Review: Greens + Grains

We are just over a month into 2015 and I’m wondering how many New Year’s resolutions have been broken. I was awed by the number of people at the fitness center on January 2nd. It was a Friday and I thought it was due to people taking a long weekend. Minutes later – an “aha” moment – these are people who resolved to be more faithful to exercise and January 2nd was “proof of the pudding” day.

Greens + Grains

by Molly Watson
Photographs © 2014 by Joseph De Leo

Facts: Chronicle Books, 124 pages, $19.95 (or Amazon Hardcover $16.44, Kindle $9.99)
Photos: 32
Recipes: 46

Whether you made a resolution to stay fit, get fit, lose weight or not, you will find lots of appealing and healthy recipes in Greens & Grains: Recipes for Deliciously Healthful Meals.

Molly Watson tells you what you need to know about greens: how they taste and how to use them. There is a heightened awareness now of greens. More are recognized and more available. Of course we’ve known spinach and chard forever. But the American palette may be late in developing a taste for greens. I believe ethnic heritage has an influence on awareness of certain greens. My Italian grandmother said “che è rocket?” I think the moniker “rocket” fell by the wayside when the sexier “arugula” showed up. (In Italian it is “rucola” and she also cooked “scarola,” aka escarole, along with dandelion greens — which Molly also tackles).

Then there is kale. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? I laughed, thinking it was a joke when a recipe said “massage the kale with olive oil”? And don’t ask for beet greens to be removed at the farmers market or you’ll get the evil eye or at least a raised eyebrow. Molly to the rescue; she has two recipes for beet greens.

This book has an equally comprehensive section explaining grains: groats, grits, barley, buckwheat (not technically a grain), corn, farro and at least a half dozen more.

Recipes range from small plates and salads to soups and main dishes. A few that caught my attention: Savory Whole Grain Bread Pudding, Chard Quinoa Terrine, Arugula Soba Noodle Soup and a Green Whole-Wheat Flatbread which is gorgeous on the plate and mimics paratha (an Indian flatbread). This Farro, Chard and Ricotta casserole is particularly inviting as it can be a main or a side. One note. The ingredient list identifies pancetta as (optional) but doesn’t say so in the directions. If not using, just add another tablespoon of olive oil.


Farro, Chard, and Ricotta Casserole

Photograph © 2014 by Joseph De Leo

Most people would probably see this as a side dish, perfect to serve with broiled chops or a roasted chicken, and they would be right. I’m just as likely, though, to make this the main attraction with a salad of sliced tomatoes or thinly cut zucchini alongside. Feel free to use golden, red, or rainbow chard, but know that they will tint the entire dish!

Serves 4

2 cups/360 g farro
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large bunches Swiss chard
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz/115 g pancetta, chopped (optional)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup/250 g ricotta cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup/60 g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put the farro and salt in a medium pot and add enough water to cover by about 1 in/2.5 cm. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook until the farro is tender to the bite, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, cut out the thick stems from the chard leaves. Trim the stems and chop them, then chop the leaves; keep the stems and leaves separate.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring now and again, until it renders its fat and browns, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chard stems and 3 tbsp water. Cover and cook until the stems soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chard leaves (you may need to do this in batches), and cook, covered, until the leaves are wilted and tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Preheat the broiler. Grease a 2-qt/2-L baking dish.

5. Put the farro in a large bowl and toss with the pancetta-chard mixture. Stir in the ricotta, and then the nutmeg and pepper. Adjust the seasoning.

6. Put the farro-chard mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Broil until the cheese melts and gets browned and crispy, turning the baking dish, if needed, to evenly melt and brown the cheese. Broilers vary in their power, so keep an eye on the casserole, checking every minute or so. Serve hot.

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