I caught myself doing something really weird the other day (not like in a feel-super-awkward-after-reading kind of way, don’t worry), but ultimately I laughed at the whole thing. I do a little bit of photography for a food magazine here and there. Just little jobs, yes, but something to take a bit more seriously and work at, which I love. Anyway, I had made one of the dishes they requested, plated it up, brought it over to my lighting rig (a giant window with a tinfoil-ed sheet of bristol board–super advanced), and set everything down.
Then I started meticulously fluffing a pristine, bright white kitchen towel gathered next to the dish, as if it were a pillow on a sofa. And then I placed a serving spoon just so on top of the towel, gleaming from the vinegar polish I gave it prior to–purely for appearance. The whole thing was getting tupped (term of endearment for placing food in tupperware) immediately following this exercise. Looking at a few initial shots, the image seemed bare so I considered a casually calculated placement of some raw ingredients or knick knacks in the background. But did I have enough perfect-specimen raw ingredients left? Do I even have knick knacks that are rustic-chic enough? I do not want to look like a try-hard with, like, anything remotely new-seeming and non-antiqued. My kitchen twine is pure white! Not even remotely burlap-y and how am I going to even fray this stuff for a picture and… WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME.
Actual life situation: None of my kitchen towels are virginal white. Nor are they ever fluffed/futzed with pre-service. Sorry in advance if you were looking forward to that. They hang haphazardly on the oven door handle, like everyone else’s. Oh, and they generally have a couple of avocado fingerprints on them, you know, the ones that start bright green and then change to gross brown in 5 minutes. My serving spoons probably all have water spots. I say probably because a soup spoon seems to work fine for serving on most nights. I’ve never made a habit of artfully arranging raw ingredients on the dinner table to fill in the white space between plates so that my peeps can get a real sense of the meal’s contents. “Can you pass the roasted potatoes, but PLEASE! DO NOT adjust those thyme sprigs and lemon slices nearby. Dude, I spent a lot of time arranging those to enhance your dining experience!!” I don’t own knick knacks. I do not aspire to own knick knacks.
Not that there is anything wrong with having clean kitchen towels, polished silverware, sprawling food-based arrangements and rustic-chic-but-slightly-modern-urban-sophisticate items in the home. There really isn’t! I honestly have a bit of envy for that dedication to ambient, gorgeous home-dwelling, but I’ve accepted that it will never work for me in a practical way. It’s not an accurate reflection of what happens in our warm, slightly disorganized and sunny kitchen, so it will never appear that way in this space, which is essentially a food-focused journal of sorts. It’s a little bit of life right here.
I like imperfections in a non-lazy way, realness if you will. After being annihilated (in the best way) by this post, I started thinking about that a lot more. I started a blog because I wanted to make-contagious my love of cooking whole food at home, however clumsy or ho-hum at times; not to make home cooks feel like shit because they couldn’t stack, drizzle and present table-side something in the exact manner that I did. I want the cooking masses to have reverence for leafy greens, ripe fruit in season, and whole grains like I do. Seriously. There’s a vibrance in spring time, when out from the cold dirt comes fresh and delicious things we can all eat together to remind us of greater systems at work. It evokes the big mystery that you can’t always explain with words but you feel completely. I know that antique cans wrapped in twine with blossoms inside, food props and perfectly clean and pressed table linens with adorably quaint non-hemmed edges (beautiful as they are) don’t bring me to that place. A garlic scape just poking out of some straw-covered dirt in the shadow of a decidedly unglamorous tractor shed is always ready for its close up around here and I hope you can appreciate the honesty in that as much as I do.
And today’s recipe? It’s pretty awesome if you’re a super-bitter greens lover. You can throw the salad portion together well in advance, then grill the endives last minute, drizzle the reduction on top and you’re golden. This makes a wonderful lunch or a side attraction to some protein, maybe a maple and hot mustard glazed piece of tempeh, a couple of poached eggs, whatever you like. It’s nice to have outside on the still slightly cool evenings, all bundled in a warm sweater, with wine or a beer or whatever. I love the chewiness of farro, but since we’re all about approachability you could use any grain that you have lying around. That principle applies to all of the other add ins as well. Go wild and go forth with realness.
farro and white bean salad with grilled endives
notes: I really mean it on the bitterness, the grilling brings out that strong flavour in the endives, kind of bringing it into love or hate territory. Also, I like to slightly undercook the farro to retain some of the chewiness and deep brown colour. If you like your grains softer, cook about 10 minutes longer than I’ve specified.
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (doesn’t have to be baller-level quality)
1 cup farro (whole grain spelt or spelt berries), rinsed
1 cup cooked white beans
1/3 cup raw almonds, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup dried currants
2.5-3 ounces arugula, chopped
1-2 belgian endives (probably 2, mine was crazy huge), trimmed of rough outer leaves and cut in half lengthwise
1 head radicchio, trimmed of rough outer leaves and cut into quarters
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 cup-worth)
splash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 shallot, minced
1 tbsp maple syrup
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or olive, sunflower etc)
Place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until vinegar is reduced by half and it coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Once adequately reduced, remove from the heat, scrape into a separate container and place in the fridge to set up.
Place farro in a medium saucepan with 2.5 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until slightly tender but still chewy. Drain, rinse with cold water and dump into a large bowl. Set aside.
To the cooked farro, add the white beans, chopped almonds, currants, chopped arugula, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Make the dressing: whisk together the orange juice, apple cider vinegar, shallots, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil while quickly whisking the mixture. Taste for seasoning. Pour over farro and bean mixture and toss to combine.
Heat a grill to medium high. Brush the endive and radicchio pieces with the grapeseed oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the endives on the grill on their cut sides. Grill for 2-3 minutes or until you see some charring/browning of the leaves. Flip them over and repeat cooking process. Remove from the grill when charred a bit on all sides and slightly tender to the touch.
Place dressed farro and bean mixture in a serving plate. Arrange grilled endive pieces on top. Drizzle balsamic reduction over the whole thing and serve.