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Spring Seafood Stew with Farro

The Food & The Wine

For Spring Seafood Stew with Farro, I began with  a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s book, Lidia’s Italy. She was introduced to the classic Italian combination of farro and seafood stew in the seaside city of Trani, along the Adriatic shoreline around the heel of the boot. I took inspiration from her as well as Tuscany, where farro produced there is so prized it is honored with protected Geographical Indication status. The wine I chose to cook and drink with this dish is a Tuscan Vernaccia from a famous medieval village called San Gimignano. Located on a dramatic hilltop, the village of San Gimignano draws tourists with its historic museums and architecture.  According to Vino Italiano, written by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vernaccia has been around since as far back as the thirteenth century. Vernaccia di San Gimignano was Italy’s first DOC in 1966.

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Storyboard: Farro

Farro

According to the Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, farro is an ancient grain that was cultivated by the early Egyptians. These days farro, also known as emmer, is associated with Italy. It is mostly produced in Abruzzo and Tuscany, where the region of Garfagnana maintains Geographical Indication status for the farro grown there. Farro can be found in whole grain (slow cooking) or semi-pearled (quicker cooking) varieties. Most farro sold in the United States is semi-pearled and cooks in about 25 minutes. This cereal grain is low in gluten and high in fiber. In Italian cuisine farro is used for salads and soups, as well as risottos (nicknamed farrotos). Farro behaves much the same as arborio rice by absorbing the liquid it’s cooked in. Pastas are made from farro flour. Farro speziato, or cracked farro is used to achieve the porridge-like consistency of polenta. Through my research I have learned it’s really not necessary to soak farro before cooking, but give it a try if you prefer. Properly cooked farro should have a pleasing, al dente bite to it.

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Cook in the Moment: Warm Farro Salad

Warm Farro Salad with Mushrooms & Spring Herbs

Farro’s hearty, nutty character is delicious with the earthy flavor of mushrooms. The essence of toasted oak in the sherry vinegar and brightness of fresh spring herbs balance this dish. A crisp, mineral old world Chardonnay or Friulano white wine from Italy would be a lovely spring pairing. On second thought, you could go with an earthy French Rosé



Preparing the Farro

This recipe uses cooked farro, great for leftover Thyme Scented Farro from last night’s supper. If you’re cooking farro to make this recipe just follow the package directions. Intuitive cooking really comes into play when preparing grains. I live at an altitude of above 5,000 feet, and grains often take a bit longer to cook. Also, the farro I purchased in the bulk section of the grocery store had no information in regards to if it was quick cooking or not. So I loosely followed the directions for cooking farro in the “Grain Cooking Chart” from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School Cookbook. She suggests combining 1 cup farro with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 tsp salt, then bring to a boil. The next step is to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Once the time is up she instructs the reader to drain the farro and return it to the pot to rest for 10 minutes. At the 20 minute mark my farro was still a bit too chewy and hard, so I gave it 10 more minutes at a covered simmer. The farro plumped up and had a much more pleasing texture at this point, so I proceeded to drain it and allow it to rest. Cooked farro for a salad should be a slight bit al dente with a pleasing chewiness. Most of all, it should please your palate, so trust in what feels right to you.

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10 Ways Tuesdays: Farro

I’ve come up with 10 ways to use farro in your spring pantry:

 

1.  Farrotto

The grain farro behaves much like arborio rice when cooked- rather than releasing starch it absorbs the liquid it’s cooked in.  For this reason farro is an appropriate grain to substitute into a risotto. In Simply Tuscan, Pino Luongo shares a recipe for “Farrotto with Morel Mushrooms” which is great for spring (morel season). In The New Classics, Martha Stewart suggests using farro in her spring recipe “Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Peas”.

2.  Fresh Pasta

Ron and Colleen Suhanosky use farro flour to make fresh pasta in their cookbook, Pasta Sfoglia. One of several recipes with fresh farro pasta is “Farro Spaghetti, beets, brown butter, poppy seeds”. In the book they write that pairing beets with poppy seeds is common in the Italian regions of Friuli and Alto Adige.

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Ingredient of the Week: Farro

Farro

Spring becomes more real each day and the produce available at local farmer’s markets more varied. In the front range of Colorado we’ve got the usual spring greens: spinach, mustard greens, lettuces, and arugula. The first radishes popped up at last week’s market. Gnarly Jerusalem artichokes lurk in farmer’s stalls. The aroma of green garlic wafts through the breeze. Leeks and sorrel lie in piles on the table. I greedily snatch up all the veg I can get my hands on, and once home I wonder how I will use it all before the spoiling begins. Cooking in spring is different than summer. The subtle earthy flavors of spring veg require more contemplation than the easy, outgoing summer flavors of tomatoes, peppers, and corn. Flipping through my cookbook collection, I come across forgotten recipes for that short window of cool season vegetables. A whole year has passed since I languished over what to do with a sunchoke.

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Friday: Breakfast in Bed

While everyone is thinking about Easter brunch and egg hunting this weekend, all I want is breakfast in bed. On Sunday I’m planning lying in our light filled bedroom, reading the travel section, and eating pancakes. I will sip my tea and chat with the husband about far away places and adventures while our little dachshund, Minnie, sits at the foot of the bed chewing her bone. The American Finches will chirp outside the open window as a soft breeze blows in. Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I often wish that the day would never end, but it does. And then comes Monday.

Let’s not dwell on Monday, though. This is about Sunday, and pancakes! I always have a jar of homemade instant pancake mix in the cupboard. The recipe is from the Nigella Express cookbook. These pancakes are small by American standards, about the size the saucer that comes with your teacup. I love them because they are soft and buttery and not too sweet a batter. In the description Nigella writes, “This is going to change your life irrevocably. Forgive any scintilla of self-congratulatory preening and accept my boast as simple, enthusiastic exuberance.” It’s true! How great is it to have your own instant pancake mix at the ready so when the mood strikes, pancakes are only a minute from your plate?

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Storyboard: Eggs

Egg Collage



The Egg in Your Pantry

Eggs are certainly a mainstay of the pantry. I’m amazed by all the different things an egg can do. Their protein and lipid makeup is important to the physiology of cooking and baking so many dishes. In his book, Eggs, Michel Roux covers the many functions of the egg: a leavener in cakes, breads, and soufflés, a thickener in sauces and custards, a base for dressings, a coating for breaded fried foods, a glossy wash to brown baked goods- the list goes on and on. Eggs give structure to meringues and sponges. They act as a binder for meatballs. Eggs give form to batters for pancakes, waffles, and crêpes. Seriously, what can’t an egg do? Thank you, egg.  You are amazing!

Buying Eggs

When you set out to buy eggs for your home pantry, ask yourself, “What do I want in an egg?” Reading egg carton labels can be confusing, but if you think about purchasing eggs this way it becomes a lot simpler. I want to support farmers who treat chickens humanely. I want eggs from chickens that are healthy, allowed act like a chicken should: grazing in fields and eating bugs. I want local eggs that are tasty and fresh.  I do not want eggs from conventional farming where the chickens are treated with antibiotics, given feed that contains pesticides or GMOs, caged, or de-beaked. Ideally, you have access to local, farm-fresh eggs at a farmer’s market. If not, I suggest taking a hard look at what your local grocer has to offer. Read the labels carefully, research the company online, and taste eggs from several different producers. My grocer carries eggs from two local farms, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the taste of one farm’s eggs over the other. Be a smart consumer and make a conscious decision to support farmers you believe in. The way you spend your dollars in the store will have a direct effect on the choices you will have in the future.

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Cook in the Moment: Scrambled Eggs

Spring Farmer’s Market Scramble

served with a side of sautéed market spinach

Here in Colorado, the spring growing season has barely begun. I look at pictures of fava beans and strawberries with disbelief and a bit of jealousy. The harbinger of spring, asparagus, hasn’t even arrived here. I wander the produce section of the grocery store and everything seems to be from Mexico. Dedicated to following the seasons, I bide my time and try to enjoy the few pleasures available now. At the Boulder Farmer’s Market I see spinach, green garlic, and locally grown Hazel Dell mushrooms. I pick up farm fresh eggs and start feeling a bit more optimistic.  Tomorrow’s breakfast will be scrambled eggs.

The most important thing about cooking eggs any way is to be gentle. Eggs should be prepared with a low heat and ample time. I spent a year as a morning baker and short order breakfast cook, and eggs were a source of constant performance anxiety- until I learned this lesson. The pan should be given some time to warm up before the eggs go in, but it should never be screaming hot. We’ve all had that experience of an egg hissing and popping while cooking fat splatters everywhere- the pan is too hot. So, heat the pan and slide a nub of unsalted butter in.  The butter will melt and then begin to foam. For a scrambled egg: lightly whisk your eggs and pour them into the pan, stirring constantly as the eggs cook. Always under cook your scrambled eggs slightly, as they will continue to cook on the plate. This makes the difference between a creamy soft scrambled egg and a dry, rubbery scrambled egg. In his book, Eggs, Michel Roux writes, “Scrambling is the finest way to cook eggs in my opinion.” I totally agree. The fancy omelet gets a lot of attention, but there is something luxurious and really comforting about a perfectly scrambled egg.

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10 Ways Tuesdays: Eggs

Eggs - 10 Ways

 

I’ve come up with 10 ways to use eggs in your spring pantry:

 

1.  Curd

I love lemon curd in the early spring, when there is precious little fruit in the cupboard. Curd, which is a custard,  can be used as a condiment spread over toast, drop scones, or pound cake.  It is also a lovely layer in tarts and cake filling. In Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook there is a recipe for grapefruit curd, which I think could be amazing with the addition of elderflower flavor.

2.  Olive Oil Cake

Instead of the old standby pound cake, why not try an olive oil cake? Here’s how the Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual describes olive oil cake, “Our olive oil cake works after a meal and is great for breakfast, but it’s also ideal 3p.m. pastry- not too sweet, not too heavy, great with a good espresso.” I personally am a huge fan of olive oil cake, and would love to slather a bit of lemon curd over it.

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Ingredient of the Week: Eggs

Ingredient Of The Week - Eggs

As Easter approaches eggs are everywhere you look. Maybe I’m feeling a little left out- I don’t have any little ones eagerly awaiting the Easter bunny, and dying eggs isn’t really my thing. I do like to eat eggs, though. As a matter of fact, I love to eat eggs. And so, eggs shall be the ingredient of the week! Throughout the seasons, eggs play many roles in cooking. Eggs are a practical part of the spring pantry, as the longer days and warmer temperatures prompt hens to increase laying. For many of us there are few vegetables ready for harvest just yet. Even so, we crave spring flavors. While we wait for the bounty of vegetables to arrive, we can savor a farm fresh egg.

Tackling the subject of eggs is a bit daunting. Not only can you eat eggs cooked as the main dish: boiled, poached, fried, scrambled, baked, and as an omelet; eggs are an essential component in many dishes: pastry, pasta, custard, sauces, pancakes, soufflés, and more. While you will find eggs in the fridge of most of our homes, I think many are stuck in an egg rut, making the same thing over and over again. This week at la domestique, be inspired to try something new. Shake up your routine and prepare eggs in a different way. Let the season of spring be your guide. The mild temperatures and cool spring breeze create a perfect atmosphere to enjoy the rich, unctuous egg with bright greens and herbs, a light soup, or maybe a delicate spear of asparagus. When summer comes we will be too hot to enjoy a poached egg with hollandaise sauce or decadent goat cheese soufflé. Now is the time for egg salad sandwiches and deviled egg picnics.

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About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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