Get on the Grain Salad Bandwagon, it's Delicous.

Midsummer is my favorite time for the delicious grain salads that remind me of Italy. My first encounter was a barley, farro, and rice salad mixed with prosciutto cotto, peas and herbs while I sat in the kitchen of an agriturismo in the Bolognese hills. Nothing ever tasted so delicious in my life.  Served at room temperature these are healthy, filling and make a great aperitivo with an aperol spritz or as a side to hearty grilled meats such a lamb or pork. I had almost completely forgotten all about them after I moved back to the states but my inspiration to start making them again was dinner at The Granite Restaurant in Concord. Grilled Moroccan lamb rib chops with a barley salad that was so delicious, I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. 

The combinations are pretty much endless, depending on your tastes, and the grains are easily interchangeable or combined for a delicous mixed grain salad. Most grains such as barely or farro are easy to cook plus just as easily found in supermarkets and specialty gourmet grocers. Below are two of my favorite recipes but they are really just a base for what's in season or in your fridge; use lima beans instead of chickpeas or baby kale instead of arugula. White long grain and wild rice, sweet peas and smoked oysters would be a lovely combination without much fuss. Either way, keep it simply dressed and throw in your favorite fresh herbs or greens and you've got a refreshing, plus satisfying salad on your hands!

Summer Barley Salad
Serves four lunch portions or eight side dish portions 
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, plus two tablespoons of brine
1 can of chickpeas, drain and rinsed
4 tomatoes, cut into eighths 
2 cups pearled barley
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, arrange tomatoes on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and flaky sea salt such as Maldon, roast until soft and caramelized around the edges, about 45 minutes to one hour. Meanwhile cook barley according to package directions, rinse with cool water and drain. While the barley and tomatoes are cooking mix lemon zest and juice, shallot, artichoke hearts, and chickpeas in a large bowl. Toss with drained barley, roasted tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil  to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on a bed of arugula for a light lunch or on the side of your favorite grilled meat.

Farro with Sautéed Asparagus and Shrimp
Serves four lunch portions or eight side dish portions
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lb of large raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup of oil cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 cups of farro 
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil  

Cook farro according to package directions, rinse with cool water and drain. In a large bowl combine farro, lemon zest and juice, shallots and olives. On medium heat sauté the asparagus until just tender about 7-10 minutes, depending on thickness, set aside to cool. In the same pan sauté shrimp on medium high heat for five minutes until pink, toss in garlic and cook additional two minutes or so until fragrant and golden. Add hot shrimp and garlic to bowl with other ingredients. Chop asparagus into approximately two inch pieces and toss with olive oil to taste and a healthy amount of parmigiano-reggiano into the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately on a bed of arugula and red pepper flakes. 

Buon appetito!


Hot Day, Cold Noodles

The New Hampshire heat wave has continued and the extreme humidity makes me want to drink sweet tea on a wrap around porch with a pleasant breeze lightly fanning my hair back off my face. Such a lovely and relaxing thought; instead, my curly hair is bigger and frizzier than ever and I'm schlepping thirty ounce iced sweet teas to the masses.

At least it's warm enough to enjoy one of my favorite summertime meals, a cold rice noodle bowl from the best Vietnamese pho place in NH called Pho Golden Bowl. I've been craving it lately and made a few attempts to make it myself, the first time came out pretty tasty but just wasn't the flavor profile I was going for. Then in the June issue of Bon Appetit there were several recipes for cold noodles dishes one of which I made a variation of to improve my own vermicelli bowl. The original recipe was more of  a tossed salad with roasted chicken and peanuts instead of thick cut pork chops and cashews. I used a couple components of the dressing as a marinade for the pork instead of using it for the salad. I found that I didn't need any extra sauce for the bowl but if you like it dressed you maybe use the leftover marinade, just reduce it down a bit in a small sauce pan and let cool before serving.

With the help of  Bon Appetit, I was able to adjust the ingredients to make this all at once refreshing and satisfying noodle bowl, especially with the genius and ultra tasty addition of the fried shallots. The cold noodles and garnishes are a great contrast with the warm and salty sweet pork, perfect for a hot and humid summer day.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork
 Serves four
4 thick cut, bone in pork chops
1 8oz package of  rice vermicelli noodles
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/2 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 limes, quartered
Baby spinach
two sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped
7-8 mint leaves
1/4 cup of whole cashews, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Marinade for pork chops
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 inch piece ginger, minced
1 clove garlic,minced
Sriracha to taste
4-5 mint leaves

Whisk all ingredients for marinade in a bowl, in a shallow dish pierce pork chops all over with a fork and add marinade. Marinate for about 30 minutes turning occasionally. While Pork chops are marinating cook rice vermicelli according to package directions and drain. In a warm pan, heat about four tablespoons oil (such as peanut or grape seed) add shallots and cook over medium heat until golden brown, about ten minutes or so. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. 

Pull pork chops out of the marinade and scrape off excess liquid, cook on a preheated grill or cast iron pan over medium high heat, about 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a platter, loosely cover with aluminum foil and let rest while assembling the bowls.

Divide the drained noodles between four deep bowls, squeeze 1/4 of a lime over noodles and arrange cold garnishes. A small handful of spinach topped with carrots, a few slices of cucumber and jalapeño. Cut the meat away from the bones and slice the pork chops into thin strip going against the grain, and layer over the noodles. Top with mint, cilantro, shallots and cashews. Serve immediately with sriracha and reduced marinade, if desired.


Hot Day, Cold Soup

With the arrival of summer here in NH, I’ve been enjoying more grilled meals and cold dishes such as my favorite barley salad. However, it doesn't truly feel like summer until I’ve made gazpacho. Pretty traditional and quite simple, my recipe is based off of the flavor profile of a delicious bowl I had in the amazing city of Barcelona, three or so years ago. This cold soup is one of my favorite things to make on an especially hot and humid summer day; plus, the taste memory brings me back to one of my favorite cities in Europe. Roasting the bell peppers adds a little depth and complexity to this version, especially since it is often described as a salad in liquid form. Gazpacho is refreshing and filling enough to make a meal out of when it follows a small starter of Spanish olives, spicy chorizo and a small wedge of Idiazábal.

Four hearty servings
5 medium sized tomatoes
2 red or yellow bell peppers
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
½ sweet onion
¼ baguette, day old
2 cups water
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ C good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

hard boiled eggs, quartered or chopped
¼ cucumber, small dice
olive oil
kosher salt

Roast the peppers whole over an open flame or in oven under broiler turned on to low, turning as outside of the pepper chars. When peppers are completely charred, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Once the peppers are cool, peel off charred skin, pull off stem and seeds and set aside.

Soak the old bread in the 2 cups of water to soften. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, peel and rough chop the cucumber, smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife and remove skin, and rough chop the onion.

Pulse half of the tomatoes in the blender with the cucumber, bell peppers, garlic, and onion, drizzling in olive oil until well pureed, pour into a large bowl. Blend the remaining tomatoes with the softened bread and water, red wine vinegar and cumin, salt and pepper. Add the second batch to the bowl and adjust seasonings as necessary. Let soup chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, longer if you have the have the time. Ladle soup into a bowl and garnish with hardboiled egg, cucumber, olive oil, and salt. Buen Provecho! 

 Iberian deliciousness in Barcelona, May 2010