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Transitioning to spring

(post, Caroline Lewis)

It snowed last Tuesday, and it was 25 degrees the other morning. So it's hard to believe that spring is really right around the corner. 

It’s an interesting time of year for a gardener and a cook. There’s not much produce available other than what has been in storage, is overwintering in the garden, or has arrived from warmer climates.

Yet we’re full of hope and excitement, because spring planting is nearly here. Gardeners delight in scouring seed catalogs this time of year, dreaming of lush and productive edible landscapes.

We're finishing building our demonstration gardens this week at Verdura. This week, we’ll be planting spinach and five different kinds of peas (snow, snap, shelling, petits pois, and sweet peas) to join the overwintering plants. In our gardens — even with the extremely cold winter we’ve had — these include garlic, shallots, mustard, chard, mâche, escarole, spinach, kale, and pac choi.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="The starts of spring."] 

When those first green pea shoots appear — in concert with our first crocuses — it’s always a wonderful feeling. Spring really is coming, even to chilly, rainy Oregon! We become impatient for more sun, warmer temperatures, and that last frost date so we can finally start sowing seeds in earnest.

I’m already dreaming of spring dishes like risotto primavera by now, but of course the peas won’t be ready for weeks, and asparagus will come even later. A great alternative — and one of our favorite dishes to transition from winter to spring — is farro.

Farro, also known as emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), was widely cultivated in the Middle East in ancient times. Today it's grown primarily in mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, and is most often seen in northern Italian cooking. It’s a very healthy, delicious whole grain that is slightly chewy when cooked. 

I buy semiperlato farro, which does not require soaking and cooks in nearly the same amount of time as Arborio or Carnaroli rice. I have found semiperlato farro at Classic Foods (wholesale only), Whole Foods, and Pastaworks.

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Larry and I cook farro just like risotto, using a little wine, good homemade chicken broth, whatever winter greens are available, and sometimes a bit of pancetta. As with risotto, we finish farro with the best Parmigiano-Reggiano we can get our hands on. We’ve added [/user/verdura+Caroline/recipes/verdurarecipes/winterfarro "this recipe to our Culinate recipe box."] 

Keep in mind, though, that farro is as infinitely variable as risotto. We’ve found farro to be delicious with roasted butternut squash or carrots, for example. My sister did a wonderful version using turkey broth and leftover thigh meat from her Thanksgiving turkey. Bacon, ham, or shredded slow-cooked pork shoulder would also be delicious (when aren’t they?) with farro. I tend to save more delicate ingredients like peas, asparagus, and seafood for recipes using Arborio or Carnaroli rice.


reference-image, l