Harvest Farro Salad

Harvest Farro Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Harvest Farro Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Gotta love the post Thanksgiving week for looking back on slices of pie consumed, walks planned but half-heartedly taken, and naps interrupted by cocktail hour (with snacks, of course.) Even the most dedicated health nut can have his head turned by cornbread stuffing laced with turkey gravy – and to be clear, I’m certainly not advocating a lettuce only diet when there are so many delicious things to eat. What I am suggesting is that in those in between moments that a return to balance is needed with something that ups the veggie intake without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence, or maybe divine Providence, that the Upper West Side is home to the newest sweetgreen outpost; which for the uninitiated is salad-centric restaurant with a huge array of locally sourced greens, grains, and toppings mixed together in made-to-order combinations. I’ve become pretty obsessed with sweetgreen’s “Harvest Grain Bowl” and decided that as much as I loooove having someone else make dinner once in a while, it’s probably not financially sound to get takeout every night.

And, so I give you my version of a healthful meal that’s really simple to make and can be endlessly adaptable to what’s in the fridge. Don’t like sweet potatoes? Try acorn squash. Arugula too bitter? Baby spinach works great too. Want more protein or don’t have pecans? Toss in some shredded turkey from last weekend or a handful of almonds instead. The sky’s the limit and you won’t feel bad at all later when you have a cookie or two at the next holiday party.

Harvest Farro Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Harvest Farro Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Harvest Farro Salad (Yield: 2-4 Servings)

Ingredients:
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup (1 medium) yellow onion, diced
1 cup pearled farro
2 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 cups baby arugula greens
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup unsalted pecan halves
Vinaigrette dressing, for serving (My favorite: Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette) 

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté until the onions turn golden and translucent, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Sprinkle the whole grain farro into the sauté pan and gently stir to coat with the onion and olive oil, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and the thyme to the pan and pour in the chicken stock.

Stir to combine the ingredients and bring the mixture up to a simmer, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Continue to simmer with the pan covered for 40 minutes until the chicken stock is absorbed and the farro is tender, but al dente.

While the farro is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and dice in 1/2 inch cubes. Scatter onto a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, turning part way through the cooking time, or until the pieces are tender and easily pierced with a fork.

Allow the sweet potatoes and farro to cool before tossing with the arugula, dried cranberries, and pecans. Drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Harvest Farro Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Harvest Farro Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a medium cutting board, chef’s knife, large deep sauté pan, and one rimmed baking sheet. I also used a vegetable peeler, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, and a wooden spatula. A large bowl for tossing the ingredients together is helpful, or just use the cooled sauté pan!

The Verdict:
It’s great to have something that can be made ahead of time and kept on hand to pack in a lunch, but a salad isn’t going to cut it if I’m starving an hour later. So not the case here thanks to the farro and sweet potatoes. The farro in particular has a nutty richness and chewy texture that makes me forget there’s no meat, while the sweet potato has just enough starchiness to stick with you well into the afternoon. No 4pm crash and burn that sends me to rifle through the pantry for a treat. Crisis averted on all fronts.

Harvest Farro Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Harvest Farro Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Friends of Friends”

The Set-up: Ina and Michael the Florist TM are cooking dinner for some of his “foodie” friends.

The Menu: Roasted Striped Bass, Couscous with Pinenuts, Meringues Chantilly

0:39 – We’re diving right in with Meringues Chantilly and whipping egg whites with cream of tartar.

1:20 – Cream of Tartar sounds like something that belongs more on a seafood plate, but a quick search tells me it’s a stabilizer.

2:14 – Ina is so tricky - she’s tracing the rim of a glass on the back side of a sheet of parchment paper so that there’s a guide to follow when she pipes the meringues and they’re all the same size.

3:08 – Interesting! Pro Tip #1: Fold in (rather than beating) the last 1/2 cup of sugar to the whipped eggs whites for a more tender meringue.

4:51 – Ina advises us not to make meringues on a rainy day (damp air = chewy meringue), but that’s exactly when I’d want to tackle a project like this!

5:27 – Pro Tip #2: Pipe the meringues starting from the center of the circle and spiraling outward to the edge, then go over your outer ring again to make a shallow bowl. Genius.

6:03 – Over to Michael the Florist TM to see what he’s planning for the table. So far it’s an old-fashioned tin colander full of green grapes with some leaves tucked in, like that will fool us into thinking this took work.

7:16 - We’re back with Ina to make stewed berries for the meringues. When she started with just water I was confused, but I know my girl and she was soon in the pantry getting a bottle of framboise liqueur.

8:35 – To the fresh berry sauce Ina adds more un-cooked berries and sets everything aside to be assembled later as the meringues cool and crisp up in the oven.

11:44 – Roasted Striped Bass is the main course, but first let’s raise our suspicions that these “friends of friends” will be just the worst before backtracking and postulating that because they’re good cooks they’ll actually be cool.

12:01 – You know what? That’s fair. I bet there are Friends of Ina (FOI) who have a passel of people just dying to meet her and trying to wrangle dinner invitations all the time. You know I would if I had an FOI of my very own…

13:12 – Over to Michael the Florist TM again and I’d like to retract my earlier snide remark, because this is actually clever: he’s used little bud vases of each attendee’s favorite flower instead of place cards.

14:29 – Right. Let’s focus on the recipe, shall we? It involves sautéing onions, pancetta, and garlic with saffron, chopped tomatoes and white wine, along with Ina’s favorite Pernod.

15:57 – Hmm. I wonder how this is going to work? Ina has sea bass, mussels and shrimp all together in the roasting pan – but I’d think they would need different cooking times?

19:23 – I was hoping for a comment on the seafood cooking process, but it’s out of the oven already and we’re on to Couscous with Pinenuts.

20:51 – Ina says she loves to share the responsibilities of a party with friends, but it seems like she has the lion’s share of the effort!

21:06 – Is anyone else almost categorically unable to toast nuts without burning the first batch?

22:40 – Pro Tip #3: Fluff the couscous with a fork (no spoons!) to keep it light.

23:55 – A little montage of packing the stewed berries, couscous, striped bass, and meringues and she’s off!

26:09 – Ina has taken command of Michael the Florist TM’s kitchen and is whipping heavy cream and sprinkling chopped parsley like mad.

27:38 – The dreaded “foodie” friends have arrived and they all look like appropriately lipsticked suburban women. None of them appears to be carrying a stack of Ina’s cookbooks for her signature, which is a mistake if you ask me.

28:24 – Everyone finds their favorite flower “placecard” and the table really does look charming now that the candle are lit. In case you’re wondering there is a sunflower, pink peony, yellow calla lily, pansies, lily of the valley, pink roses, blue hydrangea and of course our girl’s orange tulips.

29:30 – Dinner appears to be a great success, but someone forgot to tell the friends never to bring chocolate cake when Ina has made meringues. Rookie mistake.

Final Thoughts:
I really need to attempt a meringue soon. No more egg white intimidation!

The idea of favorite flower place cards is pretty cute. I should know better than to question Michael the Florist TM.

How do people find that perfect pinkish nude shade of lipstick? If I ever do then I’ll know I’ve officially become a grown-up.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
This recipe for Couscous with Pinenuts is dynamite, and the ingredient list is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It’s not that I’ve never made couscous before, it’s that it has always come from a Near East box and I was never sure about how to achieve the same depth of flavor when starting from square one.

Shallots – The little allium that could. Their flavor is subtle and distinct – not as sharp as onion or scallions, more delicate than garlic – there’s no substitute that I’m aware of and a scant 3/4 cup sautéed in butter worked wonders managing to perfume an entire pot of couscous. Angels sing.

Chicken Stock – Never underestimate the power of replacing water with chicken stock (and a not insubstantial amount of butter) for amping up the flavor. Assuming you don’t have vegetarians coming for dinner I’d start doing this all the time with pilafs, stews, etc.

Currants – The addition of pine nuts was straightforward since many box versions of couscous contain them or toasted almonds, etc. However, the currants were a bit of a surprise, mainly because when I actually tasted them they were sweet; not tart as I expected them to be. A little research uncovered what is typically sold as a “dried currant” is actually a grape and therefore really just a tiny raisin, not the sharply flavored red berry you might occasionally see sold fresh. If you’re actually looking for tartness a cranberry or even cherry is probably a better bet.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Totally. All I needed was a 2 quart sauce pan (with lid!), a liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups, a small cutting board, and a chef’s knife. A table fork to fluff it all together and you’re set!

The Verdict:
Is it odd to rhapsodize about a couscous recipe? If so, then get ready for an odd paragraph singing the praises of Couscous with Pinenuts. I love how easy it would be to switching out some of the additions maybe thyme instead of parsley, or chopped apricots in place of the “currants.” Yes, a boxed version is still slightly faster, but couscous is so quick to make that the extra five or six minutes of sautéing hardly makes a difference in total effort and the results are 100% worth it.

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Couscous with Pine Nuts & Currants | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Summer eating presents some challenges – primarily, the conundrum is I’m still hungry all the time, but the foods that are appealing when the weather is hot don’t really fill me up. I’d like to live on popsicles, watermelon, and iced coffee but nutritionally it’s not a sound plan. What I really need is something fresh and light with enough substance to make it worth eating, and of course delicious enough to make it work preparing. To my way of thinking; time in the kitchen when the weather is beautiful better be well spent!

I’ve eaten just about every permutation of this salad, as the credits below demonstrate, and I love all of them but this one has just the right amount of everything. Rich, nutty quinoa and grape tomatoes are tossed with a lime vinaigrette and pulled back from the brink of too acidic by mild, sweet corn and the mellow basil. A symphony of summery flavors.

It’s easy to make ahead, can be tossed with a few leafy greens, or further dinner-ized with some grilled chicken (perhaps Tequila Citrus? - more on that Wednesday), which makes it worthy of your Sunday afternoon efforts and makes Monday night dinner a snap.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad (serves: 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 cup dried quinoa
4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup (3-4 limes) fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Instructions:
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the ears of corn for 3 minutes to remove the starchy texture. Drain and immerse the corn in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, use a chef’s knife to cut the kernels off the cob. Place the kernels in a large bowl and set aside to continue cooling.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa and 1 teaspoon of salt, lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until the grains are tender and open – they’ll look like they have little curly tails. While the quinoa cooks, juice the limes and combine with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. When the quinoa is done, drain in a fine sieve, place in a bowl and immediately add the lime dressing. Toss to coat well and place the bowl in the refrigerator to cool.

Slice the grape tomatoes in half length-wise, julienne the basil leaves, and slice the red onion in very thin quarter moons. Add the vegetables and the reserved corn kernels to the dressed quinoa and fold together. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if needed. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold.

Inspired by and adapted from Bon Appétit Charred Corn Salad with Basil and Tomatoes and Ina Garten’s Quinoa Tabbouleh with Feta and Corn and Avocado Salad.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes and no. This does take a few more items than I usually like to use, but the results are delicious, so… forgive me? I used a large pot (for the corn), a medium pot (for the quinoa) - note if you're organized the one large pot could suffice with a wash in between - two medium mixing bowls, a medium sieve, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, and large mixing spoon. Tongs are also super helpful for removing the corn from the boiling water.

The Verdict:
If it’s possible to fall in love with a salad, then I’ve fallen in love with this one. Something about the balance of flavors has me craving the bite of citrus, cool tomatoes, and rich quinoa. I served it along side Tequila Citrus Chicken, but it could easily be the main event. Be forewarned: it’s easy to stuff yourself with it’s deliciousness and not even realize it until you need to be rolled away from the table.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto

Mushroom Farro Risotto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Have you ever noticed an ingredient for the first time and then all of a sudden it’s everywhere? First it was quinoa and kale now it seems to be farro. I was first introduced to farro by an episode of Nigellissima, hosted by the lovely Nigella Lawson where I learned that it’s an ancient grain that was a staple of the Roman diet. I'm just nerdy enough to find that fun fact intriguing, but didn’t actually buy any until my visit to Kalustyan’s last fall when I happened across a package of their house brand.

For reference sake, it’s important to note that farro is sold in three different forms: whole grain, semi-pearled, and pearled. The form depends on how much of the outer hull has been polished away and the cooking time will vary dramatically. Whole grain takes at least 40 minutes of simmering, while pearled takes about half that long – so read your package carefully so you know which one you have and can adjust the expected cooking time. I think of it being something like oatmeal – old-fashioned oats vs. quick oats vs. instant.

Since my first brush with farro it seems like it’s popping up on menus – I recently tried versions at Maman and Hunter’s, both excellent – and in magazine recipe features. I admit, I’m not sorry to see all these new sources of inspiration since I’m fully on the farro bandwagon. I hope you’ll try it too and let me know what you think!

Mushroom Farro Risotto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto (yield: 2-4 servings)

8 ounces (3 cups) cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup ( 1 medium) yellow onion, diced
1 cup whole grain farro
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sliced mushrooms (caps and stems) and sauté until the onions turn golden and translucent, and the mushrooms are browned, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Sprinkle the whole grain farro into the sauté pan and gently stir to coat with the mushroom, onion and olive oil, about 2-3 minutes. Add the kosher salt, black pepper, and thyme to the pan and pour in the chicken stock.

Stir to combine the ingredients and bring the mixture up to a simmer, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Continue to simmer with the pan covered for 40 minutes until the chicken stock is absorbed and the farro is tender, but al dente.

Serve warm or room temperature with a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.

Inspired and guided by Nigella Lawson’s Farro Risotto and Ina Garten’s Baked Farro and Butternut Squash.

Mushroom Farro Risotto   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Oh, yes! I used a large cutting board, chef’s knife, a 3 quart covered sauté pan, measuring cups and spoons, and a wooden spatula.

The Verdict:
Mike and I are both pretty much obsessed with this recipe and with farro in general. The farro itself has a texture somewhere between wild rice, barley, and brown rice with a beautifully nutty flavor perfectly complemented by the earthiness of the mushrooms. We’ve been eating it both as a side dish, say with roasted chicken for example, and as a main course salad. My all time favorite is warm farro and roasted butternut squash over cold arugula dressed with a little vinaigrette. Delicious.

Mushroom Farro Risotto  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Mushroom Farro Risotto | Image: Laura Messersmith