Creamy Radicchio Risotto

with Mascarpone

(or Not - Vegetarian &

Vegan versions)

Farrotto: a Risotto made out of Spelt Farro, with Tuscan Kale and Mushrooms

Today’s harvest: Tuscan Kale, Red onion.

If Tuscany could be wrapped up in a dish, this would be a perfect example.

Whenever we, among friends, needed to decide where to go for our spring weekend vacation, we’d always pick Tuscany. In fact, we picked Tuscany three years in a row. Who knows, maybe it is the warm, splendid sun, or the warm, splendid people, with their amazing accent. Or maybe it’s the gorgeous food, the olive oil, the towns, every single medieval church you lay your eyes on or every single field you happen to drive by. Whatever it is, we couldn’t get enough of it, and every year the warmth of that land cradled our peaceful days together.

Farrotto Farro spelt risotto

Tuscany is so full of stunning regional products that are some of the most loved and known in the whole country. Pecorino from Pienza, chestnut flour in Prato, all kinds of beans and legumes, the world-renowned wines like Chianti and Montepulciano, and, well, Farro, an awesome, ancient cereals that has always been the shiny star of the Tuscan cuisine.

Let’s dive a little deeper into its properties:

HEALTH BENEFITS OF FARRO AND SPELT
Amongst the cereals, the health benefits of this cereal are unrivaled. It is extremely nutritious but lower in calories than other cereals, and, to top it all off, it has a wonderful, sweet, nutty flavor. It is much, much better than wheat in every single way, as:

  • Contains many ditamins of the groups A, B, C and E,
  • Contains precious minerals like Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium and, most of all, Iron,
  • It is very rich in fiber, which contributes to the overall health of the intestine,
  • it contains Selenium and Phytic Acid, which help fight free radicals and are therefore allies of a healthy heart and body.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT FARRO AND SPELT
Farro comes in three forms: Triticum Monococcum, Triticum Dicoccum and Triticum Spelta – or, as you might imagine, Spelt. Only spelt and dicoccum are good for eating and turning into flour. The reason why Italian Farro is different from any other, is that Italians tend to use Dicoccum, while the rest of the world uses Spelt. Farro tends to remain more ‘al dente’ than Spelt, which is why it preduces great results when cooked like risotto. Farro also needs to be soaked for longer.
For recipes like these, looking for Italian Farro would be optimal. But spelt has the same health benefits and it would be worth trying this recipe with it too.
On the other hand, if we are looking for flours, spelt is better: it produces better baked products, as Dicoccum and Monococcum are way too low in gluten.

Both farro and spelt come in their ‘whole‘ and ‘pearled‘ forms: pearled spelt is kind of like white rice or white flour, but, even when the outer husk is removed from the grain, its nutritional value remains very very high, with the advantageof being easier to digest. Any grain should be soaked for at least an hour, but, if spelt can get away with a shorter soaking time, pearled farro should be soaked for at least 3 or 4 hours, or, even better, overnight. Whole farro and spelt need over 12 hours, so just soak them the day before and forget about them until ready to cook.

This recipe embodies the soul of Tuscan cuisine, which really belongs to the farming world of Italy: as a land of farmers, the chances tot take advantage of the unique products Tuscany offered turned its cuisine into one of the most earthy, flavorful and nutritious vegetarian fare in the country.
There is no extra garlic, no extra herbs, and no extra anything as it really doesn’t need it. If you want to add something be my guest, but the point of good italian cooking is that you can get great results without looking too far.

I would like this simple recipe to be a tribute to Tuscany and its people, of which I am dearly fond.

A NOTE ON THE CHOICE OF INGREDIENTS
Farro: try and get Italian farro of you can. If not, pick whole spelt, as it will be texturally (and nutritionally better than its pearled counterpart.
Kale: The kind used here is the one with long, smooth leaves, but regular curly kale can be substituted.
Dried Mushrooms: In this case I picked a baf of mixed dried mushrooms with porcini in it, but everything will work perfectly with Porcini alone. If getting mixed mushrooms, just make sure there’s some Porcini amongst them.
Olive Oil: Of course, using tuscan extra virgin would be best, especially for the final garnishings. Try and use a delicate, herby extra virgin if you can. I believe that if you’re not using extra virgin olive oil here, you will miss out on one of the best parts of this dish!

Farrotto Farro spelt risotto ingredients

Farrotto Farro spelt risotto ingredients

Farrotto with Tuscan Kale and Mushrooms
(serves 4)

200g Farro
A good glug of Olive oil
A medium Onion, yellow or red
A small shallot
4-5 long leaves of Tuscan Kale, hard stalks removed
A handful dried mushrooms
250g Champignon, Button or Cremini mushrooms
One liter vegetable stock, or hot water with an organic bouillon cube – more if needed.
A splash of white wine*
Salt, to taste
(extra) a cup or more of cooked lentils
(extra) one tablespoon of butter.

For serving
Good quality Extra Virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino (skip to make it vegan)**

* Wine really does help build the flavor, but if you want to skip it you will still have a delicious final product.
** If you are not vegan or a strict vegetarian, please, please, pleeeease add the cheese. It brings flavor and texture to a whole new level. If not using it, though, I suggest not skimping on the Extra Virgin. You can also look for a high quality vegetarian seasoned cheese.

The night before, soak the farro in a bowl with double its volume in water. Make sure it stays there for at least 12 hours. The dried mushrooms will also need to be soaked for at least two hours, in a half cup of warm water. Keep the water of the soaked mushrooms!

Wash the kale, remove the stems and stalks (but don’t throw them out! They can be boiled until soft, pan-fried and eaten as a side dish) and thinly slice.
Scrub the mushrooms well, detach the cap from the stalk. Cut off the butt-end of the stalk, remove any trace of dirt and thinly slice. Thinly slice the caps as well.
Finely dice the onion and shallot.

Add a glug of olive oil to a large, shallow pan, or to a casserole pan – I’d say about 3-4 tablespoons. Let it heat a little bit and add the onions and shallots. Stir-fry on medium heat for 5 minutes, until translucent. In the meantime, drain the soaked mushrooms, reserving the water, and roughly chop them before adding them to the pan, along with the kale. Give everything a good stir, and let them cook on medium for 5 more minutes. Lower the fire if the oil sizzles too much or if your vegetables threaten to stick.
Add the fresh mushrooms and their stalks.

After 5 more minutes, scoop out a cup of the starchy soaking water of the farro and drain it. Add the farro, and stir well to coat it with the juices in the pan. Add a good pinch of salt, and stir well. After about 2 minutes it should turn slightly translucent. At this point, add the starchy water, the mushroom water – taking care that the residue of the bottom doesn’t get in the pan, and just enough stock to barely cover everything. Let it bubble on medium-low, and add the stock by the ladleful as the liquid dries out. After 20 minutes or so, it should start getting the classic risotto creaminess. Add liquid a little at a time, to achieve optimal creaminess.
Cooking times will vary depending on what kind of farro you use: pearled should be ready in 25 to 30 minutes, while whole farro and spelt might take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that organic grains take longer to cook.

At the end of cooking, add the lentils to make it a more protein balanced dish, and to increase the fiber content.

Check for taste and texture. Adjust salt to taste, and, when you are happy with the consistency, you can move on to the ‘mantecatura‘ – or finishing of the farrotto. Stir in the butter if using (i really believe you can skip this one), and one tablespoon of grated parmigiano per head or more. Dish up, and – Very important! Garnish with a teaspoon or two of extra virgin olive oil. Add more cheese if you like.

Enjoy!

This dish:

Can be made ahead: make it the day before, be amazed by how tastier it is the day after!
Keeps well: you can store it in the fridge for two or three days.
Packs well: Make it for dinner the day before, bring it to work the day after! It is also delicious at room temperature.
Is an effortless way to feed more than one person: Sure, the real ingredients can be a bit pricey for people outside of Italy, but if you substitute local ingredients it becomes and awesome party dish!

Do you have any stories from trips to Tuscany, or would you like to go there?
I would love to know!

Farrotto Farro spelt risotto ingredients

Farrotto Farro spelt risotto

Ritrovarsi: un trionfo di bruschette

La Bruschetta ha un significato che scalda il cuore ad ogni italiano:
Significa ritrovarsi. Con gli amici, con la famiglia. ritrovarsi.

Cosa c’é di piú semplice ed efficace delle bruschette, ad aprire un pranzo o una cena insieme?
Per lo stesso motivo anche gli americani le apprezzano imensamente. E’ l’appuntamento di una cena in pace da soli, in due, da preparare insieme. Ricordo uno splendido 4 luglio a cui partecipai, per il quale i proprietari allestirono una tavola su un terrazzo al 23esimo piano: bruschette alla caprese, prosciutto e melone, brie, ciabatta e composte.
Casa. Questa é casa, ovunque sei.

ora che si va a rientrare in un altro grande periodo festivo con Halloween, Ringraziamento e Natale, la storia si ripete. Ci saranno bruschette sulle tavole di tutti: sono economiche, veloci e qualunque idiota riuscirebbe ad assemblarle. Sono perfette per vegetariani e vegani e si adattano a qualsiasi tasca e stagione!

Bruschetta carciofi

porcini, finferli, chiodini

Il mio tagliere di crostini segue un pattern prevalentemente novembrino. Nella versione inglese del post ho descritto alcuni abbinamenti tra i piú comuni tra pane, condimenti e vini, ma sono convinta che ogni italiano ha giá le sue preferite ;)
Negli USA i finferli, chiamati chanterelles, sono piuttosto comuni e io li apprezzo molto. Certo, non sono il massimo per questo tipo di preparazione, a meno che non abbiamo vinto al lotto o cose simili.

Questa sera abbiamo un delicato paté di carciofi, un classico porcini e tartufo, e taleggio al miele. Non siamo troppo distanti da Acqualagna, la capitale del tartufo, e la presenza di tutti questi prodotti inizia a farsi decisa e forte.

Tutte le quantitá sono piuttosto approssimative – sappiamo quanto sia complicato dare dosi esatte per le bruschette, dal momento che ognuno le condisce a piacere. Ma tutto ció dovrebbe essere sufficiente per 8-10 persone.

 

Bruschetta Porcini e Tartufo

  • One cap of Porcini mushrooms or, alternatively, a handful of dried Porcini, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes;
  • Due o tre Champignons o altri funghi misti;
  • Un cucchiaino di pasta di tartufo, o qualche scaglia fresca;
  • Olio EVO, aglio, prezzemolo, un goccio di vino bianco (extra) e sale.

Affettare i porcini e saltarli nell’olio (e magari un po’ di burro), aglio schiacciato e prezzemolo. Salare e cuocere, sfumando con il vino lungo i bordi della pentola quando il liquido comincia ad asciugarsi. aggiungere per ultimo il tartufo e distribuire su fette ben tostate e leggermente unte.

Variazione formaggi e tartufo: Aggungere una fetta di Taleggio o Brie ai funghi, e passare al forno per dorare il formaggio.

Altre opzioni: Schiaffare tutto nel frullatore e spalmare! Usare un po’ di panna come legante puó essere una buona idea.

 

Bruschetta alla Crema di Carciofi

  • 150g (o un barattolino) di carciofi in olio d’oliva;
  • Uno spicchio d’aglio cicciotto;
  • Prezzemolo;
  • Sale;
  • Una spruzzata di limone;
  • Olio EVO.
  • (Extra) Un cucchiaio di Parmigiano.

Frullare tutto, aggiungendo l’olio a piacere per ottenere una crema. Aggiungere aglio, prezzemolo, sale e limone poco alla volta, per adattare al proprio gusto.

 

Bruschetta Gorgonzola e funghi

  • Gorgonzola;
  • Funghi misti tipo Porcini, Champignon, Pleurotus…
  • Condimenti per i funghi (vedi sopra).

Saltare i funghi in padella come sopra, adagiarli sul pane tostato (e magari unto) e poggiare una fetta di formaggio sopra. Passare in forno caldo per scioglierlo.

Variazione al Radicchio: Il radicchio prenderebbe egregiamente il posto dei funghi. Meglio usare la cipolla, e lasciare da parte il prezzemolo. Il radicchio, come i funghi, rilascia tantissima acqua. Condire direttamente il radicchio con olio, sale e pepe e saltarlo in una padella caldissima solitamente funziona.

Altri ottimi accostamenti, non vegetariani:
– Taleggio e Speck
– Prosciutto Crudo, Parmigiano e glassa al balsamico
– Pancetta di ottima qualitá, passata brevemente in forno
– Funghi, salsiccia e mozzarella
– Burro e acciughe

Combinazioni dolci
– Taleggio o altro formaggio ben stagionato con miele d’Acacia e, perché no, fichi secchi
– Parmigiano con fichi caramellati al balsamico
– Pecorino o Formaggio di Fossa con miele d’arancio
– Ricotta, noci e miele
– Gorgonzola con composta ai frutti di bosco (sí, davvero)
– Qualunque formaggio con cipolle caramellate al balsamico
tagliere di bruschette

 

Gatherings: A Bruschetta Feast

bruschetta Ingredients

Bruschetta has a heartwarming meaning for every Italian:
It means gatherings.

What is simpler, tastier and more versatile than bruschetta, to open the way to a party between friends or relatives, and to a wonderful time together?

Whenever we’d host dinners at our place, everybody was involved in the preparation, and everyone was more than pleased to help. Every Christmas and New year’s Eve with friends, bruschette prepared together were the yearly appojnment that accompanied our meals. Bruschetta, much like fresh pasta (albeit infinitely simpler), is one of those foods that mean quality time spent with your loved ones.
This is why I would like to give life to a new category – Gatherings, wth this post: to talk about all those dishes that fed the crowds of my life.

Now that we are diving into the festive season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas in clear sight, I thought that sharing ideas for a nice board of Bruschetta would be a great way to start planning our holiday meals.
The variations are endless. Some of the advantages of bruschetta are:

  • They are foolproof and quick to make: slice bread, toast, top, serve.
  • They can be very cheap: One of the points of bruschetta is to use up day-old bread, as it turns soft again when toasted. If you don’t want to delve into fancy toppings, some of the tastiest slices are made by simply rubbing with garlic and sprinkling extra virgin olive oil.
  • They are infinitely adaptable: pick your toppings according to season, choose amongst many kinds of bread, cheeses, spreads  and according to how much you can spend. There can be savory or sweet versions, vegetarian, vegan and non-vegetarian versions and there is very likely a perfect wine that will go wonderfully with each choice.
Artichoke bruschetta

Artichoke bruschetta

My smorgasbord of bruschette (or ‘Tagliere’ as we’d call it in Italian) is following a pattern that goes along with the upcoming month of November. Seasoned cheeses, mushrooms and toppings with a decisive taste find their home on our fall / winter table.

Here’s a few pointers for a fall bruschetta assembly:

  • The bread: There are so many kinds of bread to choose from! Even though it would be even better to make your own (instructions coming soon!), any kind of crusty bread will make wonderful bruschetta. Since the word bruschetta comes from ‘bruscare’ which means ‘to toast’, any kind of toasted italian bread will essentially make bruschetta, but if you use white toast bread of the pullman kind it’s not bruschetta anymore: it’s a tartina. I encourage you to use whole wheat or rye bread, not only because they’re better nutritionally, but I also find that they add a lot to the overall taste with their nutty flavor. My favorite kinds are Pugliese bread and Campagne.
  • The toppings: Although they change from region to region, us people who are in the middle have the privilege of getting a little bit of everything. Generally speaking, aside from the ingredients themselves, we tend to adjust the condiments according to season: for the summer, we will probably prefer fresh cheeses like ricotta or mozzarella, and summer vegetables like tomatoes, grilled eggplants and zucchini or roasted peppers. Winter will have a prevalence of seasoned cheeses that melt wonderfully – like Gorgonzola, Taleggio or Pecorino, and definitely an increased use of meats like sausage or Speck. vegetables of choice can include mushrooms, Radicchio and other vegetables that will likely be consumed cooked. A mix of cheeses, honey and preserves are a timeless favorite, as well as the garlic and olive oil combo. So are any kind of vegetables preserved in olive oil, which means that you could make brusketta by just looking into your pantry if you can’t be bothered to shop for it.
  • The oil: The oil will probably make or break your bruschetta, so it is extremely important that the oil you use is Extra Virgin and quite flavorful. Since its taste will be so present, definitely pick your favorite. You don’t need much, but make sure that the little oil you use makes a statement, especially with simple condiments like raw vegetables.
  • The cheeses: As I said above, fresh cheeses will be predominant in the summer, while savory cheeses are preferred in the cold season. Parmigiano and Grana Padano are an all-time favorite. Fresh cheeses are also best paired with vegetables that will be consumed raw and garnished with olive oil, vinegar and salt (like cherry tomatoes, arugula and red onion). Some examples are Mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, Burrata, Ricotta, Robiola, Chévres and, if you’re lucky enough to find it, Stracchino. Some well seasoned, winter cheeses include Pecorino, Formaggio di Fossa, Taleggio, Gorgonzola and Blue cheeses in general. There are many others, but someone who’s not in Italy can also take advantage of the availability of other cheeses, like Gouda, french cheeses in general and, well, whatever fits your bill. One cheese I’d personally never use for bruschetta? cream cheese. I like it, but it just doesn’t mingle. Sorry, New York.
  • The wine: The rule is that red meats and game go with red wine, and salads, white meats and fish go with white wine. This might not always be the case, but it’s not much different for vegetarian bruschetta: if you’re using ingredients that make a statement go with red, and for lighter, summery options go with white. A light bodied, sweet red could go well with lighter fare, too.

In my board for tonight’s gathering I picked some of the most common fall pairings. A delicate artichoke pate, the most classic truffle and Porcini mushrooms, and Taleggio with honey. Both Porcini and truffle are in season now, and the hills in northern Marche, around the village of Acqualagna, are teeming with delicious fungi of all kinds. This year there has been a lucky overflow of white truffles, as well.
But more of this in another post.

Mushrooms porcini chanterelles pioppini

From the left: Porcini, Chanterelles (Finferli) and Pioppini.

All the measurements here are kind of approximate, as everything largely depends on how many pieces you slice your bread into. But any of these condiments will be enough for 6-8 people or so. With bruschetta you can just eye it!

Porcini and Truffle Bruschetta

  • One cap of Porcini mushrooms or, alternatively, a handful of dried Porcini, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes;
  • Two or three Champignons;
  • A scant teaspoon truffle paste, or a few truffle slivers.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Slice the Porcini cap in half, then slice it not too thick. Sauté in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil (you could add a bit of butter if you wish), a crushed clove of garlic (or minced if you prefer)and a bit of chopped parsley. Add a pinch of salt and cook through, for about 10 mins. Lastly, add the truffle paste and spread on the toasted slices. If using fresh truffle, slice on top of the bruschetta at the very end.

Truffle and cheese variation: Add a slice of Taleggio or Blue cheese on your pre-toasted slices, and broil until melted. Add fresh truffle, truffle paste or truffle oil before serving.

Other serving options: Put everything in a blender and blitz into a paste! You could add a bit of cream if you wish, to bind everything together.

 

Artichoke Pesto Bruschetta

  • 150g Artichokes hearts preserved in Olive Oil;
  • A fat clove of Garlic;
  • A few sprigs of Parsley;
  • Salt;
  • A squeeze of lemon;
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil as needed.
  • (Extra) A tablespoon of Parmigiano.

Add all the ingredients to a (small) food processor and process until you get a smooth paste, adding the oil a bit at a time. Start with less garlic, parsley and lemon, and taste to make sure you don’t add too much. Adjust at the end.

 

Gorgonzola and Mushroom Bruschetta

  • Gorgonzola, or other nice blue cheese;
  • 2 cups of mixed mushrooms like Porcini, Button, Champignon and Chanterelles.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Sauté your mix of mushrooms as described above. Add some cheese slices to your toasted bread, and top with the mushroom mix. Drizzle with truffle oil if you wish.

Radicchio variation: Instead of mushrooms you can use sautéed Radicchio, which is also delicious. Use onion instead of garlic and skip the parsley. Radicchio, just like mushrooms, will release a lot of water. Using a wok for quickly sautéing it would be great.

Some other delicious and non-vegetarian pairings
– Taleggio and Speck
– Prosciutto Crudo, Parmigiano and Balsamic Glaze
– Just plain, top quality Pancetta
– Mushrooms, Sausage and Mozzarella
– Anchovy and butter

 Some Sweet combinations
– Taleggio or other well seasoned cheese with Acacia honey
– Parmigiano with caramelized figs and balsamic glaze
– Pecorino or Formaggio di Fossa with Orange blossom honey
– Ricotta with walnuts and honey
– Gorgonzola or blue cheese with Berry compote (yes, really)
-Any cheese with caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar.
Whatever the occasion, it is up to you to create delicious bruschetta. Get in the kitchen (or in your pantry) and get creative!
bruschette-board
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