Tag Archives: Farro

Greek Farro Salad

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Savvy contemporary chefs have a secret ingredient in their cuinary tool box. If you remember this treat from your childhood, you might guess what this mystery ingredient is.Lik-m-aid packagesLik-m-aid, a sweet-sour treat was eaten by licking your finger, sticking it into the little envelope and coating your wet finger with the crystal-like powder inside. Then you would lick your finger to eat the tart-sweet goodness. It came in several fruit flavours; lemon, lime, strawberry, raspberry, grape and orange, but a quick look at the ingredient list (dextrose and citric acid) revealed that this treat contained no actual fruit. Today Lik-m-aid is sold under the name of Fun Dip and it comes with a candy dipping stick so modern kids do not have to use their fingers. I hope that kids today appreciate how good they have it. fun DipChefs in the know are using citric acid to create pucker-inducing flavours that consumers are starting to embrace. Sour is no longer a four letter word.  Sour beers are gaining in popularity, and the pickling craze is not about to die down any time soon. I fully expect Carla Hall to introduce “Can you Pickle it?” based on her wildly amusing (well, amusing certainly to my sisters and I ) game, “Can you Blend it?

Citric acid occurs naturally in lemons, limes and other citrus fruits. It is also manufactured in a dry powder form by adding a special mould to glucose and letting it ferment. The dry powdered stuff is the one that chefs are using to elevate flavours and bring harmony and balance to a finished dish. It is easily available in small bags at most bulk food or health food stores. Food writer Shawna Wagman calls it the “fairy dust of flavour amplification.”

Here in Ottawa, Chef Kevin Mathieson, founder of Art is In Bakery, is creating magic with it. He sprinkles a touch of citric acid and confectioners sugar on citrus peel or wild Quebec blueberries and lets it dry out for a week. Then he grinds it all up in a coffee grinder and adds it to jellies for filling house-made chocolate truffles and marmalade that gets thickly spread on their buttermilk multi-seed bread for Sunday brunch.

The Food Section of the April 9 2014 Globe and Mail featured a recipe for a Greek salad dressing using citric acid. Chef Carlotte Langley learned to make this from the  French-Lebanese mom of the very first chef she worked for. I decided to creat a Farro Greek Salad to showcase this fantastic dressing. Tart and full of bright zingy flavour it plays very well with the nutty, chewy farro and all the fresh crunchy vegetables. mise en place 2 I usually just cook farro in boiling water, but I learned a great method over at Food52. I added half a red onion, a clove of garlic, parsley and salt to the water to infuse the farro with more flavour. flavouring farroI am not a huge fan of raw red onion, so I thinly sliced and pickled it. A short 20 minute bath in red wine vinegar, water, salt and sugar are all that’s needed to tame the harshness.pickling onions

Click here to print recipe for Greek Farro Salad.

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Check out what Lindsay over at Love and Olive Oil made using citric acid! 



Springtime Farro Salad and Delusion

625 sqI wish this was the blog post that told you how much I have always hated quinoa, that is until I tried “this” salad. Then I would go on to swear that even if you too are a quinoa hater, this one recipe will change all that and you may now join the righteous and good quinoa lovers of the world. But sadly, this is not the case. I have tried this salad, this one, and that one too. I have not tried it all these ways, but I do believe I have given it a fair shake, and I just don’t like it. It tastes like like a toxic combination of sand and gravel to me. I can’t deal with those tiny grains. They just mush all together in my mouth. There is no chew to them.

The first time I tried quinoa, no one told me that Mother Nature, in all her infinite wisdom, created a bitter coating of saponins over each grain so that the birds would not eat it all up. It needs to be rinsed before cooking. Apparently I am not on Mother Nature’s mailing list so we ended up having to throw dinner in the garbage that night.

I really do want to like quinoa. It has been given the prestigious title of “Superfood”, given it’s incredibly high nutritional value. It is a source of complete protein, a good source of fibre, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and calcium. I just can’t stand it, so I do the next best thing to eating it. I choose a different grain to substitute in all those salads and delude myself into thinking that it has just as much nutritional value as quinoa. Hey, it works for me. I am excellent at deluding myself about all kinds of things.

Lately my grain of choice has been farro. I have written about farro here and here.

I know it’s almost summer, but the Farmer’s Market, where I live, has not gotten the memo yet. Radishes, spring onions and mint are about the only local veggies to have bravely popped their heads out of the recently frozen earth. So a Springtime Salad it is. This gorgeous salad is the creation of Eric Vellend, food editor at Canadian House and Home magazine. You could substitute barley, wheat berries or even, dare I say it, quinoa. Hey I won’t judge.radishes

green onionsI adore the hefty chew that farro brings to this dish. The sugar snap peas, barely blanched add sweetness and crunch. The radishes and green onion add a balancing bitterness and sharp bite to the nutty farro. Mint and lemon add the final notes of freshness.sugar snaps

spooning saladClick here to print recipe for Springtime Farro Salad.



The Best Thing I Ate Today in Umbria Day 8

This morning, after breakfast, we headed out in the mini-bus and were dropped off about an hour’s hike away from the town of Pitigliano. This little hillside town, south of Florence, on the Tuscan border, has a fascinating Jewish history. Our guide for the day was a young woman named Elisabetta. She grew up in Pitigliano as a history and archaeology scholar. She also runs the local library in Pitigliano. As we hiked into town, she gave us a brief history of Pitigliano.

Jews began settling in Pitigliano in the 15th Century. The Jewish population continued to grow as more Jews were forced out of Rome because of Pope Paul IV’s segregation policies, requiring Jews to live in ghettos. Pitigliano was an attractive place to settle for many Jews because it was not part of the papal state and was an independent province, ruled at the time by the Orsini family. The Orsini’s social policy was quite laissez-faire and the Jews were permitted to live a freer lifestyle. A synagogue was built in 1598, followed by the construction of a school. Jews were permitted to set up their own businesses as carpenters, tailors, weavers, shoemakers and moneylenders. The city soon became known as La Piccola Gerusalemme or “Little Jerusalem.”

Over the next several hundred years, depending on who was in power, the fortunes of the Jews of Pitigliano either waxed or waned. However, despite restrictions during various periods, the Jewish community continued to grow and prosper.  In the mid 1800’s the Jewish population of Pitigliano reached almost 400 people, which represented over 10% of the total population.

After the unification of Italy in 1861, the Jewish population of Pitigliano began to decline. Many Jews moved to larger cities nearby for economic reasons.  By 1931, there were only 70 Jews left living there.  Anti-Semitism was rampant by 1936 and then in 1938 racial laws were instituted. During the Holocaust, the brave Christian people of Pitigliano risked their lives to hide and save Jews that were escaping from the Nazi terror. They hid them on farms in the valleys and in caves up in the hills.

After the war, only 30 Jews returned to Pitigliano. The synagogue had been damaged during the war. Today despite the fact that there are only 3 Jews left in Pitigliano, the Jewish cultural heritage has been preserved. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1995. One of those Jews is Elena Servi.  She is president of Associazione La Piccola Gerusalemme (The Association of Little Jerusalem), an organization made up of both Catholics and Jews. Elena and her nephew have made it their life’s mission to tell the story of the history of Pitigliano so that future generations can learn from it.

It is a beautiful story of cultural and religious co-existence, tolerance, compassion, respect, friendship and affection between Christians and Jews. The association has raised funds to restore and preserve all the Jewish monuments in the town, including the Synagogue, the “Forno di Asimo” (the Kosher oven) and the Jewish Cemetery. The citizens of this town honour the memory of the Jewish citizens that once thrived in this place. They feel strongly that it is important to remember and preserve the history and maintain these sites so that it will never be forgotten. It is a very moving tribute.

A beautiful web site, devoted to Pitigliano has been created by one very special man. Click HERE to check it out!

We went to see the Kosher oven where matzoh for Passover was baked so many years ago.

We had the privilege of meeting Signora Servi and she spoke to us about her experiences during the Holocaust. She and several members of her family left the town in November 1943 and were hidden away by farmers and peasants, outside of town, moving from one small farm to another, until June 1944. The last 3 months of hiding were spent in a cave under the protection and support of a local Christian farmer.

After meeting with Elena, Elisabetta took us over to an old wine cellar (Cantina Sociale) where we were served an incredible lunch.

Platters of food kept arriving at the table. Of course the requisite Pecorino cheese made an appearance. We had a 2-month old one which tasted very fresh and nutty and a 1-year-old one which was drier and had some straw undertones. Then they brought Stracchino, a mild soft white cow’s milk cheese to the table with 3 sauces (cactus, acacia honey and pear and pepper) to accompany it. The name of the cheese derives from the Italian word “stracca”, meaning “tired. It is said that the milk from tired cows coming down from the alpine pastures in the fall, is richer in fats and more acidic. These qualities were discovered, according to legend, in the milk of cows who were moved seasonally, up and down the Alps to different pastures. The milk of such cows gives the cheese its characteristic flavors. It has a mild milky flavour, similar to cream cheese but a bit more acidic, with just a hint of tartness. It just melts in your mouth. When paired with the sauces it became something different all together. I loved it best with the pear and pepper sauce.

The crostini with olive oil was unbelievable. I have never had an olive oil this fruity. The olive oil soaked into the toasted bread and softened it ever so slightly. There were two kinds of farro salads, both with chickpeas. The first had thinly sliced purple onion and was dressed simply with olive oil and sea salt. The second had tomatoes and basil and was also dressed with olive oil and sea salt. I could not get enough of these farro salads. My favourite eat of the day! The chewy nutty farro contrasting with the creamy chickpeas was an unbeatable combination. When I came home I created my own version of this, adding pickled shallots.

Click here to see the recipe for Farro and Chick Peas with Pickled Shallots.

Of course we were served kosher wine, produced by The Pitigliano Cooperative Cellars. It is sold in a winery just outside of town.

We finished with a wild cherry and sheep’s milk ricotta cheese pie.

After lunch we had a chance to tour the wine cellar.

Then it was time to visit the Synagogue.

Once inside the synagogue, one of our friends asked Elisabetta if it would be okay if he could lead our group in the mincha (afternoon prayer) service. To hear Hebrew being sung in this place was very emotional for all of us. This  town of mostly Christians wish to honour the memory of the Jewish citizens that once thrived in this place. They feel strongly that it is important to remember and preserve the history and maintain these sites so that it will never be forgotten. It is a very moving tribute that left me feeling very hopeful about a future when all religions can peacefully co-exist.

After we left the synagogue, we felt kind of drained of all our energy, but in a good way. We just wandered around the town, taking it all in. The buildings in this walled city are constructed out of the soft yellow volcanic rock, “tuff.” The cobblestone streets are narrow and the pride the residents take in their homes was beautiful to see.

We discovered that Italian cats like to dine on pasta,  elderly men in Pitigliano like to hang out in a group, outside on benches, just like elderly gentlemen all over the world and my friend Philip discovered that the women of Pitigliano are incredible flirts.

Stay tuned for Day 9 when we become totally shallow, abandon all interest in culture and history and visit the Italian outlet malls!

Mushroom Barley Soup



Let me begin by saying, very unapologetically, this is not a vegetarian soup!  I have made this soup, for many years, with vegetable stock, and it was quite delicious.  But this time I made it with homemade beef stock. This soup was savory and meaty, with a richness, fullness and complexity of flavour that I had not tasted in a very long time. I had forgotten how good soup made with homemade beef stock could taste.  About 9 years ago my daughter announced she was going vegetarian.  I thought it was a phase, but by year 3 I finally wised up to the fact that she meant business. As a result, I vegetarianized all my soup recipes. And I just got used to them that way. It’s amazing how you can get stuck in a culinary rut this way and not even realize it.

It was only after volunteering at a Soup Sisters event last week that I was reminded of how much I loved soup made with beef and chicken stock. I used to make chicken stock weekly and beef and veal stock once in a while. With my daughter is away at university and I decided to embrace the beef. I got some beef bones at the butcher and roasted them with aromatic vegetables until they were all golden brown. I have to admit, I sort of felt like I was cheating and as the aroma of roasting beef bones was wafting out of my oven, I worried she would come in at any moment and catch me in the act of infidelity. I simmered everything for about 5 hours, strained the broth and chilled it overnight. The next day I spooned off the hardened fat, and heated up the stock. It was gorgeous.

I found this recipe for mushroom barley soup in Gourmet magazine (a moment of silence please)   many years ago (September 1998 issue).  The original recipe comes from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor Michigan. I have adapted it slightly. If you plan to make it with homemade beef stock (and I implore you to try it, just once, you’ll be hooked!) start a day ahead of time.

Just a few words about mushrooms. I had always been taught that mushrooms should never be washed under running water as they act as a sponge and will become waterlogged. I was instructed to just wipe them with a damp cloth or paper towel. What a tedious task. Well, Cook’s Illustrated has dispelled the washing myth. They did a test (of course they did, you gotta love Cook’s!) where they soaked 6 ounces of mushrooms in a bowl of water for 5 minutes.  Then they drained the mushrooms and weighted them again. They only absorbed 1 1/2 teaspoons of water. So go ahead and rinse your mushrooms under cold water. I used regular brown button mushrooms (called crimini) in my soup.

Regarding dried mushrooms, they should be soaked in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Sometimes there is grit in dried mushrooms. If you want to use the flavourful soaking liquid in the soup, strain the liquid through a paper coffee filter if you don’t have any cheesecloth.


I added about a tablespoon of tomato paste to the original recipe. Tomato paste is one of the several foods that contribute to umami. Umami (pronounced oo-mommy) is known as the 5th taste. We all learned about sweet, sour, salty and bitter when we were in school. Turns out the Japanese discovered a 5th taste our tongues could recognize. They maned it umami. It is best described as a savoriness. Simply put, it just makes food taste more delicious. Other foods that contribute to umami include Parmesan Cheese, anchovies, mushrooms, soy sauce and, brace yourself, breast milk. No wonder humans crave this 5th taste!

I finished the soup off with some freshly chopped dill and parsley as well as a spoonful of sherry vinegar. I remembered making beef consommé in culinary school. It was an all day affair involving ground beef and egg whites. Really gross but kind of cool to watch it being made. We finished the consommé off with some dry sherry. I had none in the house so I tried a splash of sherry vinegar and really liked the brightness it added to the soup.

The day I decided to make this, I had no barley so I substituted farro. I really loved the chewy texture of this grain in the soup.

Click here to print recipe for Mushroom Barley Soup.

Click here to print the recipe for Beef Stock.

Farro Pilaf with Apples and Raisins


Let me begin by apologizing.  Usually when you open up a new post from me you are greeted with a mouth-watering photo of something delicious to eat.  We have a problem here.  This Farro Pilaf with Apples and Raisins is not the most photogenic thing I have ever made.  But do not stop reading here!  I beg of you to be patient and continue on.  Farro-Apple pilaf combines my two newest food obsessions.

First we have farro.  I have fallen hard for Farro!  No, not the Egyptian Pharaoh!  Farro is a Roman grain, cultivated originally by European farmers as far back as 5000 B.C.  Although it is ancient, it seems to be the new darling of the culinary world and is making a big time comeback.  I accidentally stumbled across it when I was doing a search for Tabbouleh on epicurious.com.  I found a recipe for Farro and Pine Nut Tabbouleh.  Intrigued, I printed it out and put it in my “to try” pile.

The next week, I was watching Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network, and she made Cheesy Baked Farro, essentially macaroni and cheese but prepared with farro instead of macaroni. Now I just have to say, for the record, that I love Giada!  I think she has great recipes and she seems like a really fun gal to hang out with.  But I just wish she would cover up that cleavage a little.  Ok, rant over.

Two farro recipe sightings in less than a week.  Now my curiosity was definitely piqued.  I had to try this grain.  However, getting hold of farro was no simple task.  I called around to several local food stores.  Two of them said they had never heard of farro, while the other two said that in Canada, farro was sold under the name spelt.  Then, remembering that farro was Italian, I called Nicastros, Ottawa’s largest Italian food purveyor.  Yes, they told me, they sell “farro in chicchi”.

I came back from Nicastros with 2 boxes of farro.  Both were imported from Italy.  One is made by Martelli and the other is by Pantanella.  Interestingly, on the ingredient list of one box, it says, “100% Spelt”.  On the other box it says, “100% Farro, Spelt, Epautre”.  What??  No wonder people are confused.  I decided to consult Mark Bittman (or Bitty, as Gwyneth Paltrow calls him in “Spain, on the Road Again” on PBS), author of “How to Cook Everything”, and “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”.  These books are the modern day equivalent of Joy of Cooking.”

And of course, Bitty cleared things up for me.  Farro and spelt are often confused for each other.  Both are ancient grains from the wheat family. Farro cooks in about 20 -30 minutes and retains a chewy, toothsome texture while spelt takes 60-90 minutes to cook and has the tendency to turn gummy or mushy.  Farro is extremely versatile and can be used in soups, pilafs, risottos or cold grain salads.  It has become my new comfort food.  Plus, it is low in gluten, high in protein, helps fight insomnia and regulates cholesterol levels.  How could I not fall for Farro?

And then we have my second obsession, apples.  Honeycrisp Apples!  Who knew?  Apparently everybody but me.  These apples even have their own facebook page!  These apples hit the market in the fall of 1991.  I just discovered them a few months ago.  Where have I been?  To be fair, I was a little preoccupied in the early 90′s.  By the spring of 1993 I had a 3 year old, a 19 month old and a newborn to care for.  All three were in diapers, so cut me some slack.  But still, my kids are now 21, 19 and 17.  I pride myself on being knowledgeable about new food trends and products, (I’m hot on the trail of cacoa nibs  right now, but that’s a story for another time) but somehow, I missed the boat on this one.

In September, my daughter returned from a a farmer’s market with a big bag of Honeycrisp Apples.  She was positively gushing over them.  Gushing over apples?  This is my child whose first word was “Chocolate.”  I took one bite and suddenly I understood.  This is an explosively crisp apple. It snaps when you bite it.   It is crunchy and juicy all at the same time.  It is so refreshing to eat.  Sorry, was I gushing there?  You will too when you try one.  Oh, maybe you already know about them.  Maybe I really have been living under a rock.  If so, forgive me.

My curiosity led me to a search on where these apples came from.  It’s actually a pretty funny story.  The University of Minnesota has egg on it’s face over this one.  As is the case of most modern hybrid apples, the final product is the result of a lengthy breeding process, experimenting with cross after cross to get the optimal result.  When they finally had an apple they were pleased with, they sent it to market under the Honeycrisp name.  They believed that the parents were  “Honeygold” and  “Macoun”.  However, genetic fingerprinting revealed the shocking truth that neither of these apples were Honeycrisp’s parents.  They knew for certain that one parent was “Keepsake” but the other parent has not yet been identified.  If you know who it is, please advise the University of Minnesota.  Inquiring minds want to know.

I will admit that Honeycrisp apples are best in the fall.  They lose a bit of their “refreshing” nature as they mature.  However, that being said, I boutght a big bag at Costco this week and they were still pretty fantastic.  I decided to combine my two new loves, Honeycrisp and Farro, into one fabulous dish.

Farro can be cooked like pasta, where you boil it in a large quantity of water and then drain it and add it to all the other ingredients.  Or it can be cooked like a rice pilaf, where you saute some onions in oil or butter, then add the farro to coat it in the fat and then add stock and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the farro is tender.  I used the pilaf method.  I decided to add apples and raisins for their delicious sweetness and then I finished the dish with some freshly chopped Italian parsley.  It is absent from the photo as I forgot to add it!  But it really finishes the dish with a fresh note.

To print this recipe, click here.

I’d love to hear from you!