The last week has been an exciting and event-filled week for us. We welcomed in the Jewish New Year with Andrew's family in Cincinnati, broke fast with my family in New Jersey and relished in the beginning of a much anticipated football season.
Since these wonderful and celebratory last couple of weeks have been busy ones for us, we have not been eating at home as much as usual. And between working and traveling I have slipped a little bit with my meal planning. Instead of carefully planning out and shopping for meals in advance, I lately have found myself throwing something together for dinner at the very last minute (the previous entry for Curried Chickpeas with Spinach is a good example).
This past Sunday, after we had flown back into LaGuardia from Cincinnati, Andrew rushed off to catch the Bengals game at Phebe's, a bar in the East Village that has become the unofficial "Bengals Bar" (think 300 Cincinnatians wearing orange and black, eating Cincinnati-style chili and chanting "Who Dey!"). I rushed home to watch the 1 p.m. Giants season-opener. Around 4 p.m., after my beloved G-men wrapped up a win against the Carolina Panthers, I found myself gazing into an almost empty fridge thinking, "Ok, now what am I going to make for dinner?".
Seemingly reading my mind, I then received a call from a slightly downtrodden Andrew (the Bengals unfortunately didn't fare as well as the Giants), asking if he could pick anything up at Whole Foods on his way home (I know, he's good). "Yes!" I said. "Pick up a protein, please! Anything we can serve over risotto." I had a plan. I had a bag of farro in the cabinet that I could make into a risotto and I would serve the protein on top.
Andrew returned home an hour later with a beautiful piece of wild Coho salmon, a bag of Satur Farms baby arugula and a bunch of, my favorite, maitake mushrooms (did I mention how wonderful he is?!).
I wilted in the peppery baby arugula with the farro risotto and topped it with seared maitake mushrooms and the Coho salmon fillet (alternatively, you could toss the seared mushrooms in with the risotto). Nutritionally, this meal knocks it out of the park. As we all know already, wild salmon, arugula and maitake mushrooms have a lot going for them, but I would like to spend a moment talking about farro.
Farro is an ancient grain that is very closely related to spelt. It has long been a popular grain in Italy and is now gaining attention, and increased distribution, in the US. Look for it in specialty and health food stores (I found it at Sahadis in Brooklyn). This hearty grain has not had the husk removed, which means it contains significantly higher amounts of dietary fiber and vitamin E than other processed grains. And, it is one of those magical foods that is wonderfully good for us and extremely delicious. It has a chewy, toothy texture and a pleasantly nutty flavor.
For those of us who are skeptical that a fibrous, unprocessed grain like this could actually taste good, I urge you not to shy away from trying this. The first time I prepared farro for us, Andrew came into the kitchen, looked suspiciously at the grain and asked "Is this one of those cardboard-y tasting health grains?". Even though he was skeptical at first, we both agree that it is a wonderful, and I may even venture to say preferred, alternative to white aborio rice risotto.
Farro Risotto with Wilted Arugula
extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. farro
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 c. stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 big handfuls baby arugula
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 TBSP butter
salt & pepper to taste
Heat enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. Add the onion and cook, over medium-low heat, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook another minute or so until fragrant. Add in the farro and stir to coat the farro with oil, about 1 minute. Add in the white wine and stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Add in 1/2 c. of the stock, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 c. at a time, until the farro is softened but still has a nice bite to it (you may not need all of the stock). The total cooking time should take around 25 minutes.
Stir in the parmesan cheese and butter and simmer for a couple more minutes until the risotto has thickened. Add in the arugula and gently stir to wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To prepare the salmon:
This hardly deserves its own designated recipe, however the technique for pan searing salmon is important. It is particularly important to get the oil in the pan very hot in order to get a good sear and prevent the fish from sticking. When the oil develops a sheen and starts to ripple, you are ready to add the salmon. To be sure the pan is hot enough, place a corner of the fish down and make sure it doesn't stick. If it does, give the pan another minute to heat up.
2/3 lb. wild salmon
salt & pepper
canola or grapeseed oil
Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat a stainless steel pan over high heat and add in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan (for this application you do not want to use olive oil, as it has a lower smoke point and will burn). Heat the oil until is starts to ripple, then carefully add the salmon fillets, presentation side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip the fish, cover the pan, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until they have reached your desired level of doneness.
To prepare the Maitakes:
Be sure not to salt the mushrooms until they have browned. Salting early in the cooking process will draw out their moisture, which prevents them from browning properly. If you can't find Maitakes, any other kind of wild mushroom (crimimi, shitake, oyster, etc) would be great at well.
1/4 lb. fresh Maitake mushrooms
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP butter
salt & pepper to taste
Use a damp paper towel to brush off any dirt from mushrooms. Break up into bite-size "florets". Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook for several minutes, until they have browned up nicely. Add in the butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.