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Sunday, November 23, 2008
This weekend started off with unseasonably cold weather. Even with a down-filled winter coat, winter boots and merino wool undershirt, the cold still managed to seep in somehow. And now, my husband tells me the weather forecast calls for snow all this week. I guess there is no escaping the weather except for a move to Costa Rica perhaps. (Awfully tempting, isn’t it?)
This week also marked the start of our “winter share” box from our organic CSA, Plan B. Inside our box were the tiniest Macintosh apples, a green cabbage, a small brown paper bag of fresh shitake mushrooms, a parsnip, a head of broccoli and a generous handful of potatoes and yams. This means rich, warming flavours for dinner this week. In search of something a little different for dinner, I decided to cook the ancient grains I had in the pantry along with some of the ingredients from our weekly box.
I know that the mere mention of grains conjures up thoughts of cardboard-tasting health food. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I bought these grains one afternoon after leisurely perusing the basement level of the St. Lawrence Market. I didn’t really have a plan for them and to be frank, I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with them. But like many ingredients I am not really familiar with, I derive a certain satisfaction in thinking about how an ingredient might become a meal and then going out and bringing it to life. Sometimes, it results in disaster, though rarely inedible. However, other times, I win the new ingredient jackpot, and my kitchen experiment turns into something that I would make again, and share with others.
I had eaten a rice blend recently that included kasha and quinoa and it was not bad but a little on the bland side. I thought it could be easily improved. Additionally, I had made a farro salad this past summer for a party and thought there would be an opportunity to do something hearty and warm for winter with these grains.
Farro is a whole grain particularly popular in Italy. It looks like a grain of rice with its husk intact. It has a nice chewy texture, delicious and hearty. Quinoa is a high-protein grain which makes it a vegetarian favourite. I love how its tiny pin-heads cook into the pudgy micro orbs that almost seem to pop in your mouth when you take a bite. Kasha is a whole grain made from buckwheat. It is often served as porridge is Eastern Europe as it often becomes a little mushy when cooked.
The approach I took to cooking was to think about the seasonal foods and flavours I enjoy and how to bring them into harmony with these grains. Risotto is a big winter time meal that I have come to enjoy over the last several years. I never used to like it, but I have recently been converted. Apples are a fruit that cellars well and hence are a winter time staple. Shitake mushrooms have a great woodsy flavour and may be cultivated indoors over the winter, making it possible to enjoy them all year around.
The recipe that I have provided here is probably enough for at least 6 people. I decided to make a little extra for our lunches for a day or two.
Ancient Grains “Risotto” with Mushrooms and Sautéed Apples
1 c farro
1 c quinoa
1 c kasha
2 small Macintosh apples, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced finely
1 garlic clove, minced
5 shitake mushrooms finely diced
4 c of vegetable broth
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of ground sage
1 tbsp of salt
1. Toast farro in a dry pan, shaking on occasion, until the farro smells nutty.
2. Rinse farro, quinoa and kasha under cold water and drain well.
3. Melt butter in a medium size pan, and add onion and garlic.
4. Once softened, add mushrooms, grains, 3 cups of vegetable stock (reserving one cup of broth), sage and salt. Cover and cook on low-medium for approximately 15 minutes. Stir grains and check water level. Add the additional cup of broth if most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add apples, re-cover and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Check often to ensure it doesn’t burn.
5. Once the liquid has been absorbed and the farro has softened but still has texture. Turn off heat and keep covered for another five minutes.
6. Serve with buttery sautéed apples.
1 tbsp of butter
2 large Macintosh apples, peeled and sliced
1. Melt butter in a large pan. Once melted, add apples and sauté until apples soften and are glistening.