Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Farro and Away

I like to say that the secret to a great food experience is to serve something simple that makes you look brilliant. I have a few of those go-to dishes that do just that -- fettuccini Alfredo, risotto with smoked Gouda, bananas Foster...

And now I have one more.

I don't know what made me buy farro, but I did. I had read something online about its texture and nutty flavor, so I thought I'd try it. So glad I did! I'm now addicted to farro. Seriously, if you can form an addiction to a grain, I have it. I've considered using it for burgers, risotto (why not instead of arborio?), and maybe even farro cakes.

But this is by far my favorite way to make it. And on what has turned into a rainy, cooler August day, I made it for lunch today. I didn't pay too much attention to the time it took for each ingredient, so play it by ear.

Farro Soup

2 Tbl. olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 tomato, cut into chunks
1 cup farro
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (pinto beans would work, too)
2 cups water
3 cups vegetable broth
1 handful of fresh basil, torn (about 1/3 cup)
3/4 cup frozen peas
Freshly grated Parmesan

In a larger pot, heat oil and saute shallots about 3 minutes. Add celery, saute for a few more minutes, then throw in the carrots. Brown a little (another 3 minutes), then add everything else except for the cheese.

Cook on medium heat (barely a boil) for about 20 minutes or until the farro is cooked. Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan.

Would taste fantastic with rosemary focaccia bread.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Luke, I am Your Fava

I'll admit it -- I've never tried fava beans before this past weekend. For starters, they're not exactly on the radar of any of the local grocery stores. Plus the produce places, including the farmers markets, don't carry them. So when I saw a neat recipe that included them, I decided to try a little harder.

Luckily, a newer store in my town carries them. They say they have them in three forms, though the canned variety is all I could find. I'm now eager to try them fresh.

I found this recipe in a fantastic cookbook (and a must-have for everyone, including vegetarians) -- Tasting the Wine Country by Sharon O'Connor. O'Connor has gathered recipes from some of the country's top bed and breakfast inns. The result -- culinary heaven.

If you're a meat eater.

Ah, but you're a savvy vegetarian, and you know how to adapt recipes to fit your palate, right? While there doesn't seem to be an adequate substitute for rack of lamb or filet mignon (and when recipes rely heavily on meat as the star, there's little you can do), there are just as many recipes begging to be reworked.

So I started with a recipe from the cookbook for pan-seared halibut steaks. Here's the result. I'll warn you: this one is going to take a while to make because of all the various steps. Read through it first

Seared Tofu with Ragout and Mashed Potatoes

1 block extra-firm tofu
1 piece kombu
1 small piece nori
3 Tbl. soy sauce
salt and pepper

Cut a block of tofu into four triangles (or however you like to eat it). Drain on paper towels. Meantime, put kombu and nori in a cake pan or casserole dish, add about 1/2 cup of hot water and let it set for a few minutes. Depending on how much you like kombu or nori, either remove it within five minutes or let it be in the pan as you add the tofu. Sprinkle soy sauce over top, then season tofu with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Let it sit while you put together the ragout, turning it now and then to let the juices absorb into the tofu.

Meanwhile put 4 medium-to-large white potatoes, skinned and cubed, on to boil.

1 can fava beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
1 cup peas
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup fresh basil (must be fresh or forget this recipe)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbl. butter
salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the basil in hot water for a few seconds (wilt it) and then put it into a food processor with the oil and process it smooth. Dump it into a small colander and drain out the oil, reserving it.

Boil the fava beans (even the canned ones) for about ten minutes in a small saucepan. Drain. Rinse. Set aside.

Your potatoes should be ready. Keep them in the water (to keep them hot) while you blend these ingredients together:

1/2 cup milk
2 Tbl. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat these ingredients in a small saucepan (same one you used for the fava beans is fine) until the butter melts. Turn off and leave on the burner.

Now, back to the tofu. Heat a skillet, add the drained canola oil from your basil experiment to the skillet, and fry the tofu on both sides until heated through and there's a nice crust forming. It took me about 10 minutes per side, flipping a lot, to get it to where I wanted it.

While you're waiting for browned tofu, start the ragout. In a medium pan, combine the fava beans, peas, broth, and basil puree. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add the butter. Salt and pepper to your liking. Turn off the heat.

Make your mashed potatoes, adding the blended milk mixture.

Spoon the ragout into shallow bowls. Add a plop of potato, then lay your tofu on top. You're done.

Dinner is ready.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The New-Age Veggie Burger

Summer, especially around the 4th of July, just begs for grilled food. Since meat is the food of choice in all too many back yards, vegetarians can feel a little left out. At least this vegetarian does.

In years past, I would grill corn on the cob, attempt tofu kabobs, grill tofu in foil as one might grill fish, slap a commercially made veggie burger on the grill.... you get the idea.

This year, I decided the grill would take a rest. I was beating myself up over why I couldn't find a suitable, grill-worthy dish that everyone liked (I feed meat eaters, too), and I just didn't want to mess with the charcoal.

So instead, I experimented.

I had some quinoa (keen wah) in the cupboard, and I wanted to play with combining textures and odd ingredients. I'd seen recipes that mingled zucchini with quinoa in the past, so I started there. The result: off-the-charts delicious.

Quinoa Zucchini Burgers

1 cup quinoa
3 cups vegetable broth (or more - depends on how it cooks up for you as you simmer it)
1 cup diced potatoes (I used new potatoes with skins on)
1 cup grated zucchini (I let it sit in a paper towel for a few minutes to remove some of the water)
1/4 cup shredded smoked Gouda
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I cooked mine in water for about 5 minutes)
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning or chili powder (your own preference)
1 handful basil leaves, torn or chopped
1/3 cup sunflower kernels
Fresh thyme (about a tablespoon)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly milled salt to taste
Breadcrumbs as needed (I used about 6 Tbls.)

Toss quinoa and potatoes into a saucepan with the vegetable broth. Add some pepper and salt; bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked.

In a large bowl, mix together zucchini, beans, seeds, spices, cheese, and seasonings. Depending on how moist the mixture is, add breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, until the mix can be shaped into patties and stand together.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add patties and cook on each side 5 minutes. This gets you to a point where you can store some patties for later. For the patties you'll use now, cook 5 minutes more on each side again. Look for the outside to be crisp and dark brown.