Saturday, September 26, 2009

Risotto-Style Farro with Winter Squash and Aged Goat Cheese

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.

Eat well!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tomato Turn-On!

Yesterday's market was nothing short of summery, despite the premiere of winter squash and turnips at a few select booths. The sun was out with a vengeance, the crowds were back after last week's rainy lull, babies were lounging on blankets in the grass, and there is still more corn than anyone can handle. Ok, maybe I'm the only one who's struggling with my corn, but still, it's everywhere! Another defining feature of summer at the Portland Farmer's Market is the Tomato Turn-On, a really fun event that shows off just how many awesome varieties Portland-area farmers bring to the market.

Farmers graciously donated a couple varieties of tomatoes, both slicers and cherries, and our amazing volunteers spent hours, knife in hand, slicing up HUNDREDS... THOUSANDS... MILLIONS of tomatoes to set on plates along a long stretch of tables. You think I'm exaggerating, and I am. But there were a lot of tomatoes. Market-goers were given score-cards and toothpicks, and sent down the line for a free lunch c/o summer's favorite fruitegetable. At the end of the tables stood big easels with every variety, and voters used little stickers to cast their votes.

It was truly a showdown of summer's best. I couldn't stick around to view the final vote, and I'd be hard-pressed to pick my own favorites, but I certainly enjoyed the feast, and the reminder that it's still summer, despite the cloudy skies, the mounting piles of reading for school, and the winter squash that is roasting away in the oven. Let's call it the liminal space between summer and fall, the best of all worlds.

Eat well!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Feast

Labor Day is pretty special to my group of friends. It was on Labor Day, two years ago, that a group of us got together for a potluck that would turn into a veritable institution - Family Dinner. Every Friday night dozens of people fill a home, a feast is made, instruments are brought out, music is made, people fall in love, I make cookies on the fly without a recipe, someone covers a Radiohead song, people fall asleep, and in a week's time, it happens all over again.

The cornerstone of "My Portland", Family Dinner has bred our sometimes band, The internationally acclaimed Ivonrose Family Jamboree (as featured in French Glamour and, more often, our front porches), has been the source of the best friendships a girl could ask for, and has required a hell of a lot of cooking. It's also probably the reason I'm single, but hey, that's another story. I really think it is greatly because of this rag-tag bunch of hooligans that I am who I am today. Week after week, when school, work, family, or Portland weather has got me frazzled, it means so much to be able to walk into a kitchen and help cook food for my best friends. Who gets to do that? It's amazing, and it's ours. So, I don't know if any of you read my blog, but I love you, each and every one of you.

Ok, emotional blathering aside, let's get down to the food. Because that's what you are really here for. You know how they say you don't want to watch the sausages being made? Well, they say something like that, and apparently they weren't talking about veggie sausages, because that process is relatively benign.

Full disclosure, all of these recipes were either made up on the fly or were from books at my dear friends' abode. So, I'm not tracking them down unless someone is desperate, in which case I'll do my best, because I'm nice like that. We made homemade veggie sausage, bean burgers, Greek green beans, potato salad, and more grilled vegetables than twenty people could eat, which is a lot.

Many of us are vegetarians, so aside from the occasional (and beyond amazing) roasted bbq chicken from our humble tattooed glickenspiel player, we consume a whole lot of beans, quinoa, and veggies. Which makes it a lot easier to feed about twenty people a week on a budget of, well, not much. But don't think we can't grill a mean Labor Day feast from scratch. Because we can.

I hope you find yourself lucky enough to be able to make food and music with friends as often as I do, because let me tell you, it's an absolute lifesaver. Just don't ask me to do the dishes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Roasted Summer Vegetable Soup

Portland woke up this morning to a VERY rainy Saturday. I was pretty excited, because I adore the rain, and it would mean that the only people at the farmers market would be die-hard foodies and farmers. The down side, of course, is that on rainy days the farmers make very little money, so I tried to do my part, threw on my hooded jacket, put on actual shoes, and headed to the market. And ended up having to make two trips back to the car.

The Rainbow Connection of produce!

If I have learned anything so far from this year of CSA eating, it is that one person does not need a whole share's worth of vegetables. On one hand, I've been attempting to eat a weekly box of vegetables meant for a family of four, and it's been a challenge. And I might be insane. On the other hand, I regularly cook for my friends, who are more than willing to help out with the weekly bounty, and it has given me the opportunity to stash away a lot of food for the winter. Rather like a squirrel, if squirrels ate yellow curries and roasted eggplant, tomato, potato, corn and chile soup. A freezer full of food is not a bad thing to have when facing the looming winter months. It isn't too difficult to remember last winter's long stretch of beets, winter squash, potatoes, and kale, and that at times all I wanted to do was run to a big box store and buy a mango. Or ten. In short, even if I feel absolutely ridiculous carting home a giant box of produce for me, myself, and I, I know I won't be freaking out in a couple months when I'm stuck inside and the city is shut down due to a half an inch of snow. Nope, I'll be eating this soup.

My tried and true summer use-up-the-veggies-from-last-week-so-theres-room-in-the-kitchen trick is a big ol pot of roasted vegetables. I just rough chop everything, throw it onto a grill or into a 400 degree oven, and wait until everything smells amazing. This hasn't happened this summer as much as usual, because I moved, don't have a grill, and haven't wanted to turn on the oven. What with the rain, I didn't feel too bad about warming up the kitchen and sipping on some Irish breakfast tea while the veggies roasted.

I used an eggplant, peeled and quarted, halved tomatoes (I put them cut-side down and the skins will pucker up and come off really easily), a big onion, two heads of garlic, a bunch of little yellow fingerling potatoes, two ears of corn, and some chiles. I also threw in some green beans for snacking on, because, heck, if the oven's on, I might as well throw in everything I can. I'd ususally eat everything just like that, warm or cold, but I want to freeze some for later, so I made some soup. This worked out really well because I was able to throw the scraps, peels, and my overflowing garden herbs into a pot and made stock while the veggies roasted. I felt like a superhero, using every little scrap of garlic skin, onion tops, and one sad squash that was a couple days past its prime. I kept the seasonings of this soup really simple, just salt and peper and the herbs in the broth, but you could jazz it up a couple ways. Curry powder would be great, or more italian herbs. Experiment! Roasted veggies are very forgiving.

My new kitchen, still stuck with an electric stove. Ah, renting.

When everything was done, I threw the veggies into another stock pot, added the hot broth, and pureed the hell out of it with my immersion blender. I topped off one bowl with some yogurt, and let the rest come to room temperature and froze it in leftover containers from the deli-counter. It had a perfect amount of spice because of the chiles, and was super creamy because of the potatoes. If you don't have an immersion blender, get one. If that's not going to happen, this would be just as delicious as a chunky soup, you'd just need to chop everything up a bit more first.

It's been a hell of a summer, one full of twenty-something adventures and catastrophes that I'll be talking about for the rest of my life. Long story short, blogging wasn't priority #1. It was great, but it also feels wonderful to have made it to September. School has started, and the rain is still pouring down, so it really feels like fall is around the corner. I'm ready, soup in hand.

Eat well!