I don't have too many pictures of the pilaf. It was one of those occasions when I wasn't planning a post. I was tired and not particularly in the mood to take lots of pictures and notes. I love what I do for a living, but sometimes having to keep record can be a bit constraining. Sometimes I just want to cook....no recipes....just the ingredients and my taste buds. If you have learned basic skills (which is what I always try to teach in my classes), cook with good ingredients, and allow your senses to guide you, you can hardly go wrong. Such was the case with our dinner that night. I don't have super exact recipes to share...but I thought I would post the ideas in the hopes that it will inspire.
Our dinner was a simple herbed roast chicken breast that I served with the tail end of the local arugula and the aforementioned farro pilaf. To begin, I took stock of my ingredients and then went outside to gather some herbs. Since my herb plants have just begun to take off, I didn't want to completely denude any one of them, so I brought in a few sprigs of several: rosemary, thyme and winter savory. I set the thyme aside for the pilaf and then minced up the rosemary and savory and stirred them into a small amount of olive oil along with a few scrapings of lemon zest (use a microplaner for this). I slid some of the oily minced herb mixture under the skin of the chicken breast, rubbed the chicken well all over with the same mixture and followed this with a generous sprinkling of salt and some pepper.
I roasted the chicken in a hot oven (450° to 475°). When the chicken was done to my liking (when I roast the breast alone—no dark meat and on the bone—I take it to about 150° to 155°..the temperature will continue on to 160° as it rests once it is out of the oven), I transferred it to a plate to rest, discarded the fat in the roasting pan and then deglazed the pan with a squeeze of lemon juice. When I was ready to serve dinner, I dressed the arugula with the lemony deglazings and some olive oil and served it with the sliced breast alongside.
In addition to the zucchini I included some mushrooms in the farro pilaf. To be honest, this is not a combination that would have automatically leapt to my mind. Everyone gets in ruts and occasionally when I'm looking for inspiration in combining flavors and ingredients I will check out the lists of ingredients in Culinary Artistry. I looked up the zucchini entry before I headed into the kitchen. Under zucchini, there were all the things I usually think about pairing with zucchini (eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, onions, Gruyère, lemon, walnuts, all kinds of herbs, etc.)....and mushrooms. I'm not sure I have ever combined the two. But, I happened to have some mushrooms in the fridge. And I love mushrooms with farro.
I could have sautéed the mushrooms before adding them, but I used a favorite oven method instead because it produces plump juicy mushrooms that are infused with loads of flavor. To prepare them, cut the mushrooms (I used crimini, but almost any kind of mushroom would work well—shiitake, oyster, white button, etc.) into uniform pieces—I cut mine into halves and quarters. Choose a baking dish that will hold the mushrooms in a snug single layer (a slightly smaller pan will also work). Spread the mushrooms in the pan and add aromatic seasonings of your choice. For the 4 oz. of mushrooms that I prepared, I threw in half of a small clove of garlic (finely minced), a few sprigs of thyme (picked) and a pinch of hot pepper flakes. Season the mushrooms with salt, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and squeeze a bit of lemon over.
Cover tightly with foil and roast in a hot oven (400° to 475°) until the mushrooms are steaming hot and have barely begun to give up their liquid—10 to 15 minutes. Uncover and let cool.
These mushrooms make a wonderful addition to salads and pilafs—any place a plump, juicy mushroom along with a little bit of flavorful mushroom liquid is wanted. I call them "roasted mushrooms", but because they are covered during the "roasting" process I think they would more properly be called "oven-steamed" mushrooms.
I made the farro using the basic pilaf method and have included a rough recipe below. Some of the quantities are a bit vague because I'm estimating in retrospect. To finish it, I simply folded in the mushrooms along with some sautéed zucchini. It was delicious (I will be looking for ways to partner mushrooms and zucchini again) and was the perfect accompaniment to the lemony chicken and arugula.
Farro Pilaf with Mushrooms & Zucchini
1/2 bunch of small spring onions (3 or 4)—white and some of the green—thinly sliced
1/2 small clove of garlic, minced (use the other half clove in the roasted mushrooms)
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme, picked
1/2 c. semi-pearled farro, rinsed
1 c. water
4 oz. crimini mushrooms, halved or quartered (depending on size) and roasted as described above in the text
2 small zucchini (about 3 oz. each), halved lengthwise and cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch thick half moons
Sweat the onion, along with a pinch of salt, in some olive oil until the onion is tender—about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant. Add the farro and continue to cook and stir until the farro is well-coated in the fat, lightly toasted and hot through—2 or 3 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for 5 minutes.
While the farro is resting, heat a small amount of olive oil in a sauté pan wide enough to just hold the zucchini. Add the zucchini to the pan and sauté until tender and golden brown in spots. Season with salt and pepper and set aside until ready to add to the pilaf.
Drain the farro and return to the pan or transfer to a bowl. Add the mushrooms and zucchini and toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 2 (generously) as a side.