In just a few short hours, barring any sort of dimpled chad-like fiascoes, Americans will have elected a new President. As the polls close in each state, and as the results are tallied, the residents can breathe a hard-earned sigh of relief......because they will finally be able to turn on their televisions, answer their phones, and open their mailboxes without vicious political ads coming at them from all angles. You know that you've seen a commercial one time too many when you find yourself saying it word-for-word, in unison with the voice over, as you chop parsley in the kitchen. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that I heard the messages loud and clear the first few times, but when the voice of Dina Titus (a local politician) is haunting me in my sleep, I think that it is safe to say: "enough is enough!"
After months and months of political battles, which have coincided with a less-than-ideal economy, it is really nice to have Thanksgiving to look forward to in just over three weeks. WHAT???? Just over three weeks? How did that happen? Sorry, I didn't mean to stress you out like that. To make up for it, I'm going to do the same thing this year that I did last year, which seemed to work really well, and which will hopefully help to get you ready for a memorable (in a good way), stress-free, non-partisan, and delicious Thanksgiving feast.
Last year, I dedicated my November posts to the various types of dishes that are commonly served on Thanksgiving day, from crowd-pleasing breakfasts to decadent desserts. This not only (hopefully) helped to provide a few ideas for my readers, but it allowed me to give some new recipes a test drive before I served them to a hungry crowd. Trust me, when I posted a picture of a glistening, juicy turkey 12 days before Thanksgiving, Eric had no problem making it home in time for dinner!
Some of the recipes will be more traditional, while others will err on the "Thanksgiving with a twist" side. This recipe falls in the latter category. I've never been a huge fan of white potatoes. I know, it's un-American, but I voted, so I deserve a pass. I like sweet potatoes in any format, but I can do without mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and even french fries (although I still like tater tots.) As a result, I have looked to other foods to serve as the starch on the dinner plate, often discovering wonderful new ingredients along the way. One of my recent favorite finds is farro, a whole grain common in Italian cooking, which bears a resemblance to short grain brown rice, spelt, or barley. Farro is commonly used in soups because it has a firm chewy texture that doesn't turn to mush, but I really like to serve it as a side dish or salad.
This recipe, which incorporates lightly fried, nutty-tasting cauliflower, salty crisp pancetta, and farro, would make a lovely side dish for your Thanksgiving table. Eliminate the pancetta, replace it with some lightly toasted pine nuts, and you have a vegetarian-friendly option. This recipe can be prepared in advance, and it can be served at room temperature--two huge thumbs up with regards to Thanksgiving planning! Here are a few extra tips for this healthy, hearty, whole-grain side:
- Although you might not be able to locate farro in your regular grocery store, you should be able to find it in natural foods stores, Whole Foods, or Italian specialty foods stores. A good substitute for farro in this recipe would be barley, bulgur wheat, or even quinoa.
- Prosciutto can be substituted for pancetta in this recipe. Have the prosciutto sliced 1/4-inch thick at your deli counter and dice it. Add it to the salad as it is--no need to cook it! Prosciutto is a dry-cured spiced Italian ham that does not need cooking, while pancetta (see photo to the right) is a cured Italian bacon that requires cooking.
- Italian cooks like to fry cauliflower to bring out the nuttiness in its flavor. If you would prefer not to fry the cauliflower, feel free to steam it or roast it instead.
- Although I prefer this salad served warm or at room temperature, it tastes wonderful chilled.
- The amount of lemon juice in this recipe is flexible, depending on personal tastes. If you like a lighter lemony flavor, then start out using 4 tablespoons, adding more as you taste. Lemon juice can also be replace with balsamic or red wine vinegar, however, the balsamic will slightly darken the color of the salad.
Farro with Crisp Pancetta and Fried Cauliflower
1 pound uncooked farro, rinsed and drained
2 medium carrots, quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
3 peeled garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1/2 pound pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1/4-inch dice
Grapeseed, canola, or olive oil, for frying
2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4-6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, combine the farro, carrots, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Add enough cold water to cover the farro by one inch. Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the farro is tender but chewy, about 15 minutes.
While the farro cooks, place the diced pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook the pancetta, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pancetta is crisp, 6-8 minutes. Transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain.
When the farro has finished cooking, drain and remove the carrots, onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Set the farro aside to cool.
In the large saucepan, heat 1-inch of the grapeseed/canola/olive oil over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350F degrees. Fry the cauliflower in batches until golden, about 5 minutes per batch, draining each batch on paper towels.
In a large bowl, mix the farro with the cauliflower, pancetta, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and marjoram. Season with salt and pepper and serve.