What a crazy ass scene last week was. No power. Barely any school. Trees and downed wires blocking just about every other street. And Halloween not just once, but TWICE, thanks to someone's genius idea to cancel and reschedule it, but failure to get word out to the critical mass of treaters and treatees.
Yee ha! There were definite upsides to the whole thing, of course. It did bring out the best in most of us. So many people shared their homes and hearths, as well as their fridge and freezer space. And I think it's motivated most of us to just finally bite the bullet and buy a darned generator, since it looks like the weather is only going to get freakier from here on in. And lastly, my love affair with a certain farro became even more passionate.
If you're thinking that I've been getting busy with some ancient Egyptian tyrant, you not only need to check my spelling. You also have to get on the bandwagon with the rest of us who have raised farro--an ages-old Italian grain--to near-rock-star status in the U.S. these days. A little bit like barley, with a nice firm bite and slightly nutty taste, farro is actually an ancient variety of low-yield wheat that is high in fiber and--if you give a hoot, which I don't--low in gluten. It's showing up on restaurant menus and in cooking columns everywhere these days, adding chew to soups, body to stews and starring big-time in salads.
I'm even more smitten with my fair farro than I am with quinoa, which is saying a lot. Here's why: First: It's sturdier and starchier, without being too earthy, so my pasta-loving teenage boys not only eat it. They adore it. Second: It's a perfect side dish but is nutritious and satisfying enough to stand in as a main course when snuggled up to a gorgeous salad. And third: My favorite way of preparing farro is tailor-made for Armageddon cooking. All you need do is boil the darned stuff, toss it with some sauteed mushrooms and cheese and you're in business. What you end up with is a sort of dryish risotto, with a dose of fiber for good measure. I brought bags of farro up to Lake George this year and it it became our go-to stove-top meal when the wood was too wet to build a fire. And this week, when the power went out, I didn't have to think for even a second about what I was going to make for dinner. A little old match to light the stove and we'd be in business. Not just surviving but surviving deliciously and oh-so in style.
The only possiblly tricky thing about making farro is actually finding farro, and the right farro at that. I know, for example, that Whole Foods carries it, but the type they carry is a little too dark and earthy for my pasta-loving boys. My local Kings also has it, but again I'm not crazy about the brand. Our favorite farro is the semi-pearled variety that goes under the no-frills Roland brand, which Fairway carries, as do numerous web retailers. Because it's semi-pearled, this type doesn't deliver as much fiber as the whole grain farro. But it's got a less oatsy-groatsy texture and taste to it, which is what lures my kids in. You choose whichever kind turns you on. My mother-in-law regularly ferries farro out to us from the Upper West Side. And my girfriend Gail (who turned me on to farro in the first place) is always happy to plop a few bags on my doorstep after one of her sojourns to the Fairway on Rte. 17. Make a few calls and see who carries it in your neighborhood. Then fill up your cupboard and sigh with relief. Armageddon may come. But you'll know what to serve!
Gail's Perfect Farro
1 17-ounce bag semi-pearled farro (preferably Roland brand)
1 basket fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced up (white button fine, too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. or so fresh chopped herbs of your choice (I usually substitute 1/2 tsp. dried herbs de Provence)
1/2 cup or so dry white wine (I just tip in whatever I'm drinking at the moment)
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (or even more, to taste)
Bring a big pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While the water is doing its thing, heat large skillet over medium flame. Add olive oil to the skillet. When the oil is warm (but not too hot), add garlic and saute until soft. Add mushrooms and herbs and saute all of this until it cooks down. Add wine, bring to a gentle boil and allow to reduce so there is about a tablespoon or two of liquid left in pan. Off heat.
Now, dump the whole bag of farro into the boiling water. Boil for about 21-23 minutes, testing every so often for doneness. When cooked perfectly, farro is tender but still offers a little bit of resistance when you chew it through. It shouldn't be hard, though. Drain farro and return it to the pot you boiled it in. Do not turn flame back on. Now, dump the mushroom mixture and its liquid into the pot with farro, along with the parmesan cheese. Stir it all up. Add more cheese, as well as salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with roast chicken or all on its own with a big salad of bitter greens, diced bosc pear, crumbled gorgonzola and a dijon mustard vinaigrette. As a main dish, one bag of farro should serve about 4. As a side, you'll have plenty leftover for another night.