Friday, February 17, 2012

Kale and Farro in One Dish - and You'll Love It!

Two of my favorite foods, that are not two of my family's favorite foods, are kale and farro. They do not actively despise either, but neither gets them excited, particularly kale. Kale is usually something that I blend into a dish, often with a little spinach, rather than feature. This dish, however, is one that my kale challenged family can really get behind.

I've been making this for some time, probably since I first purchased Olives & Oranges, a terrific cookbook by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Sara Jenkins is a chef in NY and the daughter of well known food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Sara grew up all over the Mediterranean and absorbed the food culture highlighting simple preparations using fresh ingredients. Her recipes are not fussy and chef-y, but rather, homey and comforting with a simple elegance. In fact, in an article in the Atlantic, she bemoans how many people, "foodies" in particular, equate restaurant food with the best food. She asserts that in an effort to make their food taste "exquisite," many chefs overuse butter, salt and stock. She admits that in her restaurant, she does this too, but then says "as proud as I am of the food I put out professionally, I know the best food of mine you can ever eat is what I serve you at my home table."

This recipe is most definitely home cooking. Apart from sourcing farro which I now find in most stores, there is nothing remotely exotic about this recipe. Put a fried or poached egg on top and serve with some fabulous bread and you will have a delicious dinner that is both easy to prepare and filled with healthy vegetables and whole grains. And, please don't leave off the egg. Once you cut into the yolk, the creamy golden goodness oozes out into the soup and makes a richer, and more flavorful sauce to sop up.

Just make sure you buy semi pearled or in Italian, demi-perlato so that the cook time is correct. I've written about farro quite a bit over the years, but anyone new to this blog, check out my first farro post if you'd like some background.

This recipe is so straightforward and elegantly simple as written, that there is little I do to change it. I'm giving it to you as written, with the permission of the publisher. One little change I make is that I rarely put the vegetables into the food processor. I almost always just dice more finely than coarsely and use them as is. Saves a step and saves on clean up.

In the headnote, the authors suggest that a Tuscan farmwife might add a little prosciutto to the onion mix or a a little diced potato in with the farro. I do neither (without the prosciutto this is a vegetarian dish) but I have been known to add some already cooked (or canned, drained and rinsed) cannellini beans to the dish.

Farro and Kale Soup
Recipe excerpted from OLIVES AND ORANGES, (c) 2008 by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

(The authors say this makes 8 servings. In my experience, this might serve 8 as a starter but more like 4 -5 as a hearty dinner)

1 leek, white and light green parts only

2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Medium coarse sea salt

6 cups water

2 teaspoons tomato paste, preferable double concentrate (look for the kind in the tube)

1 1/2 cups farro

3 bunches lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped into 1/2 inch wide strips (my note: this is also called Tuscan kale. When I buy this in the supermarket the bunches are so huge that I only use 1 or 2! Also, stemmed just means to cut out the stems.)

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving

Coarsely ground black pepper

-Cut leek lengthwise in half and rinse well; coarsely chop. Pulse leek, celery, carrot, onion, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.

-Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and a generous pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup water and tomato paste, and stir to dissolve paste. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has almost evaporated, about 20 minutes.

-Add remaining 5 cups water, farro, and kale, and bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until faro and kale are tender and flavors have blended, 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

-Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a little grated cheese, and a sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mardi Maigre?

For some of us, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is not what we really need, healthwise. That's why I came up with my slightly healthier version of a New Orleans favorite, Jambalaya. I'm turning Mardi Gras into Mardi Maigre. This version cuts back on the fat, uses brown rice and tastes quite as good as the authentic version. It's even been vetted by a New Orleans native with whom I correspond on food52 and was recently declared a Wildcard winner by the powers that be at food52!

Here's the link to my post last year this time for Jambalaya-ish, and here is the link to that same recipe, with comments and Wildcard winner banner, on food52.

For those of you not as fortunate as my sister-in-law and son who will be in New Orleans to partake in some local cooking, give this one a try! Laissez les bons temps rouler!