Cooling Comforts: Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad

finished 1“We’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave….”

The rest of Irving Berlin’s song doesn’t apply, but the first line has been painfully true here these last few weeks. Close to 100 degrees F in June? Yeah, that’s pretty hot, even for the South. Now it’s July, and we can expect more of the same.

There are many ways to cool off in the heat of Summer. You can enjoy the air conditioning, mercifully. In your free time you can hike along cool streams and rivers and take a dip or jump into a pool…or even a run through a sprinkler will do if you don’t have a water ban. And you can enjoy sipping cooling beverages and eating foods that are appropriate to the season. I’ll take all of the above, but am here to talk about the latter.

Farro had become one of my new best friends. I love its look and really enjoy its chewy texture, especially in a salad. Last summer, I posted a Fruited Farro Salad that you can see by clicking on the name. It’s a savory sweet salad, wonderful as a side dish or a light lunch. This summer I’m into quick one dish meals, particularly if they involve heating anything up other than an outdoor grill. This Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad really fits the bill and I never get tired of it.

First off, it features some of my favorite ingredients like meaty portobello mushrooms and fresh grape tomatoes, which are roasted in olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper to intensify and concentrate their flavors. Then I add lots of fresh herbs from my garden, the farro, some chopped Parmesan cheese and a lemon scented dressing. Served at room temperature or cold, this salad is very refreshing while still being hearty enough to eat on its own as a light meal. It also pairs well with grilled meats and other veggies. And best of all, it’s a deliciously cool way to enjoy the season.

Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad
Serves 6-8

For the salad:
2 cups uncooked farro
Pinch of kosher salt
6 oz. Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup of finely chopped Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the uncooked farro in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Allow the farro to sit for 20 minutes, then drain off the water and add more water to cover it by an inch. Add a pinch of salt, bring the water and farro to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, allowing to cook until the farro is just done but still has some chew to it, about 20 minutes. Drain the farro really well and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

While the farro is cooking and cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Make a second foil packet about half the length of the baking sheet and turn up the edges to make a square “tray” of foil. Toss the portobello mushrooms with a tablespoon of the olive oil and distribute them in one layer on one side of the baking sheet, then toss the grape tomatoes with the other tablespoon of olive oil and place them in the foil tray on the other side of the baking sheet. Season the mushrooms and the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through and crispy on the edges and the tomatoes have softened. Remove from the oven when fully roasted and set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.

Add the cooled roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, parsley, basil and thyme to the cooked farro and toss gently to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then whisk in the 6 tablespoons of olive oil to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently, then add the parmesan and stir again gently to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Allow the flavors to blend for 30 minutes at room temperature and serve. Refrigerate any unused salad for up to 3 days.



The Last of Winter’s Harvest: Chard, Gruyere and Pancetta Pie

finishedpie5Yes indeed, I really had planned to change the header to Spring for my next post, but due to an extremely busy week and some traveling, that’s not going to happen. Fortunately, the “Winter Look” seems entirely appropriate for this post (in spite of the fact that we hit 80 degrees here last week), because this recipe is all about using the last of the Winter chard from my garden before turning it and planting new veg for Spring/Summer.

lastofchardWe’ve had a truly mild Winter here, a non-Winter almost, and my rainbow chard really loved it. Just enough cool weather to make it continue to produce, and no hard freezes to kill it. I had almost a pound of it left to harvest this week from the few plants in my tiny raised bed garden plot. But what to make?

Then I remembered I’d seen someone posting a quiche recently, and it made me start thinking how long it had been since I’d had one. That might be a nice way to use up my chard! A quick reconnaissance of items in the fridge resulted in the knowledge that I already had some pancetta that I’d found on sale, some gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, plenty of eggs, milk, a red onion, et voilà!

This was quite a delicious pie, with more defined layers than your average quiche because of all the greens…more like a cross between a quiche and a pie. The greens do release a bit more of their liquid during the second round of cooking, so be forewarned that you’ll need to let this sit for a few minutes before you cut it, as it’s a little juicy. It does firm up nicely once it approaches room temp, but of course we couldn’t wait that long and I only let it rest 5 minutes before cutting. Even so, I found that it held together just fine. And regardless of how pretty or not any slices may have been, it’s gone!

layersLike most quiche or pie recipes, this one is pretty flexible. You can use less chard, but I wouldn’t try more, and you can sub bacon for the Pancetta, and white onion for red. I think spinach would work nicely here, too, in lieu of the chard, or as a mixture.

Chard, Gruyere and Pancetta Pie
Serves 6

1 – 9 inch good quality frozen whole wheat pie crust (yes, you can make your own, but  as I said, it was a busy week!)
4 oz. Pancetta or you can substitute good quality bacon
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
12 oz. ( you can use less if you like) rainbow or other chard, washed, dried, stems removed and leaves chopped crosswise into bite sized pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but any will do)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
4 oz. grated good quality gruyere cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

If you’re using the frozen pie crust, check the package directions to make sure that it is ready to go for a quiche or pie, or if you need to pre bake it, do so. Same with a home made pie crust, which will probably need blind baking. My crust is ready to fill from the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the pancetta in a large non-stick skillet over medium low heat, turning occasionally, until it is golden brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan to a paper towel to drain, reserving 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the grease in the skillet. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until the onion softens and becomes translucent. Add the chard to the pan, sprinkling half the salt and pepper over the chard, and saute until it is wilted and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, milk, the remaining salt and pepper and the nutmeg until combined.

If using a frozen crust, remove it from the freezer and the packaging, and place it on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, or follow the instructions on the package. Crumble the pancetta into the bottom of the crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the pancetta. Top the pancetta with the chard mixture, then pour the egg custard mixture evenly over the top. It will be full, and you may have a couple of tablespoons of extra custard left, depending on how much chard you use, or how large your pie crust is. Carefully transfer the pie on the cookie sheet into the oven and bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes, or until it is puffed and beginning to be golden, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. If you need to, cover the edges of the pie crust with foil if they start to brown too quickly. When the pie is done, remove from the oven, allow it to cool for at least 5 minutes, and cut into 6 wedges. This can be served warm, at room temp, rewarmed slightly in the microwave or oven, or even cold.