When I first told my friend, Adinah, that I was doing this project and blogging about it, she was... how shall I say?... indifferent. Supportive about the cooking, yes, but not even remotely interested in the blogging. I actually had to strong-arm her into merely glancing it at just once.
Would you believe - now she's my staunchest supporter! Not only does she read every entry, but she has also delivered beans to my door, she gave me an ice-cream machine, and today, she took me to Fairway Uptown (and a garden center in NJ)! And rumor has it that she might also be hooking me up with a meat grinder, via her mother!
Best of all, no one oohs and aahs like Adinah. She loves food, and she really gets what's special about preparing food and having food prepared for you.
Farro Risotto with Wild Mushrooms (p. 419)
Knowing Adinah as long as I do (almost 20 years), I know that she loves her some mushrooms, so this is an apt choice. Also, she's been enjoying farro at her favorite Italian restaurant and was excited to try it a new way.
I'd never made risotto before, so it was odd to start with this non-rice version. But I'm not one to back away from a challenge!
This recipe mimics the risotto recipe exactly, except it adds a mushroom topping, and it substitutes farro for rice. For those of you unfamiliar with farro, it's a whole grain wheat, very similar to spelt.
I used oyster and shiitake mushrooms, which I browned in olive oil and then kept warm in the toaster oven while I made the risotto. (I should have covered them, as they got a little dried out by the time I served the risotto.)
As for the risotto, instead of using chicken stock, as I'm guessing most recipes do, Martha directs us to make a unique stock for this dish, a very mild stock so as not to overpower the dish. (Celery, carrot, parsley, onion, garlic.) Personally, I think it would be safe to go with stronger flavors here, because the farro and mushrooms are heartier than the simpler risotto recipe.
It was interesting to taste this dish during each stage of the process. You start with diced onion sautéed in olive oil, then add farro, then white wine, and then the barely flavored broth goes in a little at a time. After adding it by half-cupfuls over the course of 20-25 minutes, I was shocked by how little flavor had accumulated in the pot. I thought I might be serving up a loser.
Then, I added the butter and parmagiano-reggiano and salt and pepper and parsley, and instantly, it became incredibly rich-tasting and delicious. Topped with mushrooms, I got the big oohs and aahs I was hoping for! I think this is another example of the whole layering effect. You can't really predict what it's going to taste like until it all comes together at the end.
I know there's a fair amount of olive oil, butter, and cheese in there, but for some reason, eating risotto made with farro seems almost healthy. Not this-tastes-like-cardboard-but-I-can-choke-it-down healthy. More like I'm-getting-my-fiber-and-I-can't-even-tell healthy.
I'd make this again...
Jeff: A- (for drying out the mushrooms)
Vegetable Tian (p. 319)
I picked this dish because it seems very South of France to me, which is right next to Italy (land of farro and risotto). The term tian was unknown to me before this book, but Martha defines it as a baked vegetable dish, similar to a gratin but without added cream or liquid to bind it together. Turns out a tian is actually a conical, earthenware cooking vessel as well as the braised vegetable dish cooked within.
My Martha Stewart rectangular baking dish isn't remotely conical, but I know it's going to work fine.
I slice up the squash, tomatoes, onion, and eggplant, but all my slices are different sizes! How am I ever going to get those perfect, overlapping rows of vegetables like Martha features in the book? Well, I'm not. I should have thought of this earlier and bought identically proprortioned produce. Alas, my rows are haphazard, uneven, hardly any sense of order at all.
But frankly, who cares? This dish is great, absolutely simple and straightforward and satisfying. All the vegetables get to shine individually and together. There are fresh herbs scattered about which dry up during roasting, leaving a crispy ash of flavor, as well as unpeeled garlic cloves, which come out mushy and delicious. The vegetables cook perfectly, and the end result is in the taste neighborhood of ratatouille, but cleaner and better. (No peppers!)
Another thing I like about this dish is that it's easy to assemble ahead of time, with nothing lost. Perfect for when you're making something else that needs constant attention. (Like... risotto?) I think this might become a regular vegetable side dish in my repertoire!
Jeff: A- (for less-than-perfect assembling)
Until we eat again....
Adinah as Lady Tian (a little King and I joke)
Hey look, my camera's out of storage! Better pictures, right? Now you can really see how dorky my plates are... Risotto in a fish bowl??