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FARRO PILAF FOR SUPPER: A MARKET STORY

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April mornings at the Union Square Greenmarket haven’t been quite as warm as the weather reports would have you believe. A light breeze still has the chill of winter behind it, and everyone hugs the sunny side of the street. Tempting pots of jonquils aside, my weekly expeditions remain more about foraging for the least-gnarly potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, and apples than about shopping for the pristine produce that telegraphs spring. I don’t want to think about what the farmers markets in California look like by now.

A couple of bright spots, though: Lani’s Farm, from south Jersey, is back with their overwintered broccoli rabe. There is nothing like its rich, assertive flavor, and I selfishly cleaned them out of almost all of it. It’s delicious sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes and served with chicken, tossed with pasta, or devoured on a thick slab of toast. We’ll enjoy those greens all week long.

And for the first time in ages, Cayuga Pure Organics, from upstate New York, has farro. I’ve had the grain—which can be any one of three ancient wheat varieties first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent and still grown in Italy—on my mind ever since I wrote about it for TakePart.com last month. There I quoted Maria Speck, author of the award-winning Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (available at your local independent bookstore or online). By the time I caught her on Leonard Lopate’s show last Friday (listen to it here), I was well on the way to obsession, but frustrated at every turn. The farro I was finding in stores was Italian (no surprise there) but it was all semi-perlato, or semi-pearled, meaning that it retained some, but not all, of its nutrients. Semi-pearled farro cooks relatively quickly; it makes a delicious hot cereal and, when cooked risotto-style, transforms itself into an earthy farrotto—comfort food with character, so to speak.

But what I craved was the firm resistance and rugged, nutty savor of the whole grain, and Cayuga was happy to oblige. (For that source and others, scroll down below the recipe.) Perhaps its full complement of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protein would push this stubborn head cold, which has been dragging me down for weeks, right out the door.

Like beans, hearty whole grains benefit from a leisurely soak (about 8 hours) before you start fooling with them; not only do they cook more quickly and evenly, but they are also easier to digest. And although many people like to cook their grains directly in the soaking water, I prefer to drain the grain in a colander and get it a bit roasty-toasty before adding any more liquid.

The beauty of the pilaf below is that it is robust enough for a main course. And, like any pilaf, you can customize to your heart’s content. If you don’t happen to have leftover garlicky greens in the fridge, well, then, what is wrong with you? Just kidding. Simply cook some up while the farro and mushrooms are working … or not. You can either chop the greens and stir them into the pilaf or serve them on the side. The next time I make this, I’ll roast some diced carrots or sweet potato along with the mushrooms and fold them into the mix. And a little pancetta sautéed with the shallot wouldn’t be half bad, either. What can I tell you? Supper is always a work in progress. And I don’t have to tell you that refining as you go is part of the fun.

Farro Pilaf with Mushrooms and Greens

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup whole-grain farro, soaked in water to cover 8 hours or overnight

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

¼ cup dry white wine

3 cups chicken broth or water

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

A few generous handfuls (about ¾ pound) shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and cut into meaty slices (about ½ inch thick)

Leftover broccoli rabe, kale, or chard (preferably cooked with garlic and red pepper flakes), chopped

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving, if desired

1. Drain the soaked farro, giving the colander a few vigorous shakes to help things along. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and cook, stirring to coat with oil, until the grains smell toasted. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the broth and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to find an even simmer and cook the farro, stirring occasionally, until it’s firm-tender—it should be cooked through yet chewy, 40 minutes to an hour. (The time depends on the age and type of  farro.) Season with salt and cover to keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450º. Toss the mushrooms with about 2 tablespoons oil on a rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Roast, stirring once, until crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Put the farro over medium heat, stir in the greens, and cook, stirring, until the whole business is warmed through. Stir in the roasted mushrooms, and some Parm for richness, if desired. The aroma alone makes me feel better.

Sources for Farro

Semipearled farro is available at many supermarkets and Italian specialty markets, but whole-grain farro can be trickier to find. It’s worth it, though; look for it at your local health foods store or order online from one of the following dedicated domestic producers.

Lentz Spelt Farms, in eastern Washington State, cultivates and sells all three types of farro.

Bluebird Grain Farms (“Organic Heirloom Grains From Plow to Package”) is also in Washington State. They’re renowned for their biodynamically grown whole-grain emmer farro, the cracked grain (great for hot cereal, polenta, or as a stand-in for bulgur in tabbouleh), and freshly ground whole-grain flour.

Cayuga Pure Organics, in upstate New York, sells whole-grain emmer farro at the Union Square Greenmarket, in Manhattan.

Anson Mills, in Columbia, South Carolina, sells a deep-flavored slow-roasted spelt farro as well as a farro piccolo that is a bit lighter in color and texture; it’s great in salads.

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