Meals in the dark months are rooted in comfort. The fresh produce we craved in the warm weather is seemingly cast aside in favor of soul-warming, bone-thawing, gut-sticking dishes. For the cheesy-starchy fiends, old friends like mac-n-cheese and lasagna hit the table in heavy rotation. For the dixie-centric, fried chicken, creamy grits. For the trendy, ramen, which the Japanese have had in their pocket for centuries (...and I don't mean the microwavable noodle packets). For the patient, slow-braised short-ribs.
But my ultimate is probably risotto. Dense with grains and cheese, it's the kind of dish that's both hearty, wholesome, and an inviting canvas for flavor-play. I prefer a more toothsome texture to my risotto, so instead of classic Arborio rice, I typically employ grains that can stand up to a long simmer -- see: barley, farro, etc. My flavor stance is simple and rustic -- strong herbs, earthy roots, often mushrooms for a hit of umami. Departing from my go-to trio (mushrooms, thyme and manchego), this time I turned to the underrated sunchoke. The 'chokes got a quick solo roast (which brings out their natural nuttiness), before being folded into the simmering farro with bold sage and tart pecorino tuscano. Here's til the thaw.
FARRO RISOTTO WITH SUNCHOKES & SAGE
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb sunchokes, peeled and sliced
4 cups chicken stock, plus 1 cup water
1 cup farro
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup pecorino tuscano, plus more as needed
Heat oven to 400dgF. Peel and slice sunchokes; toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast sunchokes until they begin to brown -- about 10-15 minutes. Check occasionally, they should be slightly tender, but not too soft.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring chicken stock and water to a boil, then reduce heat and keep stock warm over low.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over high; add onion and cook, stirring frequently until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute, stirring frequently. (Turn down the heat slightly if garlic begins to burn.) Add 1 cup farro, stir, and cook until grains are coated and glistening, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the liquid is nearly absorbed, add 1/2 cup more. Check the farro's doneness after about 25 minutes; it should be slightly tender but retain it's bite. It may take up to 30-35 minutes -- and you may not have to use all of the stock.
When farro is cooked, stir in the roasted sunchokes. Season again with salt and pepper and fold in 2 Tbsp (or more) freshly chopped sage, plus 1/2 cup grated pecorino tuscano (feel free to use another cheese of your choice -- parmesan and manchego are fine substitutes). Adjust measurements to preferred taste and serve immediately.
A simple feast: pumpernickel sunflower boule, moules in white wine & garlic sauce, and cream of celeriac soup with orange zest, chives and olive oil. Happy Sunday.
For the soup:
1 yellow onion, diced
4 medium-sized celeriac, peeled and chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
Zest of one orange
Fresh chives, finely chopped
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in medium pot. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil. Add celeriac and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until celeriac are very soft, about 20-30 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper, stir in orange zest, and remove from heat. Allow to cool for several minutes before transferring entire mixture to a food processor to puree. (Alternatively, you can leave the soup in the pot and puree with an immersion blender). Puree until silky smooth, (add more water if mixture is too thick). Return to pot and reheat to desired temperature. Serve garnished with chives and a drizzle of olive oil.
For the mussels:
1 lb fresh mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
2 cups dry white wine
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 shallots, minced
Rinse and scrub 1 lb fresh mussels under cold running water. Remove beards if they aren't already and discard. Toss any open mussels that refuse to close after a few squeezes, as they are dead. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in medium pot. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and fragrant. Add white wine, salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add mussels to the pot, cover and increase heat to high. Cook until mussels open, about 5 minutes. Scatter with fresh parsley.