One ancient grain that is making a new impression in today’s modern diet is farro. I discovered it a few years ago by accident when I bought it instead of fregola. My lapse in memory steered me off course, because farro is a wheat and fregola is a pasta made with semolina flour. These items don’t belong in the same aisle at the grocery store. Fortunately, this mistake was well worth making and I have cooked farro ever since.
Farro is a whole grain with an ancient pedigree. This grain was a staple wheat that fed ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean and Middle East. According to The Spruce, farro might be the mother wheat from which all wheat comes from. Honestly, I am more confused now than before I stared researching farro. Apparently, some confusion exists about the name or I should say, names. I don’t know if it is made by combining three wheat varieties – einkorn, emmer and spelt. Or, identified as either of the three wheat varieties. Or, all of the above. After reading the two previously linked articles and this one from NPR, I think it is all of the above.
Ultimately, what is important to know is the variety of farro. The variety determines how you must prepare your farro and how long to cook it. The three varieties are, whole, semi-pearled, and pearled. Whole grain farro has the whole grain intact and needs overnight soaking before cooking. The semi-pearled and pearled varieties have the bran partially or completely removed. Without the bran, farro cooks faster and does not need soaking. My grocery store only carries pearled farro, so I do not have experience cooking with the other varieties. Because of the different varieties I recommend reading the label and directions carefully. This way you know what type of farro you have and how long to cook it.
Despite the varieties and confusion, farro is a delicious grain and worth making. I like its nutty flavor and chewy texture. The complexity of flavor adds more depth and is a nice substitute for rice or potatoes. Usually, I make it for a side dish with roasted meats. This way, while the meat roasts, it is easy to focus my attention on making the farro.
Pair farro with Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs
Honey Mustard Spatchcock Chicken (without the roasted veggies)
Cooking with Farro
For this recipe I craved something with the creaminess of a risotto, but not as rich and requiring less effort. Mushrooms add smooth and silky texture to grains and are in season now. They make the grains taste creamy without adding dairy. There is a pound of mushrooms sautéed with two types of onions in this meal for a super luxurious feel and earthy flavor. I combined cremini mushrooms and button mushrooms, yet any mushroom combination will work.
Additionally, I added some dried porcini mushroom powder for extra depth. This is optional, but is an economical and effective way to add wild mushroom flavor. If only white button mushrooms are available, I recommend adding the dried mushroom powder to boost the mushroom flavor. To make it, grind dried mushrooms in a spice grinder until it turns into a fine powder. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid in your pantry. Just a small amount of the dried mushroom powder adds a lot of body to any meal.
Whenever I cook with grains, I like to make them easily adaptable into a vegetarian or vegan main dish. By itself, farro with mushrooms and rosemary is not a complete protein source. With the added cashews, this is a nutritionally dense side dish. Add cannellini beans or lentils, and this transforms into a protein packed plant-based meal. Grains and legumes are complimentary proteins, so when combined in one meal all the amino acids are available. Because semi-pearled or pearled farro has some or all the bran removed, these types of grains do not make a complete protein when combined with legumes. Yet, it is a great vegan option.
How to Cook Farro
Instead of following the directions on the back label of my farro, I followed the recommendation from Joshua McFadden in his Six Seasons Cookbook. First, I toasted the farro in a large skillet with smashed garlic and red pepper flakes. Once toasted, I added water and a bay leaf, covered the pan and let it simmer until done. I like making rice like this too. Toasting grains in a skillet brings out the nuttiness in the grain and the fragrance is delightful. It cooks faster too. Unfortunately, toasting farro and sautéing the mushrooms requires the use of two large skillets. If you only have one skillet, use a 4 or 5-quart Dutch Oven for the mushrooms, and a 10-inch skillet for the farro. Sautéing vegetables and toasting grains requires a wide surface area to prevent the food from steaming.
With the sautéed mushrooms and onions an ancient grain comes to life with rich flavors. I got the desired creaminess of risotto without all the stirring and extra cheese. Like chatting with a dear friend, farro with mushrooms and rosemary provides sustenance and comfort after a day’s work.
Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
For the Farro
- 1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1 cup 188 g pearled farro
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups 1 liter water
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
For the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
- 2 TB Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small sweet onion minced
- 1 medium shallot minced
- 2 stalks celery minced reserve leaves for later
- 8 oz (225 g) baby bella mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 8 oz (225 g) button mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 1 tsp dried porcini mushroom powder* optional
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 TB butter
- 1 TB sherry vinegar
- 2 oz (62 g) 62 g lightly salted cashews, rough chopped
- More rosemary and celery leaves for garnish
Make the Farro
Place a large skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Add the olive oil. Just when the olive oil begins to shimmer, add the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat and gently sauté until the garlic begins to brown and soften, about 3 minutes. Add the farro and bay leaf and stir to coat. Constantly stir the grains while toasting so they do not burn. Toast the farro until it begins to brown and become fragrant. Add the water and Kosher salt then bring to boil. Cover the skillet and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook the farro until tender but still has a bite. It should not be mushy or the grain split open. Start tasting the farro at 15 minutes for doneness and continue as needed. When the farro is just cooked, drain the water and remove the bay leaf.
Putting it all together
Meanwhile heat up a large skillet and add 2 TB olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the celery onions and shallots. Stir to combine. Remove the rosemary leaves off its stem and add the stem to the onions and celery. Reserve the rosemary leaves for later. Sauté on medium heat until the vegetables get tender and the onions translucent. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt, about 1/4 tsp and stir.
Add all the mushrooms and stir to get them nicely coated with oil. Continue to cook and occasionally stir until all the juices from the mushrooms evaporates.
Scoop out a tablespoon of the farro cooking liquid and add it plus 1 teaspoon of the dried mushroom powder to the mushrooms. Stir until mixed in. Taste and correct the seasoning for salt. Remove the rosemary stems and stir in the butter.
When the farro is cooked al dente, and drained from the water, add it to the skillet with the mushrooms. Stir. Add the minced rosemary and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. Add a few grinds of the fresh pepper and one tablespoon of sherry vinegar, turn off the heat and stir.
Garnish with chopped cashews, chopped celery leaves, and chopped rosemary. This dish can be made ahead and reheated later. Add the cashews and herb garnishes just before serving.
Serve hot as a side dish.
To make the dried mushroom powder. Add a small handful of dried mushrooms to a clean spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Continue until you used up all your dried mushrooms. Put the mushroom powder in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in your pantry for 3 months. This mushroom powder recipe is from My Master Recipes by Patricia Wells .
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During the busy summer months we all need those back pocket recipes. The ones you can just whip out and create without thinking about it. Marinated Zucchini is just one of those recipes. It is so easy, after you made it a couple of times you know it by heart.
What I love about marinated zucchini is, the cooking process is simple and (to coin a phrase from Food52), genius. First, you slice each small zucchini lengthwise down the middle. Once prepared, sear each zucchini slice in a skillet with olive oil. Then, marinate the seared zucchini for one hour in a basic vinaigrette and fresh basil. That is it. Simple, but a recipe that develops great depth of flavor in a mild tasting summer vegetable. If properly cooked, the acid will not make the zucchini soggy. Instead, it develops a bright taste yet retains the subtle and clean zucchini flavor.
This recipe is from Canal House Cooking Volume 8: Pronto (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013) via Food52. There is no need to make adjustments, it is already perfect. I just added a little more fresh basil right before serving as a garnish and extra basil flavor. You could experiment with other herbs like lemon thyme, parsley or tarragon, but the warm sunshine flavor of basil is notable.
Is your garden overflowing with zucchini? Try these other great zucchini recipes from my archives:
This recipe is also easy to resize. The original recipe calls for a half pound of zucchini. Fortunately, I found the perfect size zucchini at my local farm stand, each one weighing about a quarter of a pound, (113 g). I decided to double the recipe just so I could have more zucchini to photograph and work with. I was also able to fit all 8 of my zucchini halves in my 10-inch cast iron skillet. Look for small, same size zucchini at your store or market. The little quarter-pounders are perfect. Big and fat zucchini may look impressive, but are not suited for this recipe. They take longer to cook and have larger seeds in the middle.
The only difficult part about making marinated zucchini is remembering to make them at least an hour in advance. This is not a last minute recipe idea. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to make marinated zucchini and realized I forgot about the marinating step. This is not a salad recipe where you add the vinaigrette just before serving. The hour marinating is important to build the bright flavor from the vinegar and sets this recipe apart from others. As a result, this is a great make ahead recipe.
Fresh Herb Marinated Zucchini
- 2 TB 30 ml olive oil
- 1 lb 453 g very small zucchini, ends trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
- Pinch of Kosher Salt
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 TB 30 ml red wine vinegar
- 6 TB 1/3 cup / 75 mlextra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 6 - 8 fresh basil leaves thinly sliced
Cook the zucchini. In a large skillet, heat 2 TB (30 ml) olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the zucchini halves to the pan cut side down. Depending on the size of your pan and zucchini, you may have to cook the zucchini in batches. Sear the zucchini until nicely golden brown. After 3 minutes check to see if the zucchini is nicely golden brown*. If not, continue to cook on the cut side checking every couple of minutes until tender. Once the zucchini is golden brown turn over each piece, then cook on the opposite side for 3 minutes more. The zucchini is done when it is golden brown on the top and tender, but not too soft in the middle. Transfer the zucchini slices to a shallow dish and sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher salt.
While the zucchini is searing, in a small bowl whisk together the minced garlic, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the zucchini slices and add the fresh basil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for one hour. If you need to make this well ahead of time, marinate the zucchini in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Serve at room temperature as a vegetable side dish.
* The original recipe says to cook for 3 minutes on the first side. I have never gotten the zucchini a nice golden brown in 3 minutes. I have a gas stove top using liquid propane, and typically it takes 6 - 8 minutes to achieve a light golden brown. As with all recipes, use them as a guide because your conditions and equipment are different from the author's.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Summer is in full swing and every week more vegetables are available at the markets. There is no better time than now to eat your fill of summer vegetables. One of my favorite vegetables are green beans. I can eat them plain, or all dressed up with butter and fresh herbs. I love the clean and slightly sweet taste with its snappy crispness. If prepared properly, green beans maintain their spring green color, hold their shape, and still have a fresh picked flavor.
Because they are so well-loved and easy to prepare, we often use green beans in a salad. Hot or cold, green bean salad is a perfect side dish for any type of meal on any given day. There are countless varieties of green bean salads to make as well. Fresh beans pair well with all sorts of vegetables like tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, peas, and other beans just to name a few options. They are also good with endless seasonings and add-ins like walnuts, almonds, basil, tarragon, garlic, sesame seeds, or fresh ginger.
For this recipe, I decided to make a green bean salad with yellow wax beans and red kidney beans as the main ingredients. It is a lemony 3-bean salad with fresh basil and parsley, with a subtle spicy kick of fresh ginger and lemon vinaigrette. I wanted a salad dressing that is a little different from my typical vinaigrette of vinegar, mustard, garlic and olive oil. Because ginger and green beans taste so great together I decided to add it in. The ginger does not come off too strong, just enough for the beans to shine with a subtle spicy glow.
Fresh yellow wax beans are tender, sweet and delicious. I love the contrast of colors between pale yellow wax beans with the bright green beans and dark red from the kidney beans. Wax beans are hard to come by, as I have only seen them at local farm stands. Last summer I could not get enough of the yellow wax beans from Rochambeau Farm Stand and I can’t wait until they are available this summer. For this recipe, I bought this round of fresh beans from another local farm stand, Meadows Farm. Lucky for me, I live in a metropolitan area with 4 local farms only a couple of miles away from my house. I get to participate in the best parts of both worlds.
Look for green beans and yellow wax beans that are firm, bright in color, and not too big. At times, fresh beans can get fibrous and unpleasant to eat. Fortunately, it is easy to tell if the beans are fibrous by their look and touch. Older and more fibrous beans are less dense, limp, duller and paler in color. Haricot Verts are French green beans. These beans are smaller and often more tender than regular green beans. They also tend to be pricier.
For more summer vegetables recipes
Like most vegetable salads, if you prepare the green beans too far in advance, they will lose their crispness. Fortunately, because they take about a minute to cook, putting this green bean salad together is not a hassle or stressful to do before serving. There is a minor amount of chopping, and the only thing you must cook are the beans for one minute. The most difficult thing to make is the salad dressing, and that is fairly easy.
Serve this salad hot or cold as a side dish paired with fish, meats or chicken. Or, serve as a vegan entrée paired with brown rice or other grain. Enjoy!
Green Bean Salad with Lemon Ginger Vinaigrette
Lemon Ginger Vinaigrette
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 TB fresh lemon juice
- Zest from half a lemon optional
- 1 tsp honey or agave, or liquid sugar in the raw*
- 4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/8 tsp Kosher Salt
- A couple of grinds on the pepper mill of black pepper
Green Bean Salad
- 8 oz 225 g fresh green beans or French green beans, cleaned and stems trimmed
- 8 oz 223 g fresh yellow wax beans, cleaned and stems trimmed
- 1-15 oz 425 g can Red Kidney Beans, or Black-eyed peas, or chick peas - drained, rinsed and dried
- 1 TB minced fresh basil
- 2 TB minced fresh parsley
- 3 scallions minced white and light green parts only
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed
Make the vinaigrette
Add the grated fresh ginger, lemon zest (if using), lemon juice, and honey to a small bowl. Whisk until the honey is completely dissolved. Add the olive oil, a little at a time and whisk thoroughly between additions until emulsified. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Also, adjust flavor with additional ingredients if needed. Set aside.
Make the Green Bean Salad
Fill a large sauce pan or stock pot with water, and turn the stove to high heat. Bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and fill part way with ice cubes and cold water. Set aside.
When the water comes to a brisk boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt, then add the prepared green and wax beans. Quickly blanch the beans, about one minute or when the water returns to an early boil. Drain the water and immediately add the beans to the ice bath. Swirl the beans once around in the ice water with your hands. Allow the beans to stay in the ice bath until they are just cool. Drain the beans from the ice bath and spread them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Add the beans to a medium mixing bowl, then add the red kidney beans, minced scallions, and fresh herbs. Gently toss with your hands to mix. Give the reserved lemon ginger vinaigrette a good whisk to emulsify it again, and add about half of the dressing to the vegetables. Toss to mix, then taste to see if you want more dressing. Taste for seasoning and add a small amount of salt and pepper if needed.
This is delicious served either cold or warm, but like most salads it is best eaten very soon after it is made. Make ahead note: you can make the salad dressing ahead and store on the counter for a couple of hours. Prepare the beans no more than an hour ahead of time. Add rinsed and dried kidney beans and green beans to a bowl and cover. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to mix them all together. It is best not to add the fresh herbs and scallions until you are ready to serve the salad. Assemble the dressing, herbs and vegetables, and mix together when you are ready to serve.
For a vegan meal, use your favorite liquid sweetener like agave. I am not as familiar with the level of sweetness agave or liquid cane sugar in the raw, so start with less, then taste and add more if needed. You can easily use a pinch or granulated sugar as well. Just make sure it is well mixed.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Potatoes in all their varieties and preparations make great comfort food. Unfortunately, they also have a bad rap. This is because potatoes taste sublime with anything buttery, creamy and with lots of cheese. I find it hard to resist creamy potato salad with lots of hard-boiled eggs, so I created a recipe for lemon potato salad with little added fat, but still has a creamy texture.
Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad is just what the name says. Potato salad with lots of vegetables and lightly coated with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette. To replace the hard-boiled eggs of traditional potato salad, I added tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and fresh corn. I believe this salad will work with any variety of vegetables, such as scallions, green beans, sugar snap peas, or traditional celery and carrots.
For the dressing, I wanted it to be lemony and bright without it being too sour. So, I tamed the lemon with mustard, olive oil and my secret ingredient, pickle juice. Just a touch of pickle juice from a jar of bread and butter pickles adds the final touch needed for a delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors. If you do not like pickles then omit their juice, but you may need to add a pinch of sugar to the dressing. As I always recommend, taste and season as you like.
Besides my secret ingredient, one other trick I use for potato salad is to add vinegar or lemon juice to the potatoes while they are still hot after cooking. The potatoes absorb the lemon juice and this added squirt of acid brightens them with flavor.
My inspiration for this recipe came from a delicious tomato salad. It is filled with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh uncooked corn, avocado and basil. A perfect end of the summer salad to enjoy when corn and tomatoes are at their peak. Because potatoes and corn make the perfect pair, I decided to make a lemon potato salad version like this sunny tomato salad.
Eating fresh corn just scraped off the cob is a treat. The kernels are nicely sweet and crisp. It is raw, but it does not taste raw. If you want to add some extra corn flavor, run the back of a knife down the naked cob. This pressure pushes out some corn milk to mix with the fresh kernels. This technique is also great to use when making corn chowder or creamed corn.
Summer is a great time to highlight the fresh flavors of the garden. This is a simple salad to make and is very refreshing. A meal filled with the summer bounty and enhanced with a lemon vinaigrette. Pair Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad with any grilled meat, chicken or fish. It is perfect to bring or make for a party, or make for a weeknight family dinner.
More potato recipes: Potato Salad with Sorrel
Anything Goes Lemon Potato Salad
- 1.5 lbs 691 g medley of baby potatoes
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Juice from half a lemon
- 1 ear corn on the cob
- Half a cucumber about 6 oz 160 g Quartered, seeds removed, and chopped
- 2 fire and ice radishes sliced thinly
- One handful of grape tomatoes about 4 oz (120 g), sliced in half
- 3 scallions white and light green parts only sliced thin
- 4 sprigs flat leaf parsley
- 2-3 sprigs Lemon Thyme
- 1 TB minced fresh chives optional
- 4-6 leaves fresh basil chiffonade sliced (optional)
- 3-4 leaves fresh mint chiffonade sliced(optional)
- Juice from half a lemon about 2 TBS
- 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1 TB Bread and Butter pickle juice
- 3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Scrub the potatoes under cold running water. Fill a large sauce pan part way with water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add a large pinch of Kosher salt to the water, then add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are just done. A knife or fork will easily slice all the way through the middle without resistance. This could take anywhere between 10 to 25 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes. I start checking my potatoes after 10 minutes, then check them every 5 minutes thereafter. You do not want to overcook the potatoes or they get mushy.
Once done, remove the potatoes from the boiling water and place on a cutting board. Let cool slightly or use tongs to hold each potato in place while you slice each potato in half. This needs to be done before the potatoes cool, because you squeeze lemon juice over them while they are still warm. It does not matter which way you cut the potatoes in half. I mixed it up for fun and variety and sliced them randomly in half lengthwise or crosswise.
Place the warm sliced potatoes in a large mixing bowl, add the lemon zest and juice to the bowl and gently mix. Allow the potatoes to cool after the lemon juice is added.
While you are waiting for the potatoes to cool, cut the kernels off the corn cob. Cut off the stem of the corn cob to create a flat surface. Place the shucked and cleaned ear of corn in a medium bowl with the flat stem side down in the bowl. Holding onto the tip use a sharp chef's knife and run the knife down the side of the corn cutting the kernels off the cob. Turn the cob a quarter turn and slice off the corn kernels. Repeat all the way around the corn cob until all the kernels are removed. Set aside.
Add the corn and the remaining prepared vegetables to the cooled potatoes, then toss in the fresh herbs. Add the vinaigrette, a couple of tablespoons at first. Mix then taste to see if dressing is needed. If so, add more salad dressing until it reaches your preferred consistency. You should have leftover vinaigrette. Store the leftover vinaigrette in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator to use for another salad.
Garnish with mint leaves and serve.
Potatoes are great sponges and will absorb anything you add to them. If you make this salad too far in advance the potatoes will soak up the dressing and it will appear dry. More dressing might be needed, just be careful not to make it too heavy the vinaigrette and oily.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.