Fall is here in Portland. Nowhere is this more evident than at the farmers market. What with the crisp breeze, the golden sunlight at a slightly new angle, and the smells of roasting peppers, not to mention all of the amazing new fall produce, everyone seemed to be in autumnal spirits. It's getting to be the time of year when scarves come out and hot apple cider seems like a great idea.
This morning I had the pleasure of doing a cooking demonstration with Grace Pae of Artemis Foods, an amazing Portland cafe and catering company that specializes in beautiful local, sustainable, and seasonal gourmet food. They've received a couple of awesome awards for their sustainability practices, and they only use the best local, organic, and whole ingredients, all while making really phenomenal food. Grace was a total sweetheart, and we couldn't have had more fun making a delicious dish of farro with butternut squash, fresh cannellini beans, and Fraga Farms Aged Rio Santiam Goat Cheese in a sort of risotto-style mush, if I'm allowed to call something so tasty and pretty a "mush".
Farro is totally making a comeback. Also known as emmer wheat, it's an ancient grain native to the Mediterranean and Near East, and some nutritional anthropologists think it ranks among the oldest domesticated foods. It fell out of favor after the fall of the Roman empire because new crops, like barley and spelt, were a lot easier to grow and had bigger yields. For thousands of years it's been a relic crop in the Mediterranean, but it's experiencing a bit of a revival thanks to the growing interest in heirloom foods, grains included. One of the healthiest grains around, it's related to wheat and spelt but has its own unique character. It has an amazing nuttiness and holds its shape really well in recipes that can tend to get mushy. A perfect example is this almost-risotto, that features my absolute favorite fall treat, butternut squash. Not to mention really awesome aged goat cheese and a good amount of butter!
We used organic farrow from Bluebird Grains with the hull on, which preserved its nutty flavor and chewy texture. You can find their stuff at Portland-area stores or online. I also got a great tip about peeling butternut squash. You know how it can get kind of sticky or slimy and start rolling around the cutting board? Grace says if you chill your squash it is a good deal easier to peel. I'll have to try that next time! Another great thing about this recipe is that it uses fresh beans, which are popping up all over at the markets these days. You can eat them raw, in salads, but in a hot preparation like this they get deliciously creamy and tender. The dish uses chicken stock, but you could totally replace that with veggie stock to make it veg-friendly.
I love doing chef demonstrations, and if I could make a living talking about delicious sustainable, seasonal food in front of an audience, I would be a very, very happy girl. Keep your ears open for an opening on the Food Network for me, ok?
Here are some shots from the market today. Gorgeous!
Farro with Butternut Squash, Fresh Cannellini Beans, and Aged Goat Cheese
8 oz. Farro, cooked in boiling salted water until tender, drained
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, minced (you can use a food processor)
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme and.or sage, savory, or any combination
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1-2 cups fresh, shelled cannellini or lima beans
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-2 cup chicken stock (or veggie stock)
4 cups cubed butternut squash, roasted (simply toss the cubed squash in olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tender, stirring a few times)
2-3 ounces Aged Goat Cheese
1. Prepare you ingredients first by cooking the farro in enough water that the grain can roll in the pot as it is cooking. For example, 8 ounces of farro will expand by 3 times in volume, so you will need a pot about 3 times bigger than that, or at least a 2.5 quart pot.
2. Have the squash cooked as well as the other listed ingredients.
3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil together and add onions, garlic, herbs, and spices.
4. Sauté ingredients for 3-4 minutes or until onions are translucent and garlic and herbs have become aromatic. Do not let garlic brown.
5. Add the farro and the beans, the wine, and about a cup of stock and let the ingredients simmer together, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the butternut squash and heat through ust until hot. Add more stock as needed to maintain a moist consistency. Add the cheese and mix well.
7. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat. Garnish with shavings of cheese.