We’ve all done it. You get home from work and you’re basically ravenous. You can’t be bothered with setting an actual place for yourself. You grab a few nuts, pour a glass of wine, break out the leftovers, and go to town. Or if you’re me last night, it goes a little something like this: You spend the late afternoon making and photographing a beautiful dish of warm grains and cabbage and time’s ticking away. You’re meeting Katie, your old high school friend, for drinks so you rush out the door. You’re wearing a pretty, flowy scarf and feeling a little like you can take on the world as you’re strolling down Divisadero towards your favorite neighborhood bar. You catch up. You laugh. You cry a little. You envy the fact that your friend has a real job (yay, Katie!). You drink maybe one more than you should considering the fact that you haven’t eaten since 11 a.m. Then you get home, pull your hair up into a high bun, break out the boxer shorts, and to the fridge you go. You find yourself sitting in a dark, quiet kitchen lit only by the security light from the building next door–tipsy and grateful for such an amazingly nourishing salad.
So while I’d love to wax on about what a lovely side dish this is and how well it would compliment pork or add to any vegetarian spread, it’s just as good in your scivvies late on a Tuesday night. I guess that says a lot.
I was drawn to this recipe because it looked like a fairly perfect dish to me. While I’m no longer a vegetarian, I cook that way most of the time and I’m a big farro fan. Yep, I’ve been in farro’s corner for a long time now. So this warm salad combines colorful cabbage, crunchy walnuts, hearty grains of your choosing (could use barley, spelt, wheat berries, or short grained brown rice) and the delightfully crumbly and slightly salty ricotta salata. It’s got a lot going for it. And I’m pretty sure you’ll love it as much as I did, whether you’re a worn-in boxer shorts or a cocktail dress kind of gal.
I’ve adapted the recipe, opting to cook the grains in chicken stock instead of water to enhance the flavor. I also used more thyme and added minced garlic. See the chart below for the proper liquid/grain ratio and cooking time for your chosen grain. Food and Wine did split up the recipe into two parts, giving you directions for making the Thyme-Scented Grains and then separate directions for the warm salad itself. I’ll do the same for ease, but just know that the former is quite common sense so don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the directions. I think this dish would be fantastic with the addition of spinach or kale as well. That’s on my to-do list next time around.
I’ve adapted the recipe, opting to cook the grains in chicken stock instead of water to enhance the flavor. I also used more thyme and added minced garlic. You can use any grain for this salad and the cook time will obviously vary depending on your choice (See the chart in the Directions, below, for the proper liquid/grain ratio and cooking time for your chosen grain). I think this dish would be fantastic with the addition of spinach or kale as well. That’s on my to-do list next time around.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
For the Grains:
For the Salad:
Cook the Grains: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the grains and cook over moderate heat, stirring until lightly toasted; the grains will turn slightly opaque just before browning. Add the onion and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and 1 tsp. of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender. Fluff the grains and discard the thyme sprigs. Season the grains with salt if necessary and serve (Makes: About 4 cups)
Prepare the Salad: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate or baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes until golden and fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the onion and cook over high heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and cook. Stir occasionally until the cabbage is barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and water, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and the water has evaporated, 20 minutes. Stir in the the Thyme-Scented Grains, ricotta salata, and toasted walnuts. Transfer to a bowl and serve.
Grain Cooking Chart: For 1 1/2 cups of your chosen grain, consult this chart for amount of liquid and time:
Barley, pearled/ 3 cups liquid / 25 minutes
Farro / 3 cups / 25 minutes
Short-grain brown rice / 2 3/4 cups / 35 minutes
Spelt / 4 cups / 1hr. 25 minutes
Wheat berries / 5 cups / 2 hours
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.