Though the weather changes along with my inspirations, our geographical locations and even my perceptions of what seems “easy” or “on-hand” one thing doesn’t around here; we’re one-pot, big bowl/big-salad-as-a-meal people. This was confirmed by our overwhelming excitement for the most amazing solid walnut bowl gifted to us a couple of weeks ago; I (the salad maker) and Derek (the salad eater) were both equally excited to fill it with good stuff. That bowl is a fixture in our kitchen. I literally don’t know how I would cook, serve, or conceive of dinner without it. What can I say – we’re simple people.
When it came down to what we’d prepare in it first, I had a few ideas. When I don’t think much about what we’ll have for dinner, I end up making some seasonal version of this. When I put in just a bit of thought, we have something more like this. But when I really start to try to clean out our pantry, to use ingredients we have on hand in new ways (instead of just running to the store and buying something that’s familiar and somewhat brainless) I challenge myself and other great stuff happens. Like this. And this. And this Roasted Mushroom + Gorgonzola Farro that served to christen the new bowl and quickly made the list of things we’ll make again soon. Very soon.
It wasn’t a grand epiphany, or a specific recipe that prompted this toasty, satisfying dinner; instead it was more of a breadcrumb trail (as all great, truly inspired and different things are, right?) There was that one summer when a friend cooked us dinner at a little bungalow on a vineyard in Napa; he threw armloads of beautiful local mushrooms in a roasting pan with shallots, the zest and juice of several lemons freshly picked from the surrounding trees, a nice glug of olive oil, salt, pepper and then some melty cheese at the end. We sat around the campfire, with goblets full of wine, scooping up the mushrooms and mopping up their delicious juices as dusk turned to night and the stars came out. Then, there have been all the times that I’ve been inspired by this lady and her book to look at whole grains in different ways — and in this case, to forget the beautiful, traditional, somewhat painstaking process of making risotto with arborio rice and to instead plug in whatever I have on hand. Not because I don’t appreciate the process — oh, I do! But because sometimes I don’t have the time to properly prepare a proper risotto, and this doesn’t stop us from craving one. I presented the idea of this bowl to Derek as “a risotto of sorts.” He got it and probably didn’t really care what it was called — it was good.
So, this risotto-like-bowl. I have two bits of advice and both have to do with keeping it simple on you. Earlier this week, I posted this little quick guide to cooking whole grains in anticipation of sharing this recipe with you all. In it, I talk a bit about how grains are interchangeable in so many ways; farro, rice, barley, quinoa. All have their merits, and all are up for a little freestyle action. In Italy, the idea of risotto is excellent because its rice, and butter and cheese and wine and made with your great grandmother’s recipe. But transported out of that culture and into our house, the idea of risotto is excellent because it’s a steaming bowl of rich comfort….and there are a myriad of grains you can use to accomplish that. In this case, I had farro and it worked beautifully. Whatever grain you have on hand, roll with it. In the guide I also suggest using a rice cooker to cook grains, which is something that I’ve done on the regular lately. It really helps me to feel less tied to the kitchen in the evenings (when I’ve already probably been tied to the kitchen all day) and buys me a little more time to ride my bike, catch up on reading, hang with the boys — ya know. The use of a rice cooker here helped bring together this homey dish with ease. Point being, no matter what grain you choose, a rice cooker will get the job done for you here.
The preparation is easy because the bowl really comes together as a couple of components; the grains (either cooked on the stove or in the rice cooker,) and the roasted mushrooms that take moments. Then you combine the two, doll it up, and serve. Just like that. We ate it along with a fresh green salad w/citrus + avocado as a main course, with poached eggs on top. A humble meal for a winter’s night. My suggestion is to make this bowl (because we are completely addicted to the earthiness of the mushrooms, the tang of the cheese and lemon, and the subtle heat of the crushed red pepper not to mention the hearty nature of the meal,) and then to use it as a jumping off point; add other veggies, spices, cheeses, nuts and accoutrements. Cook the grains in broth with a splash of wine. Make it your own. As usual, I can’t wait to hear how you do. Enjoy! – xo L
- 1 lb of mushrooms (baby bella, crimini + shitake)
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 red onion, chopped finely
- salt + pepper to taste
- a couple of glugs of good olive oil
- 1 cup farro
- a splash of dry white wine (optional)
- 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth or water
- 1 big handful marcona almonds
- 1/2 cup gorgonzola
- fresh parsley + chives (optional)
- olive oil, maldon sea salt + crushed red pepper (for finishing, to taste)
- poached eggs (optional, served on top!)
- In a rice cooker, or a heavy medium sized saucepan combine the broth or water and the farro. Cook until tender - 25 to 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F degrees and gather a standard sheet pan. Slice the mushrooms and put them in the sheet pan. Toss with the red onion, zest and juice, salt and pepper and a good glug of olive oil. Pop them in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from the oven.
- When the farro is done, toss it in a very large broad bowl. Add the mushrooms and toss together with the marcona almonds and cheese, then add a little glug of olive oil. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with fresh herbs, sea salt and crushed red pepper (and perhaps a poached egg!) Then, eat!
- Serves 4-6 as a meal, or two people for dinner with leftovers for lunch.