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!

 

 

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Red Mustard Pairings

Red Mustard in garden 5:17The prettiest vegetable in the spring kitchen garden right now is the overwintered red mustard. Purple is actually a more accurate description of the color, violet purple with gorgeous purple-green variegation, but the variety growing in my garden is called Red Giant. I’ve also grown the more accurately named Osaka Purple, but I’ve found that Red Giant is more winter hardy than Osaka Purple. It survived the repeated cold spells of the past winter in a drafty hoop house with hay mulch around its base. Now robust and big-leafed with new growth, it’s a treat for the eye.

It’s also a treat for the palate. The Fedco description of Red Giant’s flavor says: “Tastes like horseradish to some, peppery to others.” The horseradish flavor, actually closer to wasabi than horseradish, is why we like it so much.

Another treat is that these huge and flavorful leaves are surprisingly tender. Removed from the stalk, rinsed and sliced into rough squares, a pile of enormous leaves will wilt down quickly in olive oil and garlic, transforming into a spicy sauté, delicious alone but also wonderful with sweet or salty flavors.

Red mustard pile on island

Red Mustard saute

With the abundance of mustard in the garden now, I’ve been experimenting with red mustard pairings. One night, asparagus, fresh from the garden and roasted, provided an earthy, sweet counterpoint to the spicy mustard.

Red Mustard & Asparagus platter

The next night I used beans for sweetness. For salty, I fried some bacon, wilted the mustard in the bacon fat and combined all the flavors into a pasta sauce. Delicious!

Red Mustard, bacon beans in skillet

Another night, mustard and bacon mixed together formed a side dish for orzo and asparagus.

Red Mustard and orzo

A few nights later, I combined eggs, a little grated Parmesan cheese and sautéed red mustard for a creamy, soft frittata. On the side, some sweet roasted pears, roasted and frozen last fall, were a perfect pairing.

Red Mustard fritatta

We’ll keep experimenting with red mustard leaves and soon will add the lovely, chartreuse-colored mustard flower buds to the mix. Like the leaves, they are tender and full of mustard flavor, perfect for pairing with more sweet and salty flavors.

 

Earth Day 2017

I usually plant seeds outside in the garden on Earth Day. The soil and air are often warm enough by April 22nd and it’s often a pretty day. But this year I’m going to wait a week or maybe two for soil still saturated and cold from March rains to warm up a bit and for temperatures to rise a little more. Maybe this year’s first outside planting day will be May 1st, a date many Lopez Island old-timers recommended to me when I first started gardening here twenty-five years ago.

Despite the delay in planting seeds of spring vegetable crops, the kitchen garden is still providing food I associate with spring. New leaf growth on kale, arugula and chard provides salads, pesto sauces and sautés. And flower buds forming on kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustards and the last remaining rutabagas and turnips offer raab-like treats for pasta sauces and side dishes. Most exciting, asparagus is shooting up, growing quickly in spite of cool days and cooler nights. We’ve been enjoying some every night for the past week.

This burgeoning green in the garden is matched by the greening of the landscape outside the garden hedge. Willow and alder are leafing out, shrubs in the hedgerows show a film of green, and grass in the pastures seems taller and greener each day. I see this landscape from the kitchen as I cook.

Kitchen green view

Last night I sautéed kale flower buds with some of the last leeks, sliced and roasted some asparagus, thawed and simmered some fava beans frozen last summer

Primavera ingredients

and mixed all of these green vegetables into a sauce for homemade pasta,

Primavera in skillet

our kitchen garden version of pasta primavera to celebrate Earth Day, toasting the spirit that inaugurated Earth Day forty-seven years ago and hoping our activism can prevail against the current administration’s assault.

In another week or two I’ll plant seeds outside, carrots, beets, radishes and spring turnips. They’ll join starts of sugar snap peas, broccoli and cauliflower I set out this week. While I wait to plant outside, I can tend the summer vegetables growing in the warm shelter of the seed starting room and the greenhouse. Tomatoes I seeded indoors on February 22nd are planted in the greenhouse ground now, spreading up and out. Eggplant and peppers are in 4” pots in the greenhouse, adjusting to this new environment after their six weeks under lights in the seed room. When temperatures rise enough, I’ll set them out in their permanent bed under a hoop house in the garden. In the seed room, starts of fennel, radicchios and lettuces are ready to harden off and get into the ground as soon as the soil is ready. Spring may be slow this year, but it’s coming.

 

 

Spring Turnip Dinners

We’ve been enjoying delicious spring turnips from the kitchen garden for the past two weeks. The seeds I planted May 1st provided 1-inch turnips on May 29th and we’ve been harvesting increasingly larger turnips, up to an inch-and-a-half diameter, since then. There’s one more meal left in these rows; then I’ll need to wait a few days for turnips from the seeds I planted in mid-May. In early July we’ll have turnips from a June 1st planting. Succession planting is a great way to extend the harvest of these spring treats.

Turnip closeup

Oasis is the quick-growing variety I plant, my favorite ever since learning about these tender spring turnips five years ago. They grow almost as quickly as radishes, and while they are tasty raw like a radish, I have most fun roasting them, sautéing their leaves and combining both with other flavors and textures.

One night last week I harvested half a dozen turnips, their greens and a head of cauliflower. With some already-cooked Drabo cannellini beans leftover from the night before, I began putting together a meal. After cutting off and setting aside the greens, I quartered the turnips and tossed them and some cauliflower pieces in olive oil, sprinkled on a bit of salt and I set them in a 425-degree oven to roast.

Spring turnip greens raw

Spring turnips and cauliflower

While they cooked, I put half a cup of red quinoa in boiling water and set the timer for eleven minutes. While the quinoa simmered, I sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes; when they were almost wilted, I added the beans and some yellow raisins.

Spring turnip greens saute

The greens and beans were ready just as it was time to drain the quinoa, and a few minutes after that the turnips and cauliflower were softly caramelized and ready to eat. Arranged around the plate, these four pieces made a pretty picture and an even better meal.

spring turnip dinner

We sampled individual parts, then tried combinations, quinoa and greens, greens and turnips, greens and cauliflower, cauliflower and quinoa, gradually melding all the flavors and textures together into a wonderfully satisfying spring meal. Summer food is on the horizon, but for now it’s hard to imagine anything tastier than spring turnips.

Kale Lessons

I’ve always planted kale in mid-to-late July and watched the plants grow into robust, dark green towers of kale by October. But I always waited to harvest any until the plants went through a frosty night or two and the leaves became deliciously sweet. The leaves before the frost seemed thin and almost bitter compared to the sturdy, sweet, post-frost leaves.

Over this past late fall and early winter, however, kale plants, clusters and singles, volunteered in various spots throughout the garden, along edges of beds where seeds had dropped and through cover crops from seeds that must have survived the compost heat.  Curious about how they’d taste, I let them mature. Kale volunteers

Kale volunteerMy prejudice for July-planted, fall frost-sweetened kale kept my expectations low but I’ve been amazed by how succulent and sweet these later appearing, later maturing kale leaves are. The only frost they got in this past year’s mild winter was when they were quite small plants.

The July-planted kale, which in its last weeks of early May growth gave us many meals of delicious flower buds, is finally in the compost bin but the volunteer kale plants are still providing welcome salads and even some flower buds. And more volunteers have sprouted here and there in the past few weeks. I’ll let them mature too and see how they taste as they grow in the frost-free summer. And if they taste as good as I’m hoping they will, I’ll change my kale planting plan for the year ahead to try to mimic what volunteer seeds and weather patterns have taught me. We may end up eating kale year-round instead of only from October to May.

Kitchen gardener’s habits need to be nudged in new directions now and then, prejudices and rules challenged. With our warming climate, kale may be the first of many vegetables that will cause me to rethink planting calendars and favorite varieties. I’ll pay closer attention.

 

 

 

Habas y Jamon & Espárragos Revuelto

We’re just back from three weeks of walking in the countryside and cities of Andalusia, Spain. Dramatic landscapes, complex history, friendly Spaniards and fellow travelers were all highlights of our trip. We also returned with very fond memories of Andalusian food.

On our village-to-village walks I watched for kitchen gardens and the vegetables growing in them this time of year. Onions, chard and early lettuce stood out against brown soil and in even in the smallest garden plots there were often stands of habas, what I know as fava beans and what the English call broad beans. Favas growing in AndalusiaIn larger gardens long rows of favas grew around almond and olive trees, some with blossoms and some with pods already formed, like those in the kitchen garden of Las Chimeneas, the inn and restaurant in Mairena where we stayed for a week while taking daily walks into the mountains and to surrounding villages.

Fava beans are one of our kitchen garden favorites here on Lopez Island, planted in fall or in early spring and harvested in June or July. Fava beans growing jpgWe serve them pureed for crostini or sandwiches and whole in pasta sauces or as side dishes, but none of these Italian and Californian preparations prepared me for Habas y Jamon, fava beans and Serrano ham, a classic Andalusian dish. The first night our hosts served it I was transported. There was the familiar earthy fava flavor but with a pleasant, faint bitterness from the skin still encasing the small, tender beans. Added to these flavors were the salty sweetness of the ham and the subtle flavors of onion, tomato and orange in the surrounding sauce. Familiar tastes yet a totally new combination. I wanted to eat it every night.

When I told our hosts how much I enjoyed this dish, they graciously offered to show me how to make it, adding this dish to the paella demonstration they’d planned. ConchiAssisted by Emma on the right, Conchi began by adding nearly a cupful of olive oil to a large skillet, warming it as she sliced in a couple of onions and lightly softened them. Next she added two or three handfuls of thinly sliced ham, warming it briefly before chopping and adding several tomatoes, zest from an orange and finally several quarts of small shelled but not peeled fava beans. That was it. The mixture simmered back in the kitchen as she showed us how to make paella. Habas y Jamon was served as a side dish to the paella but for me it could have been the entire meal

With only peeled and frozen favas from last year’s crop and no true Serrano ham, I was still determined to recreate this dish. My first scaled-down version of Conchi’s recipe was very tasty, bringing back happy memories of the original dish. Habas y Jamon in skilletI’m looking forward to this year’s fava crop and the chance to try some unpeeled beans from an early harvest. And maybe I can even find some real Serrano ham.

Asparagus was another spring vegetable we saw many times but not growing in gardens. Instead, in our walks along country paths, we saw long, thin stalks of wild asparagus in the arms and pockets of foragers. Forager #1

Forager #2These jolly foragers reminded me of the cookbook author and writer David Tanis’s story of eating wild asparagus in Andalusia in the spring. Tanis writes: “Long, skinny and ever so slightly bitter, Spanish wild asparagus has a deep green flavor. The best way to cook it, I was told, is sautéed in olive oil with garlic, then swirled with beaten eggs to make a revuelto…a kind of scrambled eggs.” The recipe he developed to accompany his story includes chorizo, green onions and a scattering of toasted croutons along with the eggs and asparagus.

Back home with asparagus from our kitchen garden, I followed his recipe. Though missing the wild asparagus and the wonderful pimenton-flavored chorizo of Andalusia, the dish was delicious and kept our food memories of Spain alive.Asparagus Revuelto

 

 

 

Broccoli Rediscovered

Over the years, I haven’t grown a lot of broccoli in my kitchen garden, usually just four to six plants of Umpqua or DeCicco that I start indoors in late February, set out in late March and harvest beginning with the full heads in late May and then side shoots until mid to late June.

Broccoli head

Broccoli side shoot

Spring broccoli fills the gap between the end of the kale flower buds and the start of sugar snap peas and zucchini. Sometimes I start more in June or July for late summer and early fall harvest but often I don’t because there are so many other tasty summer and fall vegetables I prefer to broccoli.

I’m just as limited with my broccoli recipes. I have a default broccoli recipe I found years ago in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook Book (1980): peel the skin from stalks and stems,Broccoli peeling

split any thick stalks into thinner stalks keeping florets attached, steam or boil until barely tender and drain. Sauté chopped garlic in a little olive oil until golden, then add the drained broccoli, a little salt and maybe some red pepper flakes, sauté lightly for a few minutes and serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish or as a topping for pasta or grains. It’s quick and easy and the sweet flavor of just-picked broccoli always comes through.

Perhaps there’s a correlation between not much broccoli and not many recipes. If I grew more broccoli maybe I’d experiment with new recipes or if I found a great new recipe maybe I’d want to grow more broccoli. I think I’ve just found that recipe.

Leafing through Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Italian Country Table (1999) I spotted a recipe for “Seared Broccoli with Lemon.” It’s as simple my old standby but creates a wonderfully different flavor, deeper and richer than the light, sweet garlicky Hazan version. Kasper writes, “browning broccoli gives it an unexpected lustiness…the trick is browning the broccoli fast enough to keep it from overcooking, yet at a moderate rate to build up rich, caramelized flavors.”

Broccoli seared

Her instructions for preparing the broccoli are similar to my standard peeling and steaming preparation. Then once the broccoli is partially cooked, she instructs:

Heat the oil (2 Tablespoons for about 1 and ¼ pounds broccoli) in a 12-inch skillet (she specifies not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Sauté the broccoli until speckled with brown on one side. Adjust the heat to prevent it from burning and watch the pan bottom for scorching. Sprinkle the broccoli with shredded zest from one large lemon, salt and pepper, turn the stalks over and sauté to brown on the second side. Serve hot or warm.

It took me a couple of tries and the rest of my broccoli crop to perfect this technique but even my first attempts resulted in richly flavored, crispy broccoli. And the lemon zest perfectly balances this richness. I’m looking forward to making it again and maybe even experimenting with roasting rather than pan-searing the broccoli. I have six young plants that should give me broccoli by late August. I can already imagine how tasty seared broccoli will be with fresh tomatoes.