Category Archives: Main Courses

Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms

I fell in love with farro (also known as emmer) when I lived in Italy.  One day when I was miserably sick with a head cold, thousands of miles away from my family and not yet realizing how to make my own chicken soup, I went to the small store that sold mostly frozen produce that was near my apartment.  In one of the display cases was a large plastic bag of what I could determine was a vegetable soup mix.  I decided to try it.

Being sick is no fun, but it is even less fun when you live in another country and have no idea what over-the-counter product will cure your ills.  I inhaled the steam from the broth to try to open up my clogged nose.  Then, I dipped my spoon in the bowl to taste it.  The vegetables were fine, but there was something else in there that I couldn’t quite identify.  It was had a hearty, nutty taste to it.  It wasn’t exactly rice or barley, which I’d had usually had in soups.  What was it?

Turns out that it was farro, a grain, a type of wheat actually, that has been around for quite some time and one that is popular in Italian cooking, even though I had never encountered it before that day.  It is eaten in soups, risotto-style (like this recipe), and even made into pasta.  What I really like about it is that it has the stronger flavor of a brown rice with the textural consistency of a risotto rice.  It makes me feel a bit healthier about shaving a pile of cheese on a plate of it.

This recipe is completely vegetarian and has a couple of steps taking place at the same time, to speed it up.  The farro will take longer to cook than a usual risotto rice, much like brown rice takes longer than white.  Roasting the vegetables gives them a heartier flavor to match that of the farro.  The Salad with Balsamic Vinegar-Fig Reduction from last week would make a great accompaniment to the risotto.  A meal with these dishes could almost make you feel like you were in one of the more sophisticated tratorrie.

Farro Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms

Prep time: 45 minutes
Serving Size: 4 main dish portions (6 primi piatti)

3 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups cremini mushrooms (baby portabellas), cut into quarters
3 cloves garlic, smashed but left in their skins
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 springs thyme
1 small onion, finely minced
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 c. farro (also known as emmer)
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. vegetarian vegetable stock
3 springs thyme, leaves removed (about 1 tsp.)
Grana Padano cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (see Measurements & Conversions for other temperatures).  Prepare two roasting pans, each with one Tbsp. of olive oil.  Put the mushrooms into one pan and the squash into the other.  In the pan with the mushrooms, put two springs of thyme and one clove of garlic.  In the pan with the squash, put in the other two cloves of garlic.  Place them in the oven.  Set the timer for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and the olive oil together.  When mixture is foamy, add onion to the pan.  Let it cook for five minutes, until the onions start to become translucent.  Add the farro and stir so that each grain becomes coated in the butter and oil.  Let cook for about a minute.

Pour in the wine and cook over low heat until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.  At this point, start to add the vegetable stock a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring to incorporate into the risotto and letting it cook down until it is almost evaporated before adding more stock.  Although this step seems fiddly, it is important to continue to do it to break down the starches in the grain to achieve the desired creamy consistency.

At some point during the add-stock-and-stir phase, the timer for the oven will go off.  Check the mushrooms and the squash.  The former are probably done.  Remove them from the oven at set aside.  The squash will probably need about 10 more minutes to cook, but check them to see if they are tender enough to push all the way through with a fork.  When they are that consistency, remove them from the oven.  Set aside.

After you have added the second-to-last portion of the stock and the mushrooms and squash are out of the oven, remove the thyme stalk from the mushrooms and remove the garlic from both pans.  Peel and mash the garlic and add to the farro.  Add the last portion of stock along with the mushrooms and squash and all the liquid from the baking pans.

Stir everything together to incorporate.  At this point, add the thyme leaves and taste the dish to test the seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve immediately with a dusting of Gran Padano.

Buon appetito!

Fennel and Ham Gratin

Last Wednesday, when I was running my errands at the Greenmarket, I saw a couple of fantastic items that inspired me to create a dish that I’d been wanting to try: Fennel and Ham Gratin.  Arcadian Pastures had this gorgeous ham on display.  Their other meats looked great as well, and they are on my list to try the next time I have those items on my shopping list.  To me, you really can taste the difference when using organic and humanely-raised meats in your dishes.

Another item that has been cropping up in the market the past few weeks is fennel.  I managed to find a double-bulbed one, sort of like a double-yolked egg, I guess.  Fennel, like leeks, is one of those vegetables that I didn’t really get to know until I lived in Europe, where it appears more often in various dishes.  This certainly wasn’t something that my parents would dare try on us as kids.  They preferred to keep to the green beans-peas-corn-salad rotation.

When I lived in Italy, an older woman who took in students from the program on which I was studying would have a family lunch on Sundays.  She would have her boarders, some of her own family members, and various guests to come over for lunch.  There, she would fix more traditional Bolognese homestyle (or casalinga) recipes.  One day, she made a sort of a Fennel Gratin.  Being a guest, and adhering to my mother’s iron-clad rules about proper behavior even thousands of miles away, I politely took a serving and tasted it.  I don’t really like licorice so I had been intimidated by this vegetable; however, when cooked, it develops a subtle, mellow anise flavor, and we became friends at first bite.

For this dish, I wanted to pair that property of the fennel with the meatiness of the ham.  To pull it together, I decided to wrap it all in a flavored Béchamel and to top it with some great cheese that I had also found at the Greenmarket.  Valley Shepherd Creamery sells a variety of styles of these products, some of which are close in flavor to more traditional European trademarked ones.  Their display every week just draws me in, even as I try to limit my overall dairy consumption due to dietary concerns.  I opted to use the cheese that was closest to Comté.

Then, it was just really a matter of pulling everything together in one dish and throwing it into the oven so that the cheese could get a gooey and melted.  In one bite, you get the meaty, smoky ham with the slightly licorice-y perfume of the softened fennel all wrapped around creamy wonderful sauce.  I wish my parents had served us every vegetable dish this way.  All that is really needed to accompany it is a side green salad and some crusty bread.
Fennel and Ham Gratin

Prep Time: 25 minutes to prep and make Béchamel
Serving Size: 4 portions

Butter to grease pan
2 cups Fennel Bulbs, sliced*
1 cup chopped, sliced Ham
1/2 cup Comté or Gruyère Cheese, grated
Béchamel recipe (see below)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit / 180 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 4.  Butter an 8-inch by 8-inch pan.  I highly recommend using this technique.  Toss together sliced fennel and ham in the pan.

Pour the Béchamel over the fennel and ham mixture, making sure to cover everything.  Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.

Place in the oven, uncovered for 25 minutes.  Check at this point to make sure that the top of the dish has not gotten too dark or the cheese has not started to burn.  If not, leave for another five minutes and then remove from the oven.  Let it sit for five minutes before serving.

Fennel and Ham Gratin

Béchamel (classic white sauce) – for step-by-step photos on how to make it see here

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

1 1/2 cups Whole Milk (do not use low-fat or skim)
1 clove Garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/4 Onion, peeled and cut in half
1 Bay Leaf
1 pinch ground Nutmeg
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper (white is preferable but not mandatory)


Make the Infused Milk by putting the milk, garlic, onion, bay leave and nutmeg into a small saucepan and cooking it over low heat until small bubbles start to form around the edges.  Do not let the milk come to a boil!  Pour the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof measuring cup and set aside to add into the roux for the Béchamel.

When the milk is ready to be removed from heat, the bubbles will look like this.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour and let cook for 2-3 minutes until it is completely incorporated into the butter, and the mixture is very light golden brown, do not let it get too dark. This is a roux.

Gradually add the milk, at first one tablespoon at a time. Whisk into the roux. Let all the milk get absorbed into the butter-flour mixture. It will start to resemble the paste that you used in elementary (primary) school. Do not let it stick to the pan; add more milk if this happens and stir.Using a non-stick pan is not necessary, but paying attention to it is.

Then, continue to add more milk, still one tablespoon at a time. Whisk constantly.  As it is soaked up into the roux after each addition, it slowly becomes creamier and smoother. At this stage, it looks like a purée.  At this point, it is possible to start adding the milk in slightly greater amounts, until all the milk has been added.

Continue to stir thoroughly after each addition of milk or the sauce will develop lumps. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk mixture and let cook for 2-3 minutes more until it starts to bubble. Remove from the heat.  Add salt and pepper. Taste.

*Kitchen Witch Tips:
I had no idea what to do with the fennel stems and fronds that were left from the bulbs.  I used as much of the stems as seemed tender and then was left with a pile of debris in my sink that wafted a licorice-like aroma through my apartment (I know, I can hear the black jellybean lovers in my family exclaiming: “You say that like that’s a bad thing!”).  Fortunately, Serious Eats had already addressed this topic, and readers weighed in with what to do with these leftovers.  Their responses are here.

Pappa al Pomodoro

Last week Eataly opened up for business, this past week The Kitchn has been running Italian-themed posts, and the issue of Food & Wine that hit my mailbox yesterday features “Italian-American Favorites.”  Sense a pattern here?  It’s as though that part of my life is calling to me to rekindle my love for Mediterranean food.  Even yesterday, after going on an art gallery tour in Chelsea, I ended up at BuonItalia showing someone the specialties found there.

So, today when a picnic that I was supposed to attend was canceled due to the dreary weather, it seemed like a good day to make Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan dish which I haven’t eaten since I was in graduate school.  I had picked up some tomatoes at the Greenmarket yesterday from Keith’s Farm, and I had some stale bread left over from one of the meals that I had had at Eataly last week.  With two of the key components in hand, I decided to put this together for lunch.
As with many Italian dishes, it is the attention to using the best ingredients possible to pull together the flavors that makes the difference.  Using seasonal ingredients, like the tomatoes, basil and garlic, high-quality olive oil, and good (but stale) bakery bread, are key to create a meal that is simple but fulfilling.  With the end of summer approaching, this is a great way to try to capture the last of its warmth in a bowl.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Prep time: 20 minutes
Serving Size: 2 adult portions
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large clove of garlic, cut into thin slices
3 slices of stale bakery bread (not sourdough), cut in half
4 good-sized tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped
1 c. vegetarian vegetable stock
1 Tbsp basil cut into strips*
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
parmesan cheese, grated
Warm olive oil in large skillet over medium-low heat for 30 seconds.  Add garlic slices and continue to cook for another 30 seconds as they release their aroma into the oil.  Place bread in one layer in the pan and cook on each side for one minute.
Put the tomatoes and any reserved juice into the pan.  Pour in the vegetable stock.  Raise the heat to medium and let the mixture cook down for 5-7 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and have broken down to create a sauce with the stock.  The bread will also absorb some of the stock and the tomato juices.
Turn off the heat.  Sprinkle the basil and black pepper on top and stir to incorporate.  Save a few pieces of basil as garnish.   Dish up three pieces of the bread and half of the tomato mixture per bowl.  Garnish with the basil, grate parmesan cheese on top, and drizzle several drops of extra-virgin olive oil over everything.  Serve while still warm.
Buon appetito!
*Kitchen Witch Tip
Cutting basil (and other leafy food items) into long thin strips is called “chiffonade.”  This technique creates prettier and more uniform pieces than simply tearing up the herb.  To make this, wipe off the basil leaves, put them one on top of the other, roll them together lengthwise, and chop across.  You will end up with something that looks like this:

Family-Flexible Fajitas

So far this summer, we’ve had two occasions to get most of us together as a family.  Somehow, it seems that each time (actually, even the time I went away to visit a sibling in May this also happened), I ended up in the kitchen making my requested, family-favorite guacamole and pico de gallo recipe.  This is usually paired with our Family Flexible Fajitas, as it’s about one of the few dishes on which we can all agree to feed the crowd gathered for dinner.
You know how it is:  one person doesn’t eat meat, another can’t have dairy, the kids don’t like to do anything but pick at their plates, it’s the day of the week where someone else only eats red food, someone is on a diet, etc., etc.  It really is enough to make one’s head spin, and it sometimes gets to the point where even the local Chinese take-away can’t satisfy everyone.  In that case, we turn to this meal to try to accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary situations.  It’s relatively quick and easy to make, and the components can be put together by different members of the family working at separate stations in the kitchen.

Pico de Gallo

The other great part about this recipe is just how colorful it is, as the first photo shows.  The produce alone was enough to make the woman behind me on line at my parents’ suburban supermarket comment that I must be making something wonderful with all those gorgeous items.  As we eat with our eyes first, this is also a way to introduce some different textures and flavors to the children, although not all of them will go along with this, as everyone knows.  Sometimes, however, cousin-see, cousin-do actually gets them on board with new tastes and food.  Nothing like family peer-pressure to encourage even the fussiest ones to open up their palates!

Family-Flexible Fajitas

Prep time: about one hour (can prepare the Pico de Gallo in advance)
Serving size:  at least 4 adults and a few children, depending upon their appetites, but easily expanded


Sautéed Peppers and Onions (recipe below)

Chicken in Coriander and Lime Juice (recipe below)

Tortillas (flour works best)

Cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack or your favorite Mexican mix)

Sour Cream
Scallions, chopped
Pico de Gallo (see link for recipe)
Guacamole (see link for recipe)

The key to getting this on everyone’s plates is to set up the dishes in stations, so that everyone can create the dish he/she wants to eat and so that parents can supervise what their kids are having.  Although this recipe is written for fajitas, the same ingredients can also be used to create quesadillas, with the tortillas being heated in a pan.  This will just add a bit more time to the process of getting everyone to the table to eat as a family, but the cut-up triangles might be more appealing to your little ones.

My recommendation is to start the pico de gallo first, so that the flavors have time to meld together.  You can make it anywhere from the morning of the meal where you’d like to serve it to a hour or so ahead of time.  Once you’ve made the pico and the guacamole and set some aside for serving with the meal, let everyone dive in with tortilla chips to help themselves to it as an appetizer.

Sautéed Peppers and Onions

Prep time: 25 minutes

1 large onion (yellow or white)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 large red pepper
1 large yellow pepper
1 orange pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano

Cut the onion in half and then slice each half thinly to create half-circles.  Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds.  Add the onions and stir to coat the onions in the oil.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft.  Don’t let them burn or get too dark.

While the onions are cooking, cut open the peppers and remove the seeds and the core.  Slice the peppers into lengthways strips about 1/8-inch long.  You want to keep everything more or less the same size so that they cook evenly.  When the onions have cooked for 10 minutes, add the peppers to the skillet.

Toss the peppers so that they are on the bottom of the skillet and the onions are on the top (as much as you are able).  Cook the peppers and onions for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally, until the peppers become soft but do not brown.  Sprinkle the additional salt and pepper and add the oregano to the mixture in the skillet.  Stir to incorporate thoroughly.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken in Coriander and Lime Juice

Prep time: 20 minutes

2 Tbsp canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. chicken breast meat, cut into 2-3 inch strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 lime, juiced

Heat canola oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add minced garlic cloves and let cook for 30 seconds until you can smell the perfume of the garlic, but do not let it turn brown.  Put the chicken into the pan and stir to coat in the oil.  Let it cook for 8-10 minutes, turning over the pieces so that each side cooks.

Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and coriander over the chicken and then pour in the lime juice.  Stir everything to incorporate it and let it cook for 5 minutes more so that the seasonings get into the meat.  Serve warm.

Kitchen Witch Tips:
I come from a family where leftovers can be a prized commodity.  In fact, the second time when I was at home and made this dish, I was making lunch of leftovers when my father came into the kitchen a bit hang-dog looking for them, although he lost a bit of interest as there wasn’t any chicken from the night before.  This is survival of the fittest, fajita style.

Huevos Rancheros – a great use for leftovers!

I ended up making two brunch-style dishes from the remains of that meal: one an open-faced quesadilla topped with an over-easy egg and the other more of a breakfast burrito with the egg cooked omelette-style and wrapped up with all the peppers, onions, and cheese.  The left over pico and guacamole went well with them, too.

Buon appetito!

Curried Lamb Burgers and Grilled Veggie-Mozzarella Sandwiches

As much as I love a great hamburger, as seen a few posts down, over the past few years, I’ve really started to get into Lamb Burgers. I’ll opt to get that if I see it on a menu when I’m out to eat so I can see how they are prepared. Restaurants also seem to be realizing that patrons are willing to try something a bit out of their comfort zone and offer more lamb on the menu, which I’m really glad to see.
A couple of years ago, Bon Appetit published a recipe that has now become part of my summer rotation. This Curried Lamb Burgers with Grilled Vegetables and Mint Raita is a handful of a title for a dish that is actually super simple to make and has great flavors. The lamb is moist and meaty with a bit of a kick from the curry (without it being too spicy or overwhelming). The yogurt sauce or raita cools it all down with a mint-citrus freshness, and the grilled vegetables take full advantage of the fresh, local produce now available.
This is definitely one of my summertime standby recipes. I love just loading up on eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and grilling up a whole batch to serve alongside these burgers. The burgers themselves freeze very well, so it is easy to have them on hand for a weeknight supper. This weekend, I seemed to have overbought in the vegetable department. I ended up cooking the whole batch and put them into the refrigerator hoping for some culinary inspiration.
Fortunately, I didn’t really have that long to wait. One of my other late-summer favorite meals is a mixed, grilled vegetable sandwich with cheese on toasted bread slathered with homemade pesto. Usually I use a goat’s cheese, but today I had a hankering for mozzarella. So, I headed to Milano Marketplace, the Italian deli down the street, bought some handmade cheese, and went back home to build my perfect sandwich.
I started with a round bread roll, sliced it open, and drizzled extra-virgin olive oil on each of the facing sides. Then, I placed it on a hot grill pan to toast. After about a minute, I took the bottom half of the roll and spread some of the pesto I made earlier onto it along with a few slices of the cheese. I layered the grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, peppers, and some more mozzarella on top of that.
Then, I put the more-grilled top half of the bread over the filling. The whole sandwich was returned to the grill pan for another minute to warm it all through. Biting into the crisp exterior with the gooey cheese, soft vegetables and savory pesto, this is the perfect summertime meal in a sandwich.

Buon appetito!

Grilled Corn and Shrimp Salad

As corn is starting to come into season around here, it made me dig through my files for another one of my standby meals for summer. A few years ago, a friend of mine sent me a recipe for Grilled Corn and Shrimp Salad (link to recipe here). It comes from the late Gourmet* magazine.
Look at the bright colors of the shrimp, corn, onions, jalapeno, and cilantro. The dressing gives it a light citrus punch that complements the smoky, grilled flavor of the shrimp and the corn. Like usual, I made some changes to the recipe. I used lime juice instead of lemon juice and changed up the watercress (which I generally have a hard time finding) for some great, peppery Italian arugula from the Greenmarket along with some fresh salad leaves. I also added chunks of very ripe avocado to provide a contrast in textures.

This salad has been in my keeper file for a while. I hope that you decide to add it to yours as well. It is easy to make and would be a great picnic dish or easy weeknight supper to prepare when you can get some in-season fresh corn.
Buon appetito!
Kitchen Witch Tip: is a good resource for trying to track down some of the recipes that appeared in Gourmet magazine. Their website also still seems to be active, too, at