They say you’ve gotta know the rules before you break the rules and I think that’s true of cooking as much as it’s true of art or writing or any other discipline. Before you make deconstructed spaghetti and meatballs with foam and fruit leather and dehydrated beef essence, you should probably learn how to make the straightforward version. (Plus: the straightforward version is usually better.) Let’s say you’re hankering to be creative, though, and you want to flex your artistic cooking muscles. Then my advice is to master the art of blank canvas foods; the kinds of foods you can dress up however you want once you get the basic idea down. For me, that blank canvas food used to be pasta; but lately, on a California summer-is-coming health kick, I’ve been toying around with farro.
Farro is pretty easy to cook. Just follow the package directions but, essentially, you boil water, season it with salt, drop in the farro and depending on what kind you buy (the one from Trader Joe’s cooks quickly, the one from Whole Foods doesn’t) you’ll have cooked farro in 20 to 30 minutes. Drain out the water and let the games begin.
My first bit of advice is to hit that hot, just-boiled farro with some fat and acid right away. In the case of my cauliflower and Cara Cara orange farro (which I made after a trip to the farmer’s market), I drizzled in olive oil and then squeezed the juice from cara cara oranges in and stirred everything around (navel oranges will work well too). As for the cauliflower, I “marinated” it by putting raw cauliflower florets in a dish with olive oil, more orange juice, and ground up coriander seeds. Then I tossed that with the farro along with segmented Cara Cara oranges and lots of chopped herbs (parsley and dill, I believe) and some chopped pickled onion:
It was a bright, festive, healthy spring-time dish.
But my greater work came a week later when I spotted smoked trout at Trader Joe’s and I’d picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market. First, I roasted the asparagus in a 425 oven by putting it on a cookie sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper and cooking just until the asparagus had some color (about 10 minutes):
As for the farro, I decided I was going to make a sort of smoked trout Caesar salad (something you can find in my cookbook) but in farro form. Hear me out. Here’s what I had on my cutting board:
After cooking the farro, I treated it with olive oil and lemon juice and a spoonful of mustard, salt and pepper:
Then I flaked in the smoked trout:
Added the asparagus, cut into pieces, and lots of Parmesan:
Hey, it may sound strange to you, but this was a totally successful, crowd-pleasing dinner (that crowd being me and Craig):
Who knew farro was so versatile, such a prompt for creative cooking? I did and now you do too. What will you come up with? The sky’s the limit.