I'm finding it hard to drag myself to the farmers market this Winter. It's cold, it's wet, it's sometimes muddy, and let's face it, it's not like I'm going to find luscious peaches, cherries or tomatoes. My haul last weekend consisted of baby cauliflower, Tuscan kale, French radishes, baby carrots, broccolini and sauerkraut. Healthy and delicious, but hardly anything to get excited over. Of course everything I bought was fresher and possibly a bit tastier than what I could have found in the supermarket. The baby carrots I bought were real baby carrots, and not those fake machine rounded carrot nubs you find in little bags. Not quite as sweet as strawberries, but pretty darn tasty when roasted.
When I was shopping a dish started to come together in my mind, and the centerpiece was farro. Farro is often mistaken for spelt, it's actually "emmer wheat" and is rich in fiber, protein, and magnesium. Farro is just the Italian name for emmer wheat. The only time I ate farro in Italy was in Cetara along the Amalfi coast. It was served in a soup. Online I see lots of recipes for farro salad served cold, but I prefer it hot. It has a nice chewy texture that's very satisfying, but it's a little bland. The way to overcome that is to add lots of great flavors, colors and other textures to make a hearty and exciting main dish. I layer the flavors, adding a base of greens to the farro and then I top it with roasted vegetables. Farro is very easy to cook and very forgiving, just don't overcook it. I used semi-pearled farro from Roland that cooks in a mere 20 minutes.
The first time I made this dish I used loads of mushrooms. It was good, but somehow using mushrooms feels a bit like cheating when you're making a vegan meal. This version uses a mixture of "melted" kale cooked with onions, garlic and wine to add flavor to the farro. The toasted walnuts are really important, they add a crisp crunch and some great nutritional benefits as well. This dish is vegan and yet I promise you won't miss the meat one bit. Or the cheese. Or even the mushrooms!
This recipe is as flexible as can be. Change things up to suit your taste and the ingredients you have on hand. When it comes to the roasted vegetables you could swap out the broccolini and carrots for roasted baby turnips, brussels sprouts, parsnips or even baby leeks. Using two different vegetables adds nice variety and contrast, but you could use 3 or 4 vegetables too if you prefer. In place of the kale you could use any green you like such as spinach, savoy cabbage or chard. If you don't want to use wine, I think you could use a lesser amount of red wine or balsamic vinegar instead, or even lemon juice. Since vegetables are the main event, just be sure to use the tastiest, freshest ones you can find.
Note: if you can't find baby carrots just cut regular carrots into thin strips no more than 1/3 inch thick.
Farro & Winter Vegetablesserves 4
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1 bunch Tuscan kale chopped (stems trimmed off)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
16 broccolini stems
12 baby carrots (real baby carrots not bags of rounded nubs)
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Simmer farro in 2 cups water in an partially covered medium saucepan over medium heat until cooked through but still al dente, about 20 minutes. Don't worry if there is a little water left in the pan when it's cooked.
Slice the carrots in half lengthwise. Place carrots and broccolini evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with parchment). Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and roast until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a large skillet over medium heat, add oil then the onions and garlic, sprinkle with kosher salt and cook until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped kale and 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until wilted. Remove lid and add the red wine and cook without the cover until almost, but not quite dry. Combine kale with farro and stir in the walnuts, season to taste with salt and pepper, and top with roasted vegetables.