Tuesday, August 12, 2008
As I have mentioned here before, I am really a cookbook cook. I very rarely make up a recipe on the fly. When someone says something nice about my food, I always feel a little guilty taking the compliment - I didn't make up the recipe, I only cooked it. Oh, I realize I do have a knack for looking at a recipe and knowing whether it will be good or not, and I also put foods together well. I do wish that I was more adventurous when it comes to seeing what looks good at the market, and making something up on the fly once back in the kitchen.
I was recently reading an article in The New Yorker magazine about how inspiration strikes. There are scientists who are actually trying to figure out what happens in the brain when you have a "Eureka!" moment. In doing their research (I'm summarizing big time here), they found that when posed with a puzzle, a person either tended to reason out the problem, or it just came to them - inspiration striking.
For some reason, farro, corn and green beans just came to me this week. I don't believe I have had a dish like this any time in the recent past, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I know, this isn't nuclear fusion - it's just vegetables and a grain, but this was big for me. I bought my star ingredients at the Farmer's Market and today I started playing. A good rule of thumb for combining vegetables is "if it grows together, it goes together". Thus, corn and green beans - great. Winter squash and mushrooms - yum. Asparagus and parsnips - not so much. So since both green beans and corn are in season, I figured at least that part of the dish would taste right. And if you have never had farro, you are in for a taste and texture treat. I have heard it compared to barley, but it has more nuttiness and none of the mushiness that I associate with barley.
To start, I blanched a bunch of the most beautiful green beans I have ever seen. They are Randy's favorite vegetable, so we eat a lot of them in our house, but usually I am picking through the pathetic offerings at the grocery store to find a few that aren't moldy. Every single one of these was pristine, skinny, and perfect. For $10 a pound I could have bought haricot verts which are even skinnier but, come on - $10 a pound? After letting them boil in salted water for a few minutes, I put them in an ice water bath. This is called "shocking" them and it stops the cooking and sets the brilliant green color. Yes, it's an extra step and totally worth it.
I sliced up a bunch of shallots into thin rings and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil. I added a bit of minced garlic and as the shallots started to turn brown, I added the corn from three cobs. Since corn is fresh now, it only needs just a short swim around the pan to cook through. Next went the cooked farro and the juice of half an orange. I was trying to think of an acid that would balance these flavors well and knew what I would think of vinegar if I tried that. I had a bunch of oranges left over from the Orange Pound Cake that I made as this week's treat, so I thought I would try that.
Off the heat, I added the drained green beans and some gorgeous purple basil that I found at the market. I drizzled in some olive oil, the juice from the other half of the orange, and plenty of pepper and salt. And do you know what? It was awesome! Farro is nutty and has a wonderful bite to it which contrasted wonderfully with the soft and sweet corn. I maybe would have cooked the green beans a little longer but they were great (so sweet!) and fit in with all of the other flavors. It looked gorgeous - especially with the purple basil - but if you can't find it, don't let that stop you from making this recipe. I actually found farro at the University Farmer's Market but you can find it in specialty shops (Whole Foods sometimes has it) or order it online from Bluebird Grain Farms.
By the way, the other dish in the photo is Lentils with Beets and Tarragon and I served both of these dishes with a cold Green Pea soup.
Farro with Green Beans and Corn
Like most grain dishes, I think this tastes best served at room temperature. You can make it up to 8 hours in advance but I would add the basil just before serving so it keeps it's color.
2 1/2 cup farro
1 lb. green beans, ends trimmed
3 ears fresh corn, kernels cut from the cobs
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
10-15 large basil leaves, preferably purple basil
To Make the Farro and Blanch the Beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the green beans and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them to a large bowl filled with ice water. Allow them to cool completely, then drain. Meanwhile, add the farro to the water and boil for five minutes, then lower the heat and simmer until tender but with a pronounced bite - 30-40 minutes. Drain well and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking together. (Both of these components can be done one day ahead, refrigerate separately.)
To Finish the Dish: Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, then add the shallots and a good pinch of salt. Allow them to cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the shallots start to brown. Add the thyme and stir just until it becomes fragrant, then add the corn, saute for 2 minutes. Add the farro, and the juice from half of the orange. Add a pinch of salt and stir just until heated through. Off the heat, add the green beans, the juice from the other orange half, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir in the basil and taste for salt and pepper.