Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grains: Kickin' it with Kasha, Farro & Sausage revisited

Today was a lesson on grains. I gave a quick lecture before reviewing the recipes. Sure, there is meat and veg, but a huge part of what we eat is something else. What do you eat during the day that comes from grain? Bread, cereal, and pasta are primarily grains, but when you start talking about foods with grain product in it (corn and its many many forms), it's a cornerstone of our diet.

The definition of a grain is the small, dry single-seeded fruit of a cereal grass; fruit and seed is one in the same. While we are familiar it being bought and sold in massive quantities on the commodities market produced by industrial farms -- wheat, rice, corn -- there are literally thousands of other grains and varieties out there in the world.

Most grains are made up of:
Husk – inedible sheath of some grains
Bran – outer layer, what makes brown rice brown. Full o' fiber.
Endosperm – carbohydrate inner layer.
Germ – small inner core, contains vitamins and fat
Long grain rice is the #1 grain in world, which cooks up separate and fluffy. Short-grain rice is more starchy and cooks sticky -- hello, sushi rice, and risotto's arborio rice!

First recipe was one of my favorite from c-school. It's based around farro, a kind of heritage Italian wheat which, when cooked with chicken stock, just comes alive. Add to that the flavor of sausage and a wallop of fresh licorice-like fennel, and the whole dish sings. A lot of starch comes out the farro, and it's helped along with potato and kidney beans. The kids liked the dish, and I think the ones who took some home are in for a treat -- it gets thicker the longer it sits.


Yield: 16 servings
Sweet Italian sausage 2 lbs
EVOO 1 cup
Spanish onion, diced 4 each
Chicken Stock 1 gallon
Idaho potato, cubed 4 each
Tomato concassé 8 each
Fennel 2 bulbs
Farro 2 lbs
Red pepper flakes to taste
Water as needed
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Red kidney beans, cooked 32 oz
1. Brown sausage meat in olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until onion is soft.
2. Add the stock, potato, tomato, fennel, farro and red pepper flakes.
3. Cover the mixture with cold water. BTB RTS, season to taste, simmer for 30 minutes. Add more water if needed.
4. Add the kidney beans and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes
5. Serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with additional EVOO.

Pilaf: Saute the grain before simmering it in a covered pot to absorb all the liquid. The sauteing of the fat does two things: it gives the final dish both a slightly nutty flavor and a richer undertone to the whatever fat that's used, allowing the grain to cook faster. We used a very plain straight-ahead recipe, which came out tasting very buttery and lightly floral.

Yield: 2 servings

Spanish onion, small dice 2 oz
Butter 2 oz
Long-grain white rice 14 oz
Chicken stock 14 floz
Bay leaf 2 each
Thyme sprig 2 each
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Heat sauce pan. Melt butter, sweat the onion to translucent
2. Add the rice and stir to coat well with the butter, cook for a minute while constant stirring
3. Add stock, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper
4. Bring liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and transfer to oven. Cook 18 to 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
5. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprig. Use a fork to separate the grains of rice and release the steam.

Half the class made pilaf and the other half made a dish that I've never actually made myself but ate many times growing up. Originating in the shtetles of Eastern Europe, Kasha Varniskes is Yiddish soul food -- egg noodles tossed with buckwheat and caramelized onions and finished with a healthy dose of black pepper, it packs a big flavor of the funky buckwheat.


Yield: 8 servings

Onion, diced 4 cups
Chicken fat 1 cup
Chicke stock 3 cups
Buckwheat 1 ½ cups
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Bowtie egg noodles 1 lb
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, saute onion in fat slowly, until dark golden.
2. In a separate medium sauce pan, bring 3 cups of stock to a boil, stir in buckwheat and about 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover and simmer until kasha is soft and fluffy, about 15 minutes. Let stand, covered.
3. Salt large pot of boiling water and cook noodles to al dente. Drain, combine with kasha and fatty onions. Season with more chicken fat, salt and extra black pepper.


Next Wednesday is Veteran's Day, but we will continue in two weeks with early prep for Thanksgiving.