It all started on a r-e-a-l-l-y cold day this winter in the middle of l-o-n-g string of cold days when I spied a recipe for a farro, kale and butternut squash soup on the online food magazine Relish (relish.com).
It wasn't the recipe that caught my eye as much as the deliciously colorful picture that looked wonderful in contrast to the white and gray snow that had surrounded me for weeks and weeks. Yet another glance at the ingredient list and I almost turned the page without second thought. Here's why.
A few years ago after reading that kale was super-healthy and nutrient-packed, I cooked some and ending up with tough and chewy results. Blah! Spinach, fresh or cooked, I'm OK with, but no more kale for me.
I love roasted butternut squash in all its caramelly, rich goodness, but it's hard to cut and tricky to peel and just barely makes it worth the effort. And farro, well you'd think that after all the years cooking and writing about food, I'd have known about farro. But, I didn't. So I decided this recipe deserved a closer look.
Turns out farro is an ancient grain that's actually wheat, but not necessarily the same wheat we find in today's bread loaf. And, there seems to be some differing views that blur what exactly is farro.
In Italy, spelt (you may have seen spelt bread in a natural food store), einkorn (another ancient wheat form) and emmer are all called farro. Emmer is said to be the most authentic farro of that trio.
The farro that I purchased looked like a grain of wheat (which it is). A National Public Radio piece made me a little cautious too. According to the article, the author spent "well over an hour simmering a batch of this form of wheat (and) wound up tossing the whole mess in the garbage."
The bulk bin from which I scooped my farro didn't indicate if it were whole grain farro or, what that writer had later recommended for quick cooking, pearled farro.
Turns out, what that author may have disliked about her whole grain farro (that it still offered resistance to the bite, like "al dente" cooked pasta) was perfect for me.
Since I now had all the ingredients and it was still cold outside, I was eager to get me and my kitchen warmed up. Of course, I couldn't help but tweak the recipe a bit. I doubled the amount of garlic to four cloves, used organic, canned diced tomatoes, instead of whole, canned plum tomatoes and added 12 ounces of sliced, garlicky chicken sausage that happened to be in my fridge.
Yes, I still had the fuss of peeling and cutting the butternut squash, and although the recipe didn't say to, I cut the tough stems from the kale and tossed the chopped leaves into the pot.
As my soup simmered, a wonderful aroma drifted throughout the house. As soon as it was done, I ladled it out, topped it with some shredded parmesan cheese and sat down for a taste. Not only did it taste delicious, but the kale was perfectly cooked and the farro, although very slightly chewy, delivered a terrific nutty flavor note.
Low in fat, high in nutrients and fiber and free of processed sugar make this soup tough to beat. If you want to see what farro's all about, give this soup a try.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.