Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Fresh Herbs

Like your favorite college sweatshirt, this Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Fresh Herbs is comfy, trusty, and familiar—as if you've known it for years. Embark on the recipe and you'll be swooning at first bite, a budding courtship that will blossom quickly into a dependable old pal. This recipe is a shoo-in for your regular summer salad rotation, so you're sure to remain well acquainted.

Can a salad be described as easygoing? This one-pot farro bowl is a pleasurable cinch.  It's effortless to make, store, transport, and keep. The ancillary ingredients are common enough to appeal to any crowd—who can't resist briny olives, juicy tomatoes, and fresh parsley/basil in a slug of tangy vinegar and slick olive oil?—yet just different enough to incite intrigued pause. I know, you were expecting feta after hearing olives and tomatoes, but how refreshing are those soft, tender cubes of mozzarella instead? Did you notice that instead of depending on the dressing to brighten the earthy crunch of farro, the grain is delicately encased in it's own thick, caramelized broth, thanks to cooking along side fresh parsley, garlic and onion in stock-like fashion?

Easygoing yet intriguing, the definition of a winning crowd-pleaser. This salad screams "summer picnic" all over it, and it delivers exceptionally.

How familiar are you with farro? Let's switch gears to talk about this wholesome grain. As I recently learned from the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project, a Grow NYC-backed endeavor to encourage consumers to buy locally milled and grown grains & legumes, farro is not a single entity. Rather, it is the blanket term for a family of three grains: farro piccolo (einkorn), farro medio (emmer) and farro grande (spelt). Emmer, the kind most often found in the US, is available in two forms: whole, with a hardened texture similar to popcorn kernels, and softer pearled, resembling the look of barley. Whole farro takes longer to cook—you're looking at 60-75 minutes of simmering unless soaked in advance overnight. Pearled farro has had some of it's bran removed (the seed's outer skin) and thus cooks closer to 15-20 minutes. Does it matter which variety you buy? Not really. Losing some bran in the pearled variety does eliminate a bit of fiber, but the good stuff— "the disease-preventing, metabolism-boosting, blood-sugar-stabilizing, cholesterol-lowering antioxidants, fibers, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and the like", according to Serious Eats Guide to Whole Grains—is found in the germ, which maintains intact for both varietals.

Given that this recipe is a Northeast locavore's dream—tomatoes, red onion, zucchini, parsley and basil are all in season at the farmers markets—why not go local for your grains, too? "The new frontier in local food," says the Regional Grains Project. In a season where vegetable-speckled, oil and vinegar based salads reign supreme, the timing sure is right.

Summer Farro Salad with Cubed Mozzarella, Tomato & Herbs
(from Food52)
Serves 8 to 12

For the salad
2 cups uncooked farro 
1 medium red onion, cut in half 
1 clove garlic 
handful of fresh parsley plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped 
1/2 tsp salt, plus more if needed 
1 cup finely diced (about 1/4 "cubes) fresh mozzarella cheese 
2 tsp minced pitted kalamata olives 
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into quarters 
1 zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced (optional)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil 
Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

For the dressing
Scant 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (can use less, I used 1/8 cup)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar 
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar 
2 tsp honey 

1. Add the farro, one onion half, garlic, handful of parsley and salt along with 2 3/4 cups water to a 2 quart pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes*. Turn off burner and let sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Discard the onion, garlic and large pieces of parsley. Spread out on a rimmed sheet pan and let cool completely (do not skip this step or the mozzarella will melt into the finished dish). 
2. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegars and honey to prepare the dressing. Chop the remaining onion half finely. Add onion, cooled farro, mozzarella, kalamata olives, tomatoes, zucchini, remaining tablespoon of parsley and basil to a deep bowl. Pour the dressing over the ingredients and stir well to combine, using a long wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Season with salt and pepper. The salad is ready to serve, but can also be made and stored in the fridge, covered, one day ahead.

*This is the cooking time for pearled farro. Whole farro will take anywhere from 40 to 75 minutes to cook. Monitor and taste frequently to determine when the grain is ready—it should be easy to bite yet slightly firm, like al dente pasta. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Spicy Peanut Dressing

Don’t cook. Here’s why.

Last weekend I saw the first batch of local summer squash (shout out to New Jerz and your slightly warmer climate) oblong, squat, or slender in a rainbow of buttercup yellow and sage green; sugar snap peas, shelling peas, fava beans; tomatoes large and small. The bounty will continue to amass, accruing peppers, stone fruits, and cucumbers, begetting infinite possibilities in the kitchen. But for me, the time has never been riper to not cook.

By not cook, I mean not heat; rather, enjoy these fruits and vegetables in their raw form. Just yesterday I purchased my first local strawberries and was blown away by how juicy, sweet, and intensely flavorful the pint-sized locals compared to the genetically-altered Driscoll giants. We all know that less food miles equals a fresher foodstuff, rendering it unequivocally superior in taste as well. But in the colder months, when the only options are supermarket produce hailing from other continents, it can be easy to forget just how monumental the flavor gap is. I grew used to my Trader Joe’s sugar snap peas, until they once again became available to me locally. The difference is night and day.

What I ask is simple: take a moment to delight in the vim and vigor of local produce. Even if it’s just cutting a slice of zucchini before it goes into the pan for stir-fry, experience what that difference tastes like.

This Spicy Peanut Dressing is a versatile condiment to relish all vegetables in their uncooked glory. It can live as a summer crudité dipping sauce, a chopped leafy green salad dressing, or the flavor mainstay of cold sesame noodles/zucchini noodles. It is sweet and nutty, spicy and vinegary, and overall, utterly drinkable (spotted: husband consuming sauce by the spoonful out of the jar. I’m only guilty of petty misdemeanor plate-licking). On these 90+ degree days, where the thought of turning on a stovetop burner feels like it might be the final straw to literally melt you into a puddle, pull out this dressing. (It keeps for weeks in the fridge, tripling the recipe is highly recommended). Pair with any variety of cool, crisp vegetables. Rinse, repeat, all throughout summer. 

A few ideas for ingredient combinations (just add protein):
  • Lacinato kale, mint, cucumber, pomegranate seeds
  • Soba noodles, cabbage, carrot , mango, sesame seeds
  • Rice wrappers, cucumber, jicama, bell pepper, scallions
  • Lettuce cups, sweet potato, radish, cilantro 

Spicy Peanut Dressing (from Food52)
Makes 3/4 of a cup; dressing for 4

3 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter
3 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses or honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

Mix together all ingredients by hand or in a blender.