Weeknight Hero

I spent most of March really wanting a hot bowl of broccoli and cheddar soup. I have no idea why it took me five weeks to realize I could make an entire pot of it in my own kitchen. But last week I did, and even shared a bowl or two with Rich and Lilli. I wasn’t going to mention it here, as I had made up my mind to share an asparagus recipe with you because it is finally, officially springtime, and hot creamy soup seemed so unseasonal.

sugar snap peas

But then I noticed a post on Facebook from an old friend of mine, saying he was going to try and recreate Quizno’s broccoli and cheddar soup. He explained that he likes to make big pots of soups and stews and freeze them for when he and his wife both worked late. “Make some popovers or some fresh corn bread and I’m a hero.” Clearly the universe was sending me a message, and that message was to share this soup recipe with everyone so that we could all be weeknight heroes.

So I made this soup a second time over the long holiday weekend, and froze it for the next time I want this soup, whether or not it’s in season.

A few things worth mentioning: I totally Sandra Lee’d this one. Rich tells me to not be so hard on myself and that Sandra Lee would have doctored a can of stuff from the pantry, but I definitely cut a bunch of corners on this one. And you know what? I’d do it again. For instance, instead of buying a head of broccoli, I chopped up a bag of broccoli florets. I used a bag of shredded cheddar cheese instead of standing at the counter and grating a block of it. And I used a box of organic vegetable stock I keep in the pantry.

The recipe is from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss, a cookbook I know I snatched off a pile of books to review from when I worked at a Jewish paper over a decade ago. Every recipe I’ve tried has been great, and the author not only categorizes the recipes by dairy, meat, parve, and Passover appropriate, but also says whether each recipe is good to freeze or not.

So there you have it. A great soup that comes together in less than a half an hour. Have it for dinner tonight. Or have it for lunch next month. The choice is yours.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss

Ingredients

1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped (I used two large shallots)

2 Tbsp/25 mL olive oil

1 lb./500 g broccoli florets (stems optional) cut into small pieces

1 tsp./5 mL salt

¼ tsp. /1 mL black pepper

5 cups/1.25 L stock

1 cup/250 mL half-and-half (I used heavy cream)

5 Tbsp./75 mL all-purpose flour

½ lb./250 g grated cheddar cheese

Directions

Over medium-low heat, sweat the onion in olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Wilt the onion, but don’t brown it.

If you are using broccoli stems as well as florets, peel them with a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the tough, fibrous skin from the tender flesh, then chop them up.

Add the broccoli, salt, pepper and stock to the soup pot, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down so that the soup simmers on low and cook approximately 10 minutes. The broccoli should be tender but not overcooked.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half-and-half (or heavy cream) and flour. Whisk this mixture into the soup and allow to simmer another 2-3 minutes, until the soup thickens.

Stir in the cheese until it is well incorporated and serve.

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Kevin’s Grandma’s Soup

Lately, Lilli has been crawling over to her book chest – a soft cloth toy chest that I filled with books instead of toys – pulling herself up, pushing the cover aside, and taking out book after book. Sometimes we read the books, sometimes she eats them. It’s a mix, really. Watching her with her books reminds me of the books I used to love to read when I was a little girl. One in particular I was reminded of lately, and it’s because of a recipe.

Lilli and her books

Kevin’s Grandma, by Barbara Williams, sounds like a pretty cool lady. She’s been a performer in the circus – riding a unicycle on a tightrope, no less. She knows judo, and goes sky diving. She is also quite the chef, because, according to Kevin, she makes a mean peanut butter soup. But Kevin’s friend, the narrator, has a hard time believing Kevin, and doubts about the peanut butter soup most of all.

This summer I was sent The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible. It’s not a vegetarian cookbook, so I haven’t checked out every recipe. Kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, and collards are some of the greens with recipes in here. I tested the Dijon mustard greens salad with capers and eggs on Rich this summer and he really enjoyed it. (I’m not a mustard person, so it was all him, and he licked the plate clean.) But it was the African Peanut Stew that caught my eye. Just like Kevin’s grandma, I thought.

This week, when both a bunch of kale and a bag of sweet potatoes came in the CSA I thought of the recipe immediately. Turns out I had everything else already in the house, including the fresh ginger I keep in the freezer. The only slight change is that I had a hot red pepper and not a habanero chile pepper in the fridge. Like all recipes, use your best judgment with how spicy you want your dish to be.

Anible suggests serving this over rice or another grain; I cooked up a cup of barley in the pressure cooker in 20 minutes while I was cooking this on another burner. I’m not going to use the times of how long each step took, because, like with most recipes, it’s a lie. I’ve never met an onion that becomes soft and translucent in 3 minutes, and sweet potatoes and carrots take more than 10 minutes of simmering to soften, but you’ll get the idea. Rich and I each had a serving the night it was made, and I had enough for 3 more Tupperware containers for lunches for the rest of the week. Of course, just like with the apple cake, I failed at taking a photo of the stew. It was very good, though. That’s the truth.

African Peanut Stew

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion (I just used an onion and was done with it.)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 chile pepper, seeded and minced

4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth or water

1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 large carrot, peeled and diced into ½ -inch cube

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups packed chopped spinach or packed de-stemmed chopped kale

¼ cup packed and chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper

¼ cup chopped unsalted peanuts

Directions

In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chile pepper, cooking for another 30 seconds. Add the broth or water, tomatoes, carrot, sweet potato, and peanut butter. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the coriander, cayenne, spinach or kale, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes, until the spinach or kale is wilted, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over rice or another grain. Top each serving with chopped peanuts. This stew can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Cooking by the Book

There are some dishes I can just count on. I know that Aunt Bev will be serving Brussels sprouts with leeks at her Thanksgiving in a few weeks. I know my mother-in-law will be rolling out chocolate peanut butter balls for the annual Carroll Christmas party. And I know that my mother will be serving red lentil stew this Shabbat.

Let me explain this last one, because, well, it needs a little explaining: The Torah is divided into 54 portions, and every week, in synagogues around the world, we read the weekly portion, or parsha. Right now we’re in the Book of Genesis, and this week’s parsha, Toldot, tells the story of the twins Jacob and Esau. More specifically, we’ll be reading about the sneaky trade Jacob made with his brother, Esau the Hunter: a bowl of red lentil stew for Esau’s birthright. It’s a really great story, in a really terrific book of Torah, so my mom always serves a red lentil stew in honor of the portion.

(If this sort of thing interests you, definitely check out my friend Elisha’s blog where she cooks up dishes inspired by the weekly portion. Red lentil stew is just the beginning for her. Think agua fresca for last week’s parsha where some matchmaking is done by a well, or squash lattice baskets for the parsha where baby Moses is sent down the Nile. Just great stuff.)

I’ve been meaning to post a red lentil stew for this week for three years running, and to make sure it would happen in time for you to cook it for Shabbat this year, I actually took photos of this dish when I made it last winter, when Rich’s friend Brian came for Shabbat dinner. The soup was great, and aren’t those flowers that Brian brought me amazing?

This soup is a Mollie Katzen recipe, so you know it’s a good one. Although the dried fruit might sound a little odd, it’s really wonderful.

Lentil Soup with a Hint of Fruit Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

Preparation time: 45 minutes (10 minutes of work)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 cups red or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 cups water (maybe more)
2 cups minced onion
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup minced dried apricots
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
3 to 4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or, to taste)
Black pepper and cayenne to taste

OPTIONAL GARNISHES:
Extra slivers of dried apricot
A drizzle of yogurt
A sprig or two of cilantro or parsley

Directions

Place the lentils and water in a soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the onion, cumin, and mustard, and continue to simmer, covered, until the lentils are very soft (about 15 more minutes). Add small amounts of additional water, if it seems too thick.

Add the garlic, apricots, and salt, cover, and let sit for another 15 minutes or so. Stir in the vinegar, black pepper, and cayenne to taste (and correct the salt too, if necessary). At this point the soup will keep for several days.

Heat gently just before serving, and serve hot, topped with a few slivers of dried apricot, a drizzle of yogurt, and a sprig of cilantro or parsley, if desired.

 

Duly Noted

Forget Joyce’s Ulysses. More often than not, I find myself wishing for annotations on recipes I read. The offenders can be found everywhere: in cookbooks, online, in magazines…other blogs. I can’t be the only one who reads food preparation instructions with a raised eyebrow. Caramelize an onion in 15 minutes? I beg to differ.

As thrilled as I was to find a hot and sour soup recipe in a recent issue of the magazine Saveur, I was skeptical about the time it took, not to mention a seemingly out of nowhere addition of pork tenderloin. I’m a huge fan of this fiery soup and was excited to try out the recipe — with reservations.

And now, ladies and gentleman, I bring you Suan La Tang, Hot and Sour Soup, with my annotations in italics.

Suan La Tang –Hot and Sour Soup, Saveur #150 (November 2012)

For the pork:

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. brandy

1 tsp. cornstarch

4 oz. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

[The addition of this animal seems completely unnecessary and without merit. I will ignore this direction and continue on with the rest of recipe.]

For the soup:

8 cups chicken stock

[Really, does it have to be chicken stock? Maybe we can just call it stock and keep it vegetarian?]

3 tbsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. white wine vinegar

3 tbsp. corn starch

1 tsp. ground white pepper

[Um. White pepper? Is that really necessary? After checking a bunch of hot and sour soups online, it looks like an essential ingredient to the soup. Luckily, spices were 50% off at Star Market this afternoon. I will now have to find a dozen more recipes that call for white pepper, or, make this soup over and over and over.]

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. cayenne

12 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/4” cubes

[But tofu usually comes in 14 oz. packages. I’m not going to use all but 2 oz. of tofu. That just seems ridiculous.]

¼ cup cubed potato

[I peeled and cubed the potato while I waited  for the broth to thicken. There was a lot of waiting.]

6 shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, cut into 1/4 “ pieces.

[I wonder what people who don’t frequent Ocean State Job Lot do when recipes call for a random amount of shiitake mushrooms.  Even though the directions didn’t call for it, before I tackled any of the recipe, I set the mushrooms in a bowl of near-boiling water and lidded the bowl with an overturned plate. The mushrooms soaked until it was time to add them to the pot. This made them much easier to cut.]

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro, to garnish

[Eh, I’m not going to bother with the cilantro tonight.]

Directions

For the pork:

[See above. I’m just going to completely ignore this part of the recipe and hope for the best.]

For the soup:

Whisk together stock, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, pepper, salt, cayenne and ¼ cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

[I don’t own a 4-qt. saucepan, so I’m going to use the huge pot I use for making pasta. Do people typically own 4-qt. saucepans? About the boiling: It seems to take a good 14-17 minutes to bring 8 cups of stock to a boil, just an FYI.]

Add pork, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens, about 30 minutes. Add tofu, potatoes, and mushrooms, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

[As it turns out, the thickening took more like 50 minutes, rather than 30 minutes. The potatoes getting tender took closer to 25 minutes, rather than 15 minutes.]

Without stirring, slowly drizzle egg into simmering soup in a thin, steady stream. When egg strands float to surface, stir in the oil. Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

[Wow, the drizzled raw egg morphing into floating streams was almost instantaneous. So cool. I want to do it again.]

The verdict: This soup was excellent and worth sharing. With annotations. I started it at 5:30 and it was a little after 7 before we sat down to eat. Will definitely make it again, but will keep in mind for the next time that this soup takes about an hour and a half to prepare.

Le Tour de Cookie

I’m not sure when it started, but I have developed quite the sweet tooth of late. There isn’t a bakery I can walk by without popping in for a granola bar, a piece of rugelach, or an apple turnover. In fact, when Hi-Rise Bakery opened up a new location on Mass. Ave, I declared my new mission was to sample each and every baked good in their case (save the ham-filled things, of course.) I actually spent most of the winter working my way through the cookie shelf – my Tour de Cookie, as Rich put it. Just last week I raised my hands in triumph as I completed the last lap. “Did you win the chocolate chip jersey?” Rich asked. For the record, their best cookie is not the chocolate chip but the cherry oat one. (Don’t bother with the molasses.)

All this desserting led Rich to observe that I have fully become a Parr, since his family is much more about sweet than savory. This tendency starts with the matriarch, Nana Parr, who is a baker extraordinaire. When I first met Rich, he was excited to introduce me to Nana’s sugar cookies. They’re actually butter cookies, but they get their name from the sprinkling of sugar on top. They’re almost impossibly thin and crisp, not unlike a sugary Pringle. And yes, it’s impossible to eat just one. As Rich put it, they’re like crack.

Over the past seven years, I’ve probably munched on hundreds of Nana Parr sugar cookies. Last fall, at my request, Nana brought me into her kitchen sanctum and showed me how to make them. And for Mother’s Day, I tried as best I could to recreate her cookies as a present for her.

I still need a little kitchen help from Rich.

Nana introduced me to a pastry cloth, which I’d never seen before. It’s a thin, almost gauzy cloth that she layers between the dough and the rolling pin, and it’s what aids her in getting the dough almost paper-thin. Nana also tells me the cloth is ideal for rolling out pie dough. You can buy pastry cloth, which comes with a matching sock for the rolling pin (think Red Hot Chili Peppers), online at Williams Sonoma. I struck out buying it at the actual store, so I found mine at KitchenWares on Newbury Street for $6.

Nana also had a special sugar shaker, akin to a Parmesan shaker at a House of Pizza — I told you, sweet tooth — but we used a sieve for the same effect. Some of my cookies weren’t as thin as hers, and I have to admit that they do taste better thinner. Although the recipe card I have from Nana calls for baking the cookie sheets for six minutes, then a turn in the oven for another six minutes, the cookies are a much darker brown than hers. Hers actually don’t brown at all, and stay the lightest of yellows. I think the tan ones actually have a bit more body to them, but I have to be clear that that isn’t a genuine Nana Parr cookie.

Nana Parr Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter

1 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

Flour for the pastry cloth

Granulated sugar for topping

Directions

Using an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar.

Add egg and vanilla.

Stir in dry ingredients and mix well.

Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375F.

Sprinkle about a 1/3 cup of flour on the pastry cloth. Roll out the dough quite thin. Cut into shapes. Using a spatula, lay cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the cookies. Bake for 6 minutes (or 4 or 5, depending on your cookie preference and oven), turn the sheets 180 degrees, and bake for another 6 minutes. Remove the cookies from the sheets and set them on cooling racks.
Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Store in an air-tight container. I have learned from Nana that these cookies stay fresh in the refrigerator and freeze well.

Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

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.