Since early on in my restaurant career, days off have often involved boiled food. I suppose it was the polar opposite of the tastes and techniques of the week’s work. It started in the 1980s when I would gather on any given Sunday with food industry types such as Chuck and Neal Pascale, Chef Etienne Merle, and wine guys such as John Ricciatti and Larry Luckwaldt (who eventually partnered with John Stage for the non-take out evolution at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que). I clearly remember Lynn Pascale, who was Pascale's pastry chef at the time, getting a big kick out of stabbing a hunk of boiled meat with a fork and pulling it out of a large pot on the stove. "Dinner!" she would say.
So, this past Sunday, I dug a saucepan of red rice out of my fridge that I had boiled (or rapidly simmered)a couple of days earlier. Cooked in tap water, I had thrown in a couple of my cousin Elise's 2011 dried cayenne peppers grown in her garden nestled in the Utah mountains. Then, I chopped up the remainder of a semi-ancient fennel bulb that had been residing in the back of my crisper. Next, I tossed the anise flavored crunch into some hot olive oil I had heating in a small wok-style sauté pan. After a few minutes, I threw in whole pecans halves from my freezer (*I always freeze my nuts) and I let this all ride for another couple of minutes. Then, stirring in the rice, I thought, "Wine tastes good in risotto, I'll pour in some of that Chardonnay I have open." After another minute, I added a scant handful of dried cranberries that had been laying around all winter, as I wanted a hit of some intense sweetness here and there, but not too much.
When all was heated through, I dumped my dinner of collected old ingredients into an ancient white soup plate, and dressed it with a touch more extra virgin olive oil, some sweet rice vinegar, gray salt and cracked black pepper. I debated for a moment about whether to add Romano cheese, and finally grated a very small amount on top. The end result was, surprisingly, everything I had hoped for, hearty, crunchy, chewy, and savory, with a hint of salty and touch of sweet. Great mouth feel, great taste all adding up to a very satisfying supper without much guilt.
On my next day off, I accidentally topped that grain dish with one that was so delicious, it reminded me of the first time I experienced sautéed foie gras. I know this sounds a little crazy, as grain is nothing like goose liver, but every once in awhile you taste something that just blows your mind!
It all started with this convenient cut up butternut squash from the store. I was going to boil up some basmati rice and top it with roasted squash, but then, I found a small bag of farro I had purchased months ago. Somehow, I thought farro was one of those grains that required 50 minutes to cook. But, I was wrong. It's ready after only 15 minutes on a medium boil. On the back of the farro package I noticed a recipe that pared it with butternut squash. It called for red onion, which I didn't have, but also walnut oil and balsamic vinegar. So, instead of my usual method of roasting it in olive oil, perhaps with garlic, I tossed the orange squash cubes in walnut oil and some 'fig balsamic' I had lying in wait. The recipe also called for thyme, but I had just trimmed a rosemary plant I somehow managed to keep alive all winter, so I used that instead.
If you haven't tried farro, OMG, it is so hearty and satisfying; much more so than, say, brown rice, and even more than the red rice I had eaten the night before. Anytime I have brought farro as the base for a dish to pass, people have sat up and taken notice - saying - "What's this El Babe? Yum."
This night, I simply boiled the farro in tap water with a touch of Celtic salt —again, no broth! Meanwhile, I stir-scraped the squash every five minutes or so with a spatula (turner), until the last five minutes in the roasting process (400 degree F oven for about half an hour), when I added a random measure of rough chopped walnuts to the roasting tray.
When the squash was done, I scooped two heaping serving spoonfuls on top of a bowl of warm farro. Wow - It was perfectly melded together bowl of yummy goodness!
So next time you don't know what to make for dinner, boil some water, gather some clean towels and look around your pantry. You just might surprise yourself? Or, there is always our risotto here at bc Restaurant. This sumptuous 'boiled creation' is prepared using Italy's arborio rice, white wine and wild mushrooms, plus a few other tricks up our Chef's sleeve!
chef wayne's wild mushroom risotto
* Note: I store nuts in the freezer to avoid pests who can find them irresistible, and freezing doesn't affect texture or flavor of the nut meats.
To learn more about farro, check out:
after eating the farro I sort of felt like russell crowe in "gladiatore"