Little Black Dress

My mother swears that the only thing I ate until the age of 12 was broccoli. Sylvie agrees, and a family friend once reminisced about my being in a high chair, too young to form full sentences, but making my points using fistfuls of broccoli. Well, Lilli is a bit like her mom in that regards. She is a broccoli fiend. It’s very cute to watch because she eats it upside down: She holds the floret in her fist and starts at the stalk. I keep on trying to explain to her that the stalk is the perfect handle, but she seems very set in her ways for now. Hey, she only learned her name about a month and a half ago. Baby steps.

Lilli and her broccoli

I’ve only served it to her roasted, which, in my humble, broccoli loving opinion, is the yummiest way to eat the vegetable. When you roast it, bits of the shrub brown and caramelize and taste almost candy-like. Sylvie was in Seattle last January, and something called blasted broccoli had become very chic in the city. That, and Macklemore. I kind of can’t believe I just wrote that there’s a hot new broccoli dish around, but I did. I poked around online and gave blasted broccoli a shot. It was good, but unnecessary. All you need is a sprinkling of kosher salt, some olive oil, and a hot, hot oven.

I mention my broccoli love well into the third year of writing this blog, because there is a farro and roasted broccoli salad that I make pretty constantly. For me, it’s a bit of a little black dress recipe: Something that’s totally reliable and always tastes good. It’s so the norm in my kitchen that I’ve never bothered to mention it, but, it’s been a weeknight staple in our house for a long time. Roasting broccoli takes about 20 minutes, which is how long it takes to cook the farro in my pressure cooker.

roasted broccoli and farro salad

When both are ready, I heat a pan with oil, add some minced garlic, break off about a tablespoon of tomato paste I keep on hand in the freezer, then add the farro and roasted broccoli and cook it all up for about five minutes. I’m not exactly sure where I came up with this method, but a few months back I was reading about the history of Israeli cous cous (extremely fascinating and worth the read) and I noticed that the tomato paste sauté is a popular way to serve the pasta in that country. I don’t remember learning that at any point, but perhaps it’s my Zionist leanings leading the inspiration.

Although I’ve read a few places online recently that you don’t have to soak your farro, I consistently do. I can’t risk having uncooked grains when we need to have dinner. I promise you, soaking grains is simple and not a big deal. Right before I go to bed, I pour a cup of farro into a bowl on my counter top, cover it with water, and walk away. That’s pretty much my go-to with all the grains and beans in my pantry. Except for lentils; those I know for certain don’t need any soaking. At some point, I’ll share a killer lentil soup recipe. Good freezer recipe, I might add. Speaking of freezers, farro, like most grains, freezes beautifully. I wouldn’t freeze this salad, but if you have extra farro in your fridge and worry you might not get to it, just pop it in the freezer. It defrosts like a dream.

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad

1 bunch roasted broccoli

Pinch of kosher salt

About a Tablespoon and a half of olive oil

1 cup dry farro

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Directions

Soak your farro the night before. See note above for more of an explanation why I insist on doing so.

Preheat oven to 400F.

When ready to cook, add the farro to your pressure cooker. Cover with water. I tend to add water until it’s a half an inch past the grain.– I always add a bit more water to the cooker than I might need to. I’d rather drain off water than scorch my pot. The farro will cook in 20 minutes once pressurized.

While the farro is roasting, clean your broccoli by giving it a good rinse, trimming the green leaves off the stalk, and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. I use my stalks too; just trim off the woody parts and it’ll be fine.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. I do this first, a. because my hands are about to get oily because of the broccoli toss and b. so I don’t have to give the pan a good scrubbing in my kitchen clean up.

In a large bowl toss the broccoli with the kosher salt and enough olive oil to coat. Dump the broccoli onto the foil-covered baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the broccoli roasts and the farro is cooking, mince up two garlic cloves.

When both are done cooking, and you’ve drained your farro in a colander in the sink, heat up a skillet with enough olive oil to coat the pan, and add the garlic and tomato paste. Because I always use frozen tomato paste, it really becomes a matter of melting the paste into the garlic and oil. Once the tomato paste has coated the garlic, add the farro and broccoli. The farro will turn an orangey hue. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Heat everything together so that it combines. This should take about five minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Last week I decided to add a little chile pepper to the tomato paste step. Good stuff if you have it on hand, but not necessary.

It’s About Time

As longtime readers of this blog could probably tell, my pressure cooker is my indispensable kitchen tool. There is no way I could write this blog, work 40 hours a week, spend any real time with Lilli and write my weekly Four Questions without it. I was a fan before having a baby, and now I’m even more of an evangelist.

Lilli and the literature

I felt I had to tone down my pressure cooker propaganda after two idiot brothers filled a pair of them up with ball bearings and explosives and used them to terrorize the finish line of the Boston Marathon this past April. I wasn’t alone; Williams Sonoma stores in Boston pulled the pots from their shelves in the aftermath of the attacks. But it’s been 5 months now. We’ve had concerts and benefits, and things have mostly returned to normal. It’s time to get back on the pressure cooker band wagon.

Take this wheat berries, chard and pomegranate molasses recipe from Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottlenghi’s Jerusalem.  In fact, that’s actually what I’m cooking in the photo from that Globe article about said cookbook. What you cannot see, including Lilli’s Exersaucer as she is my kitchen pal, is that I made the recipe in my pressure cooker. As the recipe is written in the cookbook, you need to cook the dish for 60 to 70 minutes. A Sunday afternoon recipe, as I would say. But, if you have a pressure cooker, the recipe will take you 20 minutes. And there you have it: Like magic, a quick weeknight meal.

There is one thing I would change within this phenomenal dish: Soak the wheat berries overnight. I’m not sure why the authors don’t instruct you to, but you really need to soak wheat berries. I clean my chard by soaking the leaves (and stems) in a large bowl of cold water on the counter as I assemble the rest of my ingredients. If your chard is very dirty, remove the leaves from the bowl of water, then tip the gritty water into the sink, give the bowl a good rinse, and repeat the cold water soak. You can do this second soak while you prep your leeks.

wheatberries and chard

Lilli gets very upset when I release the pressure cooker’s valve, so I have to wait until she’s out of the room to do that step. And, unfortunately, I’ve been having some trouble lately with the sealing ring – turns out they break after constant use over a six-year period. So of course, the pot depressurized too soon when the Globe photographer was here and I ended up sending him home with, um, extremely chewy wheat berries. The dish was still delicious; just too chewy.

On Sunday we brought some friends who just had a baby some lasagnas, a Caesar salad and a plum torte. We sat and visited while she nursed and were entertained by her older children. We talked about getting food on the table at a reasonable hour, after school and playdate pick-ups. ”Pressure cooker, pressure cooker, pressure cooker,” I told her. “It will change your life.” Risotto in seven minutes. Soup in six. Dried beans cooked in under 15. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if I didn’t own a pressure cooker. I wouldn’t have the time to write it if I didn’t.

But just in case you don’t own a pressure cooker and want to make this dish, I’m including the original instructions as well as my own variation on the recipe.

Wheat berries & Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses from Jerusalem

1 1/3 lb/600 g Swiss chard or rainbow chard

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

2 large leeks, white and pale green parts, thinly sliced (3 cups/350 g in total)

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

About 3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Scant 1 ¼ cups/200 g hulled or unhulled wheat berries

2 cups/500 ml stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Greek yogurt, to serve

Directions

The night before you make this recipe, soak your wheat berries in a bowl of water on the counter.

Separate the chard’s stalks from the green leaves using a small, sharp knife. Slice the stalks into 3/8-inch/1cm slices and the leaves into ¾-inch/2 cm slices.

Heat the oil and butter in the bottom of your pressure cooker, or, a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chard stalks and cook for 3 minutes, then add the leaves and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the sugar, 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, and the wheat berries and mix well. Add the stock, ¾ teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Close the lid on the pressure cooker. When it pressurizes, cook for 20 minutes, then release the valve. Alternately, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook over low heat, covered, for 60 to 70 minutes.

The wheat should be al dente at this point.

Remove the lid and, if needed, increase the heat and allow any remaining liquid to evaporate. The base of the pan should be dry and have a bit of burnt caramel on it. Remove from the heat.

Before serving, taste and add more molasses, salt and pepper if needed; you want it sharp and sweet, so don’t be shy with your molasses. Serve warm, with a  dollop of Greek yogurt.

Put a Ring on It

About six months ago, my left ring finger started to itch and sting. I removed my wedding ring for a few days and applied Cortisone, but as soon as I put the ring back on, the itching returned. I switched the ring to my right ring finger, but the same symptoms appeared a few days later. After talking to friends and poking around on the internet, I realized that at some point I had developed a nickel allergy. Nickel, I recently learned, is mixed with gold to make the white gold my engagement ring and wedding band are made of. As I write this post, my hands are jewelry-free. At some point I’ll probably go to the jeweler and pick up a plain platinum band so there’s some sort of marriage marker, but I’m not interested in buying a new engagement ring.

We’ll be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary in June, and in the six years I’ve owned my engagement ring, I’ve received piles of compliments on it on a near-weekly basis. It’s not your typical metal band with a stone in the center, but an original creation based on an Edwardian design. It’s a band full of filigree, diamonds and lots of character. And they’re Canadian conflict-free diamonds, which was key for me. When Rich found the ring, he knew right away it was the right one. (Of course he knew, I had given him explicit instructions and design ideas for what I wanted.) He brought me to the jeweler to take a look, and I took it out for a test-drive. We brought it back, and then, because I’m me and like to make sure everything is just as it should be, we then went to 11 jewelers the next day. Just to make sure. Rich was not happy.

When we’d decided on my ring, we asked the designer, Ana-Katarina, if we could maybe replace the center diamond with a higher grade. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “You’re getting married. You need to save your money so that you can buy a home and have children. Don’t spend any more money than you have to on a piece of jewelry.” That summer was a hot one, and the store had a special discount depending on the temperature. When the thermometer hit 102, Rich made his move.

My sister and her wife loved my ring so much, that they also went to Ana-Katarina when they decided to get engaged. Their rings are both incredibly unique and inspire oohs and aahs wherever they go. I met someone last year and complemented her on her ring. It was also by Ana-Katarina.

I’ve been trying to make the best of the situation, making dishes that would have required me to remove my rings, like last week’s granola bars, these chickpea patties or this cabbage salad that required an even distribution of the dressing with a few down-and-dirty hand tosses.


I found this recipe earlier this week in “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s column in The New York Times, and you know how much I love her stuff. I’ve changed things up a bit, and employed my friend Tania’s baked tofu method in lieu of the one Clark suggests. I’ve also replaced the brown rice the salad rests on with wheat berries I soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker.

March is one of those in-between months when it comes to vegetables: You’ve become a little sick of winter’s root vegetables, but asparagus and artichokes are still a few weeks away. Sometimes there are some nice, sweet parsnips that the farmer has picked, but there’s always cabbage. As Clark points out, one head of cabbage can make at least three separate dishes. I used a third of the cabbage I had in the fridge for this dish, and it fed three of us with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope to use the rest of the vegetable for a warm borscht I’ve been plotting; more on that later.

Ironically, my nose ring is made of titanium, so, for the time being, that’s the one piece of jewelry that’s a constant in my life. And, I guess if this was India or certain African countries, it would be quite evident from that piercing that I am, indeed, happily married.

(Editor’s Note: Because there have been several off-line requests for a photo, I’ve “borrowed” this from one of AK’s albums. I’m a little worried I’m breaking some sort of copyright law by using this photo, so if anyone thinks this might end in a lawsuit, please feel free to chime in.)

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Baked Tofu

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced (note: I had a red Thai chili and used half. I think any hot pepper will work in this recipe)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 large carrot, grated

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.

Pat the block of tofu dry using a paper towel. Slice the slab into thirds, and then slice those into thirds. Using your hands, gently toss the slices in a large bowl with a few glugs of olive oil. Place the tofu pieces on an oiled baking sheet and place in the hot oven. At 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Using a silicone spatula, test one piece by flipping it over. You’re looking for a nice crust; it should be golden and beginning to caramelize. If it’s not there, place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip over a piece. If it’s golden, flip the rest of the pieces and put the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes. You’re looking for the tofu to be a deep golden and the pieces will be spongy, with just a hint of crispness. Trust me, the texture has an amazing mouth feel and you’ll want to pop pieces of this all night long.

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients, then gradually whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.

Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Things I should not do with my injured back but have anyways: 1. Run for the bus. 2. Pick things up off the floor. 3. Use heavy pots.

But there were all good reasons why I had to:

1. Running for the bus. I was actually feeling much better by Tuesday afternoon; I credit the acupuncture. I was on my way back from the hospital, where I’d gone to pick up the film of my MRI so I could show it to the surgeon on Thursday. The trip back from the hospital involves two buses, and if my timing was right, I could smoothly make the second transfer. The bus’s timing was impeccable, but I’m a little slow-footed these days, so I had to run, screaming for them to hold the bus. They did, I got on, and then my back started screaming back at me.

At this point, you’re probably asking why didn’t I just look up when the next bus was coming on my smartphone? Well, that would be because I am one of the last 30-somethings who does not have a smartphone. I have a flip phone, and I text the old-fashioned way, which my friend Brian (another hold-out) likens to using a manual typewriter or a telegraph. On the plus side, my lack of a smartphone is the only thing standing between me and a crippling Words With Friends addiction. But I digress.

2. Picking things up off the floor — if by “things” I mean an afternoon snack that fell off my desk. Sure, I have a cloth napkin, real fork, spoon and a bowl in my desk, but none of that helps me if I’m eating popcorn. Things fall. And there is no way I should leave them for Rosa, who comes in the evening to empty the garbage and clean the bathrooms, to clean up my mess.

3. The heavy pots. Well, I had to eat! Yes, I know that Rich is a wonderful cook; his soup was excellent. But left to his own devices, his offerings differ a great deal from mine. Saturday he made a rotisserie chicken. (Yes, we have rotisserie. What, you’re telling me you don’t? Story for another time.) Sunday he made a pot roast. By Monday, I felt I needed something to balance out all the animal leftovers in the fridge. And so, in keeping with my failure to stay out of the kitchen when ill, I trudged into the kitchen and heaved my heavy pots onto the stove. Oof.

I had been eyeing a recipe in Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and Monday seemed like the perfect night to boil some kale. Yes, you heard me. Boiled kale. And let me tell you, we are boiled kale converts. I want to grow old with boiled kale, and definitely with the soggy bread that comes underneath it.

Rodgers actually gives four different ways to eat the boiled kale, but I’ll just be sharing the way I did it. After the kale was boiled – I used stock instead of water for a flavor boost, and left out the chili pepper because of the reflux – I poached eggs on top. Then, I spooned out our servings onto thick crusty slices of bread I’d laid out in shallow bowls. The result was not unlike Zuni’s panade recipe, but much healthier and faster to make.

We actually then both supplemented our bowls of magic with additional protein: Rich put some thinly sliced pot roast on top of his, while I added some chickpeas I’d cooked up in the pressure cooker last week and stuck in the fridge, just in case. Thanks to my pressure cooker, I was able to boil my kale in a quick 6 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker (and you really should, ahem) it’ll take about a half hour, but it’s well worth it.

Boiled Kale with Poached Eggs adapted, ever slow slightly, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Ingredients

For about 4 cups:

Generous 8 ounces kale (I just used a plain old bunch of kale, and didn’t bother measuring it)

1 ½ cups diced yellow onions (6 ounces)

5 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

A pinch of red pepper flakes or a small dried chili (optional)

2 garlic cloves, slivered (optional but very delicious)

3 to 4 cups stock

Directions

Trim the kale of any discolored or damaged leaves.( I, personally, wash each leaf separately through cold running water.) Rodgers suggests washing the leaves in several baths of cold water. Once washed, place each leaf, one at a time, on a cutting board, and cut away the thick, woody stem that leads up to the leafy greens. Discard/compost. Once the ribs have been removed, stack the leaves and roll up a few leaves at a time, then slice 1/8 inch thick.

Place the onions and oil in a 4-quart saucepan and set over low to medium heat. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the onions are translucent, but still firm, about 4 minutes. Add the optional chili and garlic and the kale, and stir as it wilts into a heavy mass, about five minutes. Add stock and cover by ½ inch and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the kale is tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes; add stock if necessary to keep kale just submerged.

Transfer the boiled kale and its liquid to a wide sauté pan and bring to a simmer. Crack 1 egg per person into the pan, taking care to space them an inch or so apart. (OK, I actually crack my eggs into ramekins to check for bloodspots, and then pour the eggs into the pan.) Drizzle the eggs with extra-virgin olive oil, cover, and cook at a bare simmer until done to your liking. Spoon each ragged egg, with plenty of extra kale and broth, onto a piece of toasted thick, crusty, chewy, peasant-style bread that you will have laid in a bowl (Feel free to rub your pieces of toast with a freshly cut garlic clove half.) Serve with a knife, fork and spoon.

Cough, Cough

Five years ago, right around this time, I started coughing. I coughed in the morning, I coughed in the afternoon, I coughed in the evening, and when I put my head down at the end of the day, I coughed even more. Nothing seemed to help; in fact, lozenges, hot tea, and sips of water only seemed to aggravate it. Some doctors thought I had asthma and began treating me with steroids. Others suspected it was a nervous cough that would go away once I got married that June. But after our wedding day, while we were on the cruise ship for our honeymoon, the coughing seemed to be even worse.

In August of that year, after enjoying a rich meal at the French restaurant Sel De La Terre during Restaurant Week, my cough was worse than usual. “You know,” Rich began, “I don’t think you have asthma. I think eating is making you sick.” And he was right. It turned out I had severe acid reflux – Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease or GERD, to be more precise. Basically, the coughing was me choking on stomach acid. I know, gross.

Having figured out what was wrong meant I could start treatment and get better, but we soon discovered just how sick I was. Nearly everything I ate ended with me coughing. And I started to cut back on foods that made me sick, which, as it turned out, was pretty much everything I put in my mouth. Sure, there are certain trigger foods – chocolate, citrus, mint, spicy foods, alcohol, pickled things, caffeine and fat — but most fruits, and even many vegetables, were making me cough.

I settled into a diet of plain rice, grilled fish or grilled chicken, sashimi, rice cakes with a shmear of jam, pretzels, and because they were fat-free, jelly beans and black licorice. I saw a nutritionist who recommended quinoa and amaranth, grains that would keep me healthy and wouldn’t irritate my stomach. But overall, my diminished options led to me losing a lot of weight. On June 24, 2007, my wedding gown was a size 10. By January 2008, I was a size 4. I was thin, but I was absolutely miserable.

Slowly, I began adding foods back into my diet and gained back some weight. But by February 2009, the coughing came back and was even worse than before. I went back to my horrible diet, and again lost a ton of weight. Things seemed to have found a proper balance for the next two years, but by August 2011, I was coughing again. I ignored it as best I could, but my coughing was once again being disruptive.

I finally saw my ear nose and throat doctor on Thursday afternoon who informed me my throat was as irritated as it was the first time she met me in 2007. “I know what to do,” I sighed. “But I really don’t want to. I have a food blog. What’s the point of a food blog if I can’t eat food?” My plan was to keep on cooking food and to pretend I wasn’t sick. But since this is going to impact what I’m able to eat (and cook), I’ve decided to come clean.

Hi, I’m Molly Parr, and I have acid reflux so bad, that there are times in my life I can’t eat. I don’t want to stop eating through this newest course of treatment, so you’re coming on the journey with me. I might offer a recipe with notes suggesting how a dash of Aleppo or Srichacha can kick things up a notch, but I will most likely ignore my own advice.

I told my doctor how the winter time, with all its low-acid roots, would make things less difficult this time. But then I remembered all the nice citrus that brightens cold January mornings and I started to get whiny.

It will definitely be a fine line at times. A mellow garlic in a soup will probably not irritate me as much as a garlicky dressing brightening up a raw kale salad would. There will be more grains this year, harkening back to the nutritionist’s advice of an ancient grain diet. This past weekend I made a dish of a parboiled onion, chickpeas and boiled turnips and carrots which was all tossed together with some low-fat Greek yogurt. I ended up having to pick out all the onions because they were too pungent for me. This isn’t going to be easy, I know that for certain, but it will be an adventure. I entertained while I was sick and plan on continuing to do so. I think there will be more braises and stews in my future, which is just fine for January.

This recipe from Cook This Now, the newest cookbook by Melissa Clark (she of the stuffed pumpkin fame), is the perfect example of a dish that can be altered to combat reflux. One can skip the minced raw garlic step as well as ignore the suggestion of sprinkling Aleppo when serving. We decided to throw caution to the wind tonight and added the minced garlic: the result was extraordinary. We had a slew of Parmesan rinds in the fridge which we added to our pot, but if you skip the cheese, this dish is vegan.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro

Ingredients

1 pound dried cannellini beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together

1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)

2 rosemary sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you like

2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 cup faro, rinsed (We used wheat berries which I first soaked and then cooked for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker)

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and/or Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.

A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. (If it’s too liquidy, ladle the extra out and discard.)

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.

Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves

When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it (you can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy). Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty).

Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving, unless you have reflux.

  • You can really substitute any dried bean you like for the cannellini beans. This basic bean recipe will work with any of them, though cooking times will vary.
  • Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks more quickly than whole farro – 20 minutes instead of an hour.  If you can’t find farro, you can substitute wheat berries.
  • To add some color and turn this into more of a whole meal, add a bunch or package of spinach, or a small bunch of kale (torn into pieces). Simmer until the greens wilt before serving.

Milk and Honey

Last week I went outside to Rich who was busy working on his bicycle. “Honey, right now I’m cooking some wheat berries in the pressure cooker. They should be done in about 15 minutes.” “Um, OK…” Rich responded. I could hear the skepticism in his voice.

“But I’ve realized that the dish I had in mind would instead be a perfect dish for Shavuot,” “Jewish Pentecost?” he asked, making sure he was thinking of the right holiday.  “Yup!” I said. “So tonight, we’re having macaroni and cheese,” then I paused, “from a box!” (There weren’t a lot of kosher mac and cheese options growing up, so it’s a totally foreign dish to me.) “Yippee!” Rich replied with a genuine enthusiasm for a true dish of his childhood.

Let me unpack this a little, starting with the wheat berries. A few months back, I went a little wild in the bulk bin aisle. I had come across some new recipes, and was so excited by them that I filled up my sack with all sorts of goodies. Along with wheat berries, I now have containers of mung beans, Kamut and other grains lining the shelves of my pantry.

But excited as I was with my bounty, I quickly remembered that I wasn’t going to be the only one enjoying the new dishes. Rich, of course, would be dining with me, and as willing as he is to try something new, quite often something completely foreign to him, I realize that sometimes I’m asking a lot of him. I took a good look at the small, round green mung beans and asked myself, Am I really going to feed my husband mung beans?

You see, Rich comes from a world of meat and potatoes, with a strong dose of dessert (cake and ice cream, not fruit). I, as you can probably gather from the blog, was brought up kosher and with a vegetarian streak. Our childhood palates are only the least of our different beginnings. When I first met Rich, I could have never imagined him ever being my husband. And how could I? He was raised in a very traditional Catholic household – an altar boy until 18, no less.  And I was raised in an equally if not more traditional Jewish household, with years of Jewish day school and a degree from Jewish seminary to boot.

So when we first got together, I asked myself the same question that I did looking at those mung beans: Is this really going to work?  And it’s been challenging at times, but my husband has proven to be a very capable student of Judaism. And he’s taught me about Christianity, especially where the New Testament has borrowed from the Old. More importantly, being in a relationship with Rich has taught me tolerance and acceptance of the unknown.

Next up: Shavuot. It’s the day the Jewish people celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We actually count down the days from the second day of Passover, when the Children of Israel left Egypt, to their arrival at Mt. Sinai — in total, a seven-week journey. As Rich put it after I explained it to him: “So that’s where we got Pentecost from.”

Shavuot is also one of the three harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. There are more customs than laws for this holiday. Some observant Jews mark the occasion by staying up all night studying Torah. Reading the Book of Ruth, the story of the righteous convert which takes place during the barley harvest, is another popular tradition.

Jews eat dairy on the holiday. There are many explanations to this one, but most focus on the Children of Israel receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And with the Torah, they also received the kosher laws and discovered that their pots and pans, and even their meat itself, would not pass muster.  Eating dairy, even today, is considered the easiest way to circumvent these issues.

This recipe is all of three ingredients, but each one touches on a Shavuot tradition. The Ricotta cheese is straight-up dairy, and the wheat berries pick up on the harvest theme. Finally, the whole thing is mixed with honey – as in “the land of milk and.” But most importantly, it’s an accessible dish for my husband, who’s still impressing me with his openness to my religion and cuisine.

Wheat Berries with Ricotta and Honey from The Italian Country Table by Lynn Rossetto Casper

This dish has its origins in southern Italy, where it is eaten for lunch, dinner or a snack. In the United States, it’s viewed as more appropriate for brunch or dessert. I cook my wheat berries for 18 minutes in the pressure cooker.

Ingredients

1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)

Water

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups high-quality creamy ricotta

Honey to taste

½ cup currants or raisins

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)

  1. Soak the wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator
  2. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. The kernels will open up slightly.
  3. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste and the currants or raisins. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.