Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Vegetable Farro Salad

Farro is my favorite food discovery of 2011.  A dear friend of ours gave me a package of organic Italian farro months ago and it wasn't until recently that I gave it a try and it is absolutely habit forming.  From my quick research, Farro is the Italian name for this whole grain also known as spelt or dinkel commonly grown in Germany and Switzerland.  Cooked it its whole form, it has a rich toasty flavor and a wonderfully hearty texture.  You can serve it warm as a starch it would be delicious in soups, and most recently I've enjoyed it at room temperature as a salad with any combination of veggies or seasonings.

Serves 6 as a side

1 and 1/2 cups of dried Farro*
1 small zucchini, diced
1/2 of a red onion, diced
1/2 of a large yellow bell pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 medium tomato, diced (I give it a gentle squeeze to remove some of the seeds and juice before dicing)
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh basil, sliced thinly
zest of one lemon
2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
crumbled feta or goat cheese as a garnish

*Refer to the package instruction but it will likely suggest that you soak the grain in water for a minimum of 8 hours before cooking it.  I put it in a bowl with water after breakfast and just let it sit out on the counter until its time to make dinner...

When you are ready to cook the farro, drain it well and transfer it to a sauce pan with 3 cups of fresh water and a hefty pinch of salt.  (You could cook it in stock for more flavor.)  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.  (Again check your package instructions and follow those if they are different.)  Don't worry if at the end of 30 minutes the water isn't completely absorbed or evaporated just drain the farro in a colander when its tender.  It should still have some texture but no crunch.

While the farro is cooking, saute the zucchini, pepper, and onion in a skillet over medium high heat with a drizzle of olive oil for 3 minutes or until barely soft.  I like the veggies to maintain a little bit of their crunch.  Add salt, pepper, the garlic and fresh thyme and cook one more minute.  Remove the veggies from the heat and let them cool.

Transfer the drained farro, the sauteed veggies, the tomato and fresh herbs to a mixing bowl.  Lastly season with the lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some salt and pepper before tossing it all together.  Taste and it add more of the seasonings if you like.

The salad is a great side dish for grilling or stands alone as a perfectly light but hearty lunch topped with some feta or goat cheese crumbles. It keeps well for a number of days in the fridge.  I tell you its a delicious (and healthy) alternative to a boring cous cous or pasta salad any day .  Give it a try!

Pesto Zucchini Flatbread

Summer is in full swing here in Kentucky which means our gardens, farmer's markets and even Krogers are fully stocked with local delicious fruits and vegetables.  My mother's garden grows zucchini overnight or so it seems recently thus I'm fortunate to get a regular share of the bounty.  I have a couple of my favorite summer squash recipes to share this week.  First up: a super simple flatbread/pizza... a great option for a quick weeknight dinner or the perfect starter for a casual get together.

1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough (I used the Pillsbury thin crust dough in the can)
2 small/medium zucchini, sliced thinly (1/8 of an inch if you have a mandoline)
1/4 cup of fresh or prepared pesto
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 generous cup of shredded Italian cheeses (I used a blend of provolone, parmesan, and asiago from Sam's. Any combination of your favorites will do.)
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped  (optional)
the zest of one lemon (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Unroll or flatten the pizza dough on a cookie sheet.  (I put a tablespoon or so of corn meal down first to make the crust extra crispy and to prevent sticking but its not entirely necessary.) 

Mix the olive oil and pesto together is a small bowl.  Drizzle, spread or brush the pesto mixture evenly over the dough.

Next spread the cheese over the pesto.

Lastly lay the zucchini over the top in rows, slightly overlapping, and season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are golden brown.  Peek under the crust to be sure its golden brown as well so that it doesn't get soggy.

Sprinkle the top with the fresh thyme and lemon zest before cutting the flatbread into squares.  I like to cut small 2 inch by 2 inch pieces to serve as an appetizer.  Serve warm from the oven or even at room temperature with your favorite crisp white wine, a Pinot Grigio would be perfect. 

Next up: a summer vegetable farro salad and my favorite zucchini bread.  So check back soon!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leek and Asparagus Risotto with Seared Scallops and Meyer Lemon

If I had to proclaim a "specialty" in the kitchen, it would likely be risotto.  It is a family favorite therefore I've had plenty of practice to refine my method.  Risotto is incredibly versatile- you can dress it up in a number of different ways.  It is wonderfully rustic and simple all by itself- a delicious vegetarian entree idea, however it also makes for an elegant accompaniment to your favorite seafood or protein.  I made this particular combination with friends a few months back and again for Father's Day. 
Serves 6 as a main course.


18 large scallops
1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only
1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed
1 meyer lemon (regular lemon if you can't find one)
3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
2/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of white wine
6-8 cups chicken stock or broth

Prep ahead of time or before you start the cooking process:
*Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel
*Clean the asparagus and cut into half inch pieces
*Remove dark green parts of leeks, halve lengthwise and slice into half inch pieces.  Rinse well in bowl of water to remove any sand.  Dry on a paper towel.
*Zest and juice one meyer lemon.

The process of cooking the risotto takes 20-30 minutes.  Constant stirring is the trick to keeping it creamy so be prepared to man the stove for the last 30 minutes before serving (the scallops can be done first) or have a few friends handy to help stir and pour while you work on the scallops. 

Heat a skillet over medium-high/high heat.  Season the scallops with salt and pepper.  Sear them in a few tablespoons of olive oil for roughly 3 minutes a side.  The trick to perfectly seared scallops is to leave them alone.  Avoid the temptation to flip them or shuffle them around the pan.  This allows the sugars to caramelize creating a sweet and golden crust.  Remove from the pan and set on a plate tented with foil to keep them warm.
Look at these beautifully fresh scallops! They smelled so sweet and delicious that we sampled one "carpaccio" style with a drizzle of meyer lemon juice and a bit of zest. Yummm....

When you are ready to start the risotto, start with the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan or cast iron pot over medium heat.  Add the leeks and saute 4-5 minutes until soft and translucent.  Next add the garlic and the rice and saute another 2 minutes until the rice looks almost translucent and barely golden.  (Don't let the garlic burn.) Then add the white wine and stir until almost entirely dissolved.

Now you begin with the chicken stock.  Some people will say you should warm the stock on the stove before you begin to add it but I've found that as long as its room temperature (and not cold) it works fine as is.  You add the stock 1/2 or 2/3 of a cup at a time, stirring constantly over medium heat.  As soon as the liquid looks almost totally absorbed, you add more stock.  You continue this until the rice is cooked and the mixture is creamy.

I added the asparagus as soon as the rice was getting close to tender.  When the rice and asparagus were just cooked through, I added the cheese, butter, lemon zest and basil with one more healthy splash of stock.  I removed the pan from the heat at this time.  (Once you've gently stirred it all together, check the consistency once more. You want it to appear a bit looser than you think it should be- add more stock if needed.  It will continue to set up as you serve it.)

My other important secret to luxuriously creamy risotto is serving it immediately- if you let it sit too long, the starches seize up and it becomes sticky.

Serve the risotto in a rimmed soup bowl and top with the scallops.  Drizzle some of the meyer lemon juice over the top.  You could garnish with some more fresh basil as well.  (Note my Scallops didn't get as brown as I would have liked in this case.)

For 45 minutes to an hour of effort, this meal is definitely a stunner.  Serve with your favorite side salad and a crisp white wine.  For Father's Day we celebrated with a bottle of Duckhorn Savignon Blanc from California which was just perfect.

Other delicious risotto ideas:
Mascarpone and porcini mushroom
Artichoke hearts and parmesan
Gorgonzola and crispy pancetta
Sun dried tomato and goat cheese

Once you've mastered the technique, you can experiment with the mix-ins to create dozens of great recipes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Warm Potato Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

It is grilling/cookout/patio entertaining season and I know I'm always looking for new and exciting side dish ideas and I'm guessing that you are too.  This potato salad recipe (inspired by a grilled version that I saw Bobby Flay prepare on tv a few weeks ago) is a great departure from the standard mayo-laden variety.  It would go perfectly with just about any grilling menu and I particularly like that it can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.

Serves 4 as a side.


2 generous pounds of red skin new potatoes, scrubbed well
3/4 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of good olive oil
3 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, grated
drizzle of honey
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of sliced fresh basil (or parsley)
1 tablespoon of capers, drained

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water.  (If the sizes vary significantly, halve the largest potatoes so they are closer in size to the smallest ones.)  Add a few tablespoons of kosher salt and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.  Cook for 8-10 minutes or until tender.  Drain fhe potatoes and when cool enough to handle, slice into bite sized pieces.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette in the bottom of a large glass bowl.  Whisk the sherry vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic, salt and pepper together first, then whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. 

Add the tomatoes, onion and capers- then add the warm potatoes and fresh basil- tossing everything gently to coat in the dressing.  The warm potatoes absorb more flavor than mixing in cold potatoes.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.  Serve immediately or refrigerate to serve later.

My pictures really don't do it justice but I assure you it was quite delicious.  On this occaison, I served it alongside a piece of salmon roasted in the oven with a schmear of pesto over the top (a super quick/easy weeknight meal).  I am confident this one will be a summer potluck staple from here on out!