You'd never know it from what I write about here (butter! crème fraiche! more crème fraiche!) but I'm concerned about eating in a healthy way. Admittedly it's sometimes more about theory than practice, but I strive to eat a diet that is moderate in fat and rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Well actually I'm not eating a lot of whole grains at all, but I know I should be. It's just that I'm not much of a bread eater, I'm under the impression that I don't care for whole wheat pasta, and I don't like brown rice. My experience with other whole grains such as quinoa and wheat berries has not been encouraging. While not out and out terrible, these have not been the sorts of things that make you look forward to eating them. They fall into a group of foods -- tofu and broccoli among them-- that I want to like because they're good for you, but somehow have just never been able to.
But sometime last sumer I read an article by Calvin Trillin about Tuscany (I think) in which he mentioned farro. I can't remember his description of farro (and I no longer have the magazine and am unable to find the article online) but it was clear that it was a whole grain and Calvin Trillin sung its praises. I thought it was a good endorsement. I think it's safe to say that Calvin Trillin isn't the sort of person who would be eating anything just because it's good for you.
Farro was what I'd been looking for: something whole grain that you'd eat because it tasted good, not just because it was a whole grain.
But I didn't find farro for sale in any of the places that I regularly shop, so my plans to try it remained at the back of my mind, although my memory was jogged when Ann of A Chicken in Every Granny Cart wrote about farro a couple of times. Then several weeks ago I picked up my copy of Italian Slow and Savory, a book I've owned for some time and never fully appreciated, found a half dozen recipes for farro, and decided the time had come to find farro.
I placed a few calls to Italian markets, and one evening on my way home from work on the first truly warm day this spring, I drove to a corner of the city I had never really seen before and went to a lovely little Italian market to buy farro perlato, or pearled farro, and that night I made:
Farro with Shrimp and Spinach
5 to 6 cups of fish, chicken, or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups farro
1/2 cup dry wine
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound spinach, washed, stems removed, and leaves cut into 1" strips
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1. In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Turn the heat low to keep the stock at a low simmer
2. In another saucepan (or large deep sauté pan), heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the farro and stir until the farro is well-coated with oil. Add the wine and wait until it is absorbed.
3. Add the simmering stock one cup at a time and wait until it is almost absorbed before adding the next cup. Stir from time to time. Continue to add the stock this way one cup at a time. You may not need all the stock.
4. Test the farro by tasting it. It will be done when it is tender but still chewy at the center. When it is almost done, add the shrimp and spinach. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the shrimp is just cooked through and the spinach is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with the parsley, basil, and lemon zest, then serve immediately.
It was good and pleasantly satisfying. Not chocolate cake good or artichoke good, but nonetheless good. This week we had farro with porcini mushrooms and the following day I made a salad of the leftover porcini farro by adding diced onion, celery, carrots, and red bell pepper, then dressing the whole shebang with olive oil and red wine vinegar. It made a surprisingly good lunch. In fact, I can see this becoming a standard lunch for workdays.
Any recipe for risotto can be adapted for farro. It can also be cooked like a pilaf or cooked like pasta in boiling salted water. And it's a common soup ingredient -- Italian Slow and Savory has several recipes for soups with farro. By the way, Italian Slow and Savory is a fabulous book with many inspiring recipes. Why it's now remaindered with new copies available for less than five dollars from Amazon marketplace sellers is beyond me but it's a terrific buy and you should take advantage of it.
And now a little non food news:
Our house seems very quiet these days. About two weeks ago Jack was put down. His walking had become progressively worse in the last two years due to a combination of bad hips and degenerative spinal cord disease. He also had a seizure disorder that was not being controlled even with ever larger doses of anti-seizure medication. Sometimes he had big seizure clusters and for the days following a big cluster his ability to get around was even worse than usual.
His death was very peaceful. He lay on the floor while I fed him cheese as the vet got everything ready. Jack loved to eat and cheese was one of his favorites. The vet and I sat on the floor with him and stroked him. She emptied the syringe slowly, Jack sighed deeply, and then he was gone.
I had had Jack for almost seven years. Mike and I had gone to an adoption day at Petsmart shortly after the dog we had before Jack died. A dozen different rescue groups were there with dogs and cats and the place was bedlam. The nosiest group was German Shepherd Rescue's. Every time one of the German shepherds would bark the entire group would bark. Except for Jack who sat quietly by the woman who was fostering him.
Jack's past was a mystery. He had been picked up by the Humane Society as a stray and was never claimed. His age was estimated at between four and six years, although he already had a little gray under his muzzle which makes me think he was closer to six. He seemed fearful of men. He didn't have a clue how to take a treat from your hand if you held it between your thumb and forefinger and would gently take your whole hand in his mouth. He couldn't catch a tennis ball if you threw it to him.
He quickly became adept at both taking treats and tennis balls, and I think he was happiest when he was by my side chewing a tennis ball. I'm not sure what his life was like before we got him but I think he was pretty happy after coming to live with us. I drove him to a park near our house almost every single morning of his life and he had a leash walk almost every single evening of his life. At night he slept in our bedroom. He liked to be close to me.
Jack's quiet behavior at the adoption day was some sort of cosmic practical joke. About six month's after we adopted him he bacame the world's most vocal dog. He barked about everything -- when he was excited about going out the door, when we were getting in the car, when he saw another dog, when he saw his reflection in a mirror.
Jack often drove me crazy and my "Jack. Jack. Jack. Jack. JACK." in order to get his attention to stop him from doing one thing or another was a constant refrain. He wasn't always a good dog. But he was sweet and loving and he is much missed.