 pints garden ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 cup basil, chopped

1 small red onion cut in thin slices and quartered

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 1/4 cup superior quality red wine vinegar

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 On a large sheet pan toss the bread cubes with enough olive oil to thoroughly moisten all, then toss with the grated cheese, and toast bread cubes in a 440 degree oven for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden.  Reserve.  Cut the tomatoes in half from the stem end and toss with the onions and red wine vinegar.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.  Just before service toss the bread cubes together with the tomato mixture and the chopped basil.  Drizzle with Olive Oil and toss until all is moistened.  Garnish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.  Serves 8.

If you follow her recipe exactly, this panzanella provides a transporting mix of textures and flavors. Over the years, though, variations have crept into the panzanella I make. The biggest change currently is that instead of white flour French or Italian bread, I use  either seeded whole wheat bread or whole wheat walnut levain, breads I make from the Della Fattoria Bread cookbook http://dellafattoria.com. I love the way the wheat, seed and walnut flavors meld with the sweetly acid tomato flavors.

Bread on rack

The recipe technique of thoroughly moistening the bread cubes with olive oil then tossing them with grated Parmesan and toasting at high heat works wonderfully with this more hearty bread. For tomatoes, I often use juicy full-sized tomatoes like Cherokee Carbon or Cherokee Purple in addition to cherry tomatoes. The extra juice in these larger tomatoes soaks into the toasted bread cubes, softening them but not making them mushy. Sometimes I omit the red onion and use chives or instead of onion use a little chopped garlic but I always use basil. And because high summer tomato flavors are so complex and wonderful on their own, I often omit the red wine vinegar and the balsamic and rely instead on tomato juices for the acid. Despite these many variations that have evolved over the years, I still think of this panzanella as Christina’s and am grateful to her for sharing it. It’s a perfect way to celebrate the peak tomatoes of summer.

Panzanella green dish

 

French Potato and Green Bean Salad  David Tanis, City Kitchen, New York Times

 

  • 2 pounds medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large thyme sprig
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped anchovy
  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound small French beans, or small romano or wax beans
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, optional, for garnish
  • 8 ounces arugula, optional

 

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, bay leaf and thyme branch. Cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, anchovy, capers, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk again before using if the dressing separates.
  • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife and carefully cut into pieces 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a low bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
  • Top and tail the beans. Simmer in salted water until firm-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, then cool under running water and pat dry.
  • To cook the eggs, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a somewhat soft-centered yolk or 9 minutes for a firmer yolk. Cool the eggs immediately in ice water, then crack and peel. Cut each egg in half and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  • When ready to serve, season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress with the remaining vinaigrette. (Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette for the arugula, if using.)
  • Combine the dressed beans and potatoes, using hands to toss, and pile onto a platter. Sprinkle with chives, parsley and basil and arrange the eggs over the top. Garnish with anchovy fillets, if desired. Dress the arugula and send it to the table separately.

A Good Year for Fennel

Fennel growing '17

The fennel in the kitchen garden has been especially good this year, large, rounded bulbs that never bolted, tender and sweetly anise-flavored. Perhaps our consistently cool late spring and cool early summer contributed to these perfectly formed bulbs. In a February 2015 column on growing fennel, writer and gardener Barbara Damrosch explains that fluctuations in temperature with spells of either very cold or very warm weather could cause fennel to skip the bulb phase and shoot up a seed stalk, leaving a flat fan where a bulb should be. In the same article, Damrosch also adds that: “unwanted bolting is triggered by a protracted cold spell outside after germination in a warm place inside.” Maybe I was lucky with weather in late May when I transplanted fennel starts I’d planted inside in early April.

Or another reason for these beautiful bulbs might be the varieties I planted this year, Preludio from Johnny’s and Mantovano from Adaptive Seeds, both recommended by Damrosch who explained that they were bred not to bolt. Or maybe it was a combination of weather and variety, with a little good luck as well. Whatever the reasons, we’ve been enjoying fennel since early July and I’ve just started more fennel seeds indoors in hopes of as good a fall crop.

Fennel:fronds on table

This year the mandoline has been my go-to tool for preparing the kitchen garden’s early summer fennel crop. Its very sharp blade slices whole bulbs into 1/8-inch slices in seconds and the thin slices of raw fennel make a delicious salad dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil. Fennel mandoline

Fennel salad '17Parsley and black olives are tasty additions as are lightly steamed sugar snap peas. I’ve also added thinly sliced raw fennel to radicchio salads and to grain salads of red quinoa, emmer farro or einka farro. The touch of crispy fennel flavor enhances all these dishes.

Looking for more ways to prepare fennel but still play with the mandoline, I turned to Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996) and discovered her recipe for caramelized fennel (page 155). Sautéed in hot olive oil, crisp, thin slices of fennel soften and caramelize at the edges and their licorice flavor mellows to a deeper sweetness. They are delicious hot from the pan or at room temperature.

Fennel saute

Caramelized Fennel

2 large fennel bulbs

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Trim stalks from fennel bulbs, and remove any tough outer bulb layers.  Cut really large bulbs in half vertically or leave smaller bulbs whole, then cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.  When oil is hot, add the sliced fennel.  (If necessary, cook the fennel in two batches; the fennel should brown, not steam.) Cook, tossing occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the fennel is caramelized and tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drain any excess oil and serve.  (This holds well and can easily be reheated; no additional oil is necessary.)

This technique was a great discovery but it did pose a dilemma: which way to serve fennel, raw or sautéed? Both are so delicious. We’ve settled on alternating or, even better, simply serving both, tossed together into a salad or side by side.

Fennel 2 ways

Emmer Farro and Vegetable Salads

Earlier this month, we were visiting family in western Massachusetts and planning a lunch for a gathering of fifteen good eaters. We’d stopped at Petarski’s Sausage for several pounds of their traditional kielbasa and a jar of locally made sauerkraut and at one of the many roadside stands for bunches of just-picked asparagus. Grilled kielbasa with sauerkraut and roasted asparagus garnished with lots of quartered, hard-boiled eggs would make two great dishes but I needed one more. Luckily my sister Sadie had her usual supply of Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer Farro, a grain she orders regularly from our friends Sam and Brooke Lucy who grow it in Washington state’s Methow Valley, so I began to create an emmer farro salad to round out the meal.

The Bluebird Grain Farms website describes emmer farro as: a type of farro (an ancient hulled wheat) that dates back to early civilization. It’s a simple grain of 28 chromosomes that pre-dates spelt. It is prepared like brown rice and cooks in 50-60 minutes (or can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time). It makes a fabulous pilaf, grain salad, risotto, addition to soup, or sprouted grain for breads and salads. When cooked, its dark, plump berries add sweet full-bodied flavor, chewy texture, and high nutritional value (over 16% protein) to every meal.

Farro package

And as farmer Sam added the other day when I told him about this meal: “emmer is a great filler.” He’s right, and I was counting on that for my family lunch crowd, but emmer’s sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture also make it a great match for many savory flavors, whatever vegetables, meats, cheeses or nuts happen to be available. For this day’s lunch, I covered four cups of emmer farro with ten cups of water in a large pot and set it to boil, then to simmer, covered, on the stove while I began preparing vegetables I’d add to it for a grain salad. Sadie offered the last of her shallots so I slowly sautéed a cup and a half them, chopped, in olive oil. When they were soft and starting to brown, I added some chopped garlic. We’d also bought four bunches of locally grown bok choi so I coarsely chopped the leaves and stems and slightly wilted them. And the day before we’d bought some locally made bocconcini mozzarella that I was marinating in olive oil and herbs. Sadie also had some flavorful pecans so we toasted a generous half-cup.

After 45 minutes of simmering, the emmer farro was soft and chewy. I drained it then stirred in the sautéed shallots and garlic, the wilted bok choi and quartered bocconcini then dressed the grains and vegetables with a lemon juice/mustard/maple syrup and olive oil vinaigrette we’d made up on the spot, adding just a few teaspoons of the maple syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon and sharpness of the mustard. We lined a large, shallow bowl with a layer of Sadie’s just-picked spinach, arranged the emmer farro vegetable salad on top of the spinach and sprinkled the toasted pecans on top. Who knew that what was meant to take third place behind the kielbasa and asparagus would be the hit of the lunch. Everyone from a three-year-old to an eighty-one-year-old asked for seconds.

Back home after our visit, I’ve continued to experiment with emmer farro and vegetable salads. For a potluck dish, I sautéed some of my remaining shallots and garlic as a base and instead of bok choi added lots of chopped red radishes and toasted pecans and dressed the salad with just olive oil and salt and pepper. Another night I started with sautéed shallots as a base, added some cooked black beans and chopped radishes and finally some roasted broccoli topped with lemon zest. Farro BroccoliLast night I roasted some purplette onions and some spring turnips, sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and added these tasty spring vegetables to cooked emmer farro and black beans.

Turnips, greens, onions

Farro turnip

Once again, emmer farro’s chewy grain flavor was a perfect match for these earthy, sweet spring vegetables.

A friend asked me this weekend what I planned to bring to our neighbor’s Fourth of July potluck celebration next month. I told her I was already thinking of what vegetables to add to an emmer farro salad. Maybe some roasted beets and carrots, flavored perhaps with toasted cumin and coriander seed, with sautéed beet greens and roasted spring onions. Food for a crowd!

Happy Summer Solstice!