Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Ever since they began selling farro at Costco in 3 lb. packages at a fairly reasonable price, I find myself making it a lot. It's a great alternative to rice or barley, and is full of healthy goodness. For those unfamiliar with this wholesome grain, farro is a type of hard wheat, sometimes referred to as 'spelt' or 'emmer wheat'. It's considered a mainstay grain in the Mediterranean diet, and has been grown and enjoyed in Italy since Roman times.  Farro is naturally high in fiber and contains significantly more protein than wheat. As such, it has grown in popularity, and availability, here in the U.S.

And thank goodness it has, as it is wonderfully delicious and incredibly versatile. In terms of flavor, farro has a wonderful nutty taste and a firm, chewy bite that adds an interesting texture to any dish. I use it in hot dishes, like pilafs, in soups, and it is superb as a salad ingredient as I have done here mixed with roasted vegetables and herbs. As a substitute for rice or barley, it is prepared in the same way - boil in water with a touch of salt added, for 15-20 minutes, drain and its ready to go.

This farro salad with roasted vegetables comes to me by way of Jamie Oliver. It is among one of my favorite dishes to serve at summer barbeque buffets, but is delicious anytime of year.  It is a great side with any grilled or roasted meat or fish. I'm serving it here with a roasted salmon fillet. 

The dish is chock full of great vegetables - eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and most importantly, fennel, whose mild anise flavor makes this dish extra special. But, any mix of vegetables can be used. To finish the dish, I added a few golden raisins for that occasional bite of sweetness, and some fresh parsley and basil.

Farro Salad with Roasted Vegetables
recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver

1 cup farro, rinsed
1 medium zucchini 
1 small - medium eggplant
1/2 large red pepper
1/2 medium red onion
1/2 bulb fennel
large handful of parsley
large handful of fresh basil
few tablespoons of golden raisins
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the farro: fill a large saucepan with a generous 3 cups of water.  Add the rinsed farro and a touch of salt. Boil for 15-20 minutes till chewy, not mushy.  Drain and pour into a large bowl.

Chop all the vegetables into bite size pieces and place onto a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix together to coat all the veggies with the oil and bake in a 375 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes, tossing veggies half way through the baking time, until vegetables are soft but not overcooked. Remove from oven and drizzle with a bit of  the balsamic vinegar and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the mixture; toss to combine. 

Add all the vegetables and the raisins to the rice. Chop the parsley and basil and add to the mixture. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, toss to combine. Add more salt if necessary, toss again and serve.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring Risotto

I was broiling some lamb chops I bought at Costco and wanted a special side dish to serve with them. Typically, I would make some garlic mashed potatoes, but just didn't feel like potatoes that day - surprising giving my obsession with potatoes. The orzo and wild rice dish I posted a few weeks ago is another dish I like with these chops. Rice is also a very nice option.

While I make rice quite often, brown especially, as pilafs mixed with vegetables, that seemed too ordinary. It was a rainy, gloomy day which meant I was in the mood to cook, so a classic risotto came to mind. In my refrigerator were a bunch of asparagus, some snap peas and zucchini. Mixed in with a classic, creamy risotto sounded like a perfect accompaniment to the lamb. 

Finding a good risotto recipe among my many Italian cookbooks wasn't a problem, but when I want something a bit more special or unusual, Jamie Oliver's, Jamie's Italy cookbook is my default cookbook. Sure enough, his risottos, though quite classic, used more vegetables to help deliver a more robust, and complex risotto. I used his risotto bianco recipe as a base, adjusting it a bit to suit my taste, and added the nice spring time vegetables at the end to produce this Spring Risotto.

I don't make classic Italian risotto very often. Mostly, because of the dedicated attention it requires at the stove, but also due to the amount of butter and cheese it uses to produce its creamy texture and rich taste. But, since the chops, which I marinated in olive oil, some lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, garlic and thyme, just required some easy broiling, I was prepared to give the risotto the abundant amount of time it required.  To save using another pan, and from sauteing the spring vegetables in more fat, I steamed them atop the chicken broth I held simmering for the risotto. That worked out great. I simply added the steamed veggies to the finish risotto right before serving. 

The resulting risotto was full bodied, chock full of great tasting vegetables, and was, indeed, a fine complement to the broiled lamb chops.   

Spring Risotto

32 oz. chicken stock or broth
2 T. olive oil
3 T. butter, divided
1 med. onion, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 stalks celery
2 cups Arborio rice
2 wineglasses of white wine
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

1/2- full bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-in pieces
1/3 lb. snap peas, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 zucchini, diced into small pieces

Heat the chicken stock in a large saucepan.  Place the cut up asparagus, snap peas and zucchini in a steamer basket and place on top of the simmering chicken stock. Steam until just tender. Don't overcook. 

In a large Dutch oven pan, heat the olive oil and 1 T. butter. Add the onions, and celery and saute on medium heat for approximately 10-15 minutes until they soften. Do not let them get brown.  

Turn up the heat and add the rice.  Allow the rice to fry and become slightly translucent.  This will take about 5 minutes or so.  Now add the wine, and season with some salt, and saute till the rice has absorbed the wine fully.

Once the wine has cooked into the rice, turn down the heat to medium and begin adding the chicken stock one ladle at a time.  Allow the rice to fully absorb the stock before adding the next ladle.  Continue to do so until the rice is fully cooked. If you run out of stock before the rice if cooked, add some boiling water to finish the cooking.

When the rice is fully cooked, but not mushy, remove the pan from the heat.  Add 2 T. of butter and the Parmesan cheese. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow the pan to sit for 2 minutes. This allows the butter and cheese to melt into the rice to produce its creamy texture. 

Now add the steamed spring vegetables. Mix together and serve.



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cherry Swirl Coffeecake

When I was growing up, we always had coffeecakes in the house. My stay-at-home, Italian immigrant mother didn't drive, so weekly grocery runs to pick up staples, like milk and bread, weren't an option. Instead, she had a milkman who delivered fresh milk, butter, eggs and cottage cheese to the house a couple times a week. She also had a delivery service from a local baking company, called Awrey, that would deliver bread and assorted bakery products to our house. Mom was a sucker for their coffeecakes, longjohns and almond tea rings especially. If us kids were around when the delivery man came, we could guilt her into also purchasing donuts, cookies or cakes.

As a result, I too, am a sucker for coffeecakes.  These days I am more likely to purchase an Entenmanns brand cake rather than Awrey, but for special holiday mornings, like Easter, I prefer to have a homemade coffeecake as part of our Easter morning breakfast.

Sour cream streusel cakes or fruit enhanced crumb topped cakes are typical of the kinds I usually make. This time I am trying a yeast based, sweet bread coffeecake with cherry preserves and almonds.  The recipe comes from the instruction and recipe booklet that came with my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

The cake uses a batter-type bread base rather than a regular bread dough that requires kneading. The whole bread batter can be made in the mixer, but like all breads, requires the usual two rising periods.

A sweet bread with a light fruit topping, a sprinkle of almonds and a sugar glaze, this coffeecake is not overly sweet or too rich.  Unlike many coffeecakes that can also pass as a dessert, this one is clearly a bread more than a cake. It is delicious served warm, with a fresh cup of coffee, and will be great served next to the spinach and mushroom frittata I plan to make Easter morning. 

Cherry Swirl Coffeecake

1 1/4 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest
1 c. cherry preserves
1 c. powdered sugar
additional milk for glaze
1/3 c. sliced almonds

Heat the milk, salt, sugar and butter in a small saucepan just to boiling and butter is fully melted. 

Pour into the mixer bowl and let cool to lukewarm (105-115 degrees). Add yeast. Stir at first speed, mixing until the yeast is fully dissolved, about 15 seconds.  

Add 1 c. flour and turn to speed 4 mixing until combined, about 1 minute. 

Stop and scrape bowl.  Add eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. Turn to speed 6 and beat until well combined, about 1 minute.  

Reduce to speed 1 and enough of the remaining flour, 1/4 c. at a time, to form a thick batter.  Stop and scrape bowl.  Turn to speed 6 and beat until smooth, about 30 seconds. 

Place batter in lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise in warm place free from drafts until double in bulk, about 1 hour. I turn my oven on to the lowest temperature setting. Before it gets to that temp, but can feel the warmth inside, I turn off the oven.  Let it cool a bit then allow the dough to proof in the warm oven.  

Stir batter down, then divide between two 9-in round baking pans. Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. 

Using a sharp small knife, lightly cut a shallow swirl design into each cake.  Fill the grooves in each cake with a quarter cup of the preserves. 

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. 

Re-fill the grooves with the remaining preserves. Mix powdered sugar with enough milk to make a thin glaze.  Drizzle the glaze over the warm cakes and sprinkle with almonds. Let glaze set before serving.  Makes 2 coffeecakes



Monday, April 2, 2012

Parsleyed Fish Gratin

Good Friday is this week. Aside from its religious significance, it is the last meatless Friday of the lenten season and another fish based dinner to plan. As I have indicated in a  previous post, my husband and I are not terribly adventurous when it comes to eating fish, so I am constantly looking for appealing ways to dress up basic seafood varieties such as salmon, cod or shrimp.  I came across this recipe in Nigella Lawson's Christmas cookbook titled, Nigella Christmas. Not only did it use the kinds of fish varieties we like, it was relatively simple and a bit different from what we are used to.

I must confess, though I find Nigella's more free-spirited and less conventional approach to cooking inspiring, and her mix of Italian, English and Indian recipes refreshing, many of her recipes I've tried have been disappointing. So, though a bit skeptical about trying this recipe, it featured ingredients we like, but more importantly, it is a "gratin" and I like just about anything "gratin".

Just think of bite sized pieces of fish nestled in a flavorful cream sauce topped with thin slices of garlic flavored potatoes. Sound somewhat familiar?  Think seafood thermidor, but with lots more flavor, and topped with potatoes instead of the usual breadcrumb finish. This is a great dinner entree or wonderful as part of a brunch buffet.

This dish was quite delicious and I would definitely make it again.  The cream sauce, though loaded with parsley and scallions was extremely flavorful, but without the parsley or onion flavors too overwhelming. The fish I used included fresh salmon, cod and shrimp, the fresher the better. All were simply scrumptious with every bite, but any combination of fish could be used - lobster, scrod, scallops, come to mind. I didn't want the dish to be soupy so I made sure to blot the fish well with paper towels before adding it to the sauce. The only thing I would do different next time, would be to use more potatoes for the topping, by either arranging the slices much closer together or adding a second circle of slices. Of course, a great bread crumb topping laced well with lemon zest and lots of parsley would also, be quite great as well. 

Parsleyed Fish Gratin

3 T. butter
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 T. dry white vermouth or dry white wine
1/4 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 1/2 T. chopped chives or scallions
1 c. finely chopped parsley

2 medium-sized potatoes, unpeeled & very thinly sliced
3/4 lb. skinless salmon
3/4 lb. cod or similar white fish
3/4 lb. raw shrimp, peeled

1 tsp. garlic oil
2 T. butter
good grinding of pepper

Make the garlic oil by heating a few crushed cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil. 

Begin by making the cream sauce:  Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and stir together for a minute or two to cook the flour.  

Take off the heat and whisk in the vermouth (or wine - I used the vermouth), mace (or nutmeg- I used the mace), salt and mustard. 

Next, add the milk (I used skim milk instead of whole and sauce was still very rich and creamy), and mix well together. Put back on heat and cook till the mixture comes to a boil and get quite thick. 

Take off the heat and stir in the parsley and scallions (or chives - I used the scallions). Pour sauce into a well greased casserole/baking vessel.  Set aside to cool slightly. 

Cut up the salmon and cod into bite sized pieces (about 2" x 1 1/2" pieces) and blot well with a paper towel to remove excess liquid.  Shell the shrimp and blot as well.  

Nestle the fish into the slightly cooled cream mixture.

Very thinly slice the unpeeled potatoes using a mandoline.  Arrange the slices in a concentric circle over the fish mixture, overlapping halfway across each potato as you go around the dish. 

Melt the 2 T. of butter into the hot garlic oil (garlic cloves removed), and generously brush over the top of the potatoes. 

Grind black pepper over the top and place in a preheated, 400 degree oven. Bake for 50 -60 minutes until bubbly and potatoes are tender.  Serves four.