Saturday lagniappes

A roundup of food news, reviews, and other goodies on the Web:

Salt in unexpected places–The New York Times



 Tap water for sale?–Slashfood




Heidi Swanson’s Gingered Jewel Salad fit for a holiday table–101 Cookbooks



 It’s not too late to create your own cookbook to give as a  gift–Tastebook



Plan a stylish holiday cocktail party with a little help from Eric Ripert–Avec Eric



 Think your chili is the world’s best? Share your original  recipe and win a cookbook–Foods and Flavors of San  Antonio 

Farro, the king of grains?



Golden grains: farro

The pharoahs apparently ate farro, also known as emmer, and the grain fueled Caesar’s armies on their conquests. And now the this ancient foodstuff has become chic again, turning up in gourmet groceries and on high-end restaurant menus.

But there’s some confusion surrounding farro, so I read Heidi Julavits’ “The Way We Eat” column, “Grain Exchange,” about farro in Sunday’s New York Times, with particular interest. The Italian grain has been much on my mind lately, and the source of some confusion. When I worked on staff at a national food magazine, we routinely referred to spelt as an appropriate substitute. Even The Cook’s Thesaurus, a source that is typcially reliable, agrees.

Farro was the star among whole grains at the recent Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in California. Joyce Goldstein, author of Mediterranean Fresh and other cookbooks, extolled its virtues during a cooking demonstration. Farro is a highly nutritious whole grain, which we all need to enjoy more of, with a wonderful nutty flavor and chewy bite. It’s versatile, too; it can stand in for barley or rice in many dishes. (It would be great in the Mushroom Casserole recently featured on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog.)  I figured Joyce could settle the farro/spelt issue:

Is farro interchangeable with spelt? 

“No,” said Joyce. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that spelt is not an acceptable substitute for farro.

Spelt is a different beast, culinarily speaking. Farro is a relatively quick-cooking grain–it takes anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes of simmering, depending on the brand and how al dente you like it. Spelt takes several hours to cook. Farro has a nutty flavor and appealingly chewy bite and takes well to other flavors. Spelt can taste like cardboard. Farro is emmer wheat; spelt is…not. If you can’t find farro, some experts say barley is a better substitute than spelt.

After the conference, I was sold on farro’s flavor and nutritional value. But the stuff isn’t easy to come by, so I was particularly glad to find a bag of farro at in a store at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace. The marketplace is ground zero of all things local, sustainable, seasonal, and twee, which means I find it irresistible.

One cup of dry farro yields 2 cups of cooked grain.

Turns out, farro is the culinary equivalent of crack. The stuff is cultivated in the golden fields of Tuscany, which automatically ups the ante. A 1-pound bag of Tenuta Castello Farro, packaged in a charming, Old Worldy linen sack was $7.50 (not bad, actually, as I later discovered you can pay as much as 9 bucks for it elsewhere). Sold! (Along with a bar of Vosges’ Mo’s Bacon Chocolate–um, also $7.50–damn that shit is good!)

Farro and White Bean Salad

Beans and grains are a classic combination, and I thought a Spanish-style sherry vinaigrette would work well here. (The vinaigrette is also nice on a romaine salad with shaved Manchego cheese.) Toasting the farro enhances its nutty flavor. You can add all manner of other fixings to this salad–grilled shrimp or chicken, chunks of broiled lamb, feta cheese, olives, cucumbers, red bell pepper, etc. You can make the salad up to a day ahead and refrigerate to allow the flavors to develop; it’s best served at room temperature.

1 cup farro

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups cooked dried Great Northern or other white beans OR an equal amount of drained and rinsed canned beans

1/2 cup chopped seeded Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

Sherry Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Farro and White Bean Salad

Farro and White Bean Salad

1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Add farro; cook 5 minutes or until toasted (the farro will have a toasty aroma), stirring frequently. The grains will pop as they toast.

2. While the farro toasts, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon salt.

3. When the farro is toasted, remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the boiling water. Return to heat, reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes or until farro is done (al dente). Drain any remaining liquid. 

4. Combine the farro, beans, tomato, and parsley in a large bowl. Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine vinaigrette to farro mixture; toss to coat. Yield: 4 cups (serving size: 3/4 cup).

Gumbo and the Green Goddess, part 1


Green Goddess Salad is a nice counterpoint to gumbo.

Green Goddess Salad is a nice counterpoint to gumbo.

It started on Sunday afternoon, while I was perusing The New York Times, a ritual that takes up the better part of the day. Flipping through the magazine, I came across Amanda Hesser’s story about the Green Goddess Salad with a circa-1948 recipe for the iconic salad. Crisp romaine dressed in a briny, pungent mixture of anchovies, garlic, Worcestershire, and mayo is a classic recipe, and one I wanted to share with friends. So last night a bunch of us gathered in the kitchen of my friend and neighbor Aimee, who had asked another  another friend and neighbor, Jon, over to teach her how to make his gumbo. Jon has a made a study of this Cajun stew, and perfected his recipe. I’ll share his lesson in a follow-up blogs.

The evening was the ideal opportunity to try out the recipe. You need to make the dressing at least an hour before serving so the flavors have plenty of time to develop their signature punch, which makes this salad good for entertaining. I couldn’t help pondering how much the Green Goddess Salad has in common with another iconic California (albeit Baja California) salad: the Caesar Salad, which legend says was born in 1924 in Caesar Cardini’s eponymous Tijuana restaurant.

The classic Caesar dressing–as opposed to the bastardized version that haunts so many chain restaurant menus these days–uses raw egg yolks, olive oil, smashed garlic, Worcestershire, and anchovies, along with, white white vinegar or lemon juice, a dash of mustard, and Parmesan cheese. The Green Goddess dressing employs mayonnaise (which is an emulsion of raw egg yolks, oil, and acid), Worcestershire, garlic, anchovies, and white wine vinegar to create a briny bite and lovely creamy consistency very similar to Caesar dressing that coats the crisp Romaine lettuce beautifully. If you really want to make this salad sing, you’d use homemade mayo (whenever I’m moved to whisk up a batch of mayonnaise, I consult James Peterson’s recipe from Essentials of Cooking), but in this case, I just opened a jar of Hellmann’s. If you use jarred mayo, it’s important to use a good-quality one, since it’s such a key ingredient.

Up next: Gumbo and the Green Goddess, part 2: Do Roux