Ingredient Introductions 19 & 20 – Farro & Leeks

This ingredient introduction made me take a leek in my kitchen.

Sorry, I had to do it.

Did you even catch the spelling? I hope so.

Leeks are related to two of my favorites: onions and garlic.

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In my opinion, they look like scallions on steroids.

They don’t reek of that tear-jerking, nose tickling aroma you get from the onion. And I don’t think you scare away the cast of Twilight with one.

But, the flavor is there.

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You really only want to eat the white and light green sections. The dark green leaves, which remind me of an iris plant, are tough.

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Don’t toss ‘em, though. Stick ‘em in a re-sealable bag, and toss ‘em in the pot next time you’re making stock.

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The leek’s worst trait, in my opinion, is its ability to hoard dirt and sand like someone you’d see on one of those reality shows.

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The good news is that there’s no room for a cat skeleton or 40 collections of commemorative plates.

Preparation takes a bit of time.

Here are two easy ways:

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If you want rings, which I used in my first preparation, just cut off the roots and dark green stems, then slice the good parts like you would scallions.

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Then, fill up a big bowl with water. Toss in the rings and push ‘em around, making sure to separate the layers. The leeks float, and the dirt and grit hidden inside sink to the bottom of the bowl. Fish out the rings, dry them, and go on with your recipe.

If you want a dice, which I used in my second preparation, cut off the roots and dark green parts, then quarter the leek lengthwise without cutting all the way through the top. You end up with a feather duster looking thing.

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Run this under water, making sure you pull apart the layers to get out the dirt and grit. Dry, and dice away. Just inspect the tippy top that you left intact to make sure there’s no dirt in there.

The flavor is very light, almost like a whisper of oniony goodness.

I’ve always heard of leeks and potatoes, whether it be a soup or a gratin.

So, I followed that lead.

I sliced 2 leeks into rings, and cooked them in butter. Some browned, others just got really, really soft.

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While they cooked, I prepared one package of mini gnocchi according to the directions.

When the gnocchi were done, I tossed ‘em into the pan of leeks. Add a good bit of salt, some more butter, and 1 tbsp. of chopped fresh rosemary.

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This reminded me of fried potatoes and onions.

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The gnocchi were crispy on the outside, a little chewy in the middle. The leeks gave the dish a good, but subtle bite.

For my second use of the leek, I went a little lighter. I also worked in another ingredient introduction. Look at me. How resourceful, right?

I used the leek to make a play on pilaf.

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Instead of rice, I used farro (farr-o). It’s an ancient grain from Italy that kind of reminds me of the cereal “Sugar Smacks.”

This grain is loaded with fiber and protein. I’ve seen it at The Fresh Market for 8 or 9 dollars a bag, but I felt like I’d won the lottery when I found it at Trader Joe’s for less than 2 bucks a bag. Granted, these are smaller bags, but still. I’d rather spend 2 bucks to try something than blow 8 or 9. Plus, TJ’s is a quick-cooking (10 minutes) version (it’s parboiled).

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What’s great about farro is that it’s good substitute for rice, especially Arborio – the kind used in risotto. In fact, risotto made with faro is called farrotto. It’s true, I promise.

Here’s what you need for my farrilaf (faro pilaf):
1 leek, chopped
2 cups quick-cooking farro
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
1 big handful of snow peas, cut in half (you can substitute frozen plain peas)
1 cup grated (like sand, not shreds) Parmesan cheese
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1 tbsp. flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

In a pot over medium heat, drizzle in the olive oil and toss in the snow peas. Toss around and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Any longer and they’ll get mushy and lose their vibrant color. Transfer the cooked snow peas to a plate.

In the same pot, add the butter. As it’s melting, toss in the leeks. Stir and let soften for about 5 minutes. You don’t want them to brown.

Add in the farro, and stir to coat the grains in the remaining butter. Add the broth, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and cook for 10 minutes. What’s kind of odd with farro is that it doesn’t absorb all of the cooking liquid. Just keep that in mind.

After the 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and move the pot to a cool burner and let it sit for 5 minutes.

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Then, drain the mixture into a fine mesh strainer. You don’t want to lose any of the leek bits.

Return the drained farro/leek mixture to the pan. Add the zest and juice. Stir. Add the cheese, stir.

Toss in the snow peas and the parsley. Stir. Add a big pinch of salt and few cracks of pepper. Stir.

The farro is kind of al-dente. It’s soft, but still has a bit of a bite to it. It’s nutty, but doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor on its own.

Together, this dish is so light. You get a hint of onion from the leeks. The lemon is vibrant. The Parmesan cheese makes it creamy. The snow peas are still crunchy. To me, this is texture heaven.

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I will definitely be using farro again. I’d love to make farrotto. It would be great for a cold salad, too. Unlike rice, the grains stay separate. You can taste each one. That’s why it would be great cold. It wouldn’t be a clump of starch. This recipe by Giada DeLaurentiis sounds phenomenal. It’s like mac & cheese, but you use farro instead of pasta.

As for the leeks, I like them. Do I see a big difference between them and onions? Not really. I think they’re perfect for risotto, or even farrotto, because they’re less intrusive than onion pieces. I’d say they’re also perfect for a frittata.

Keep these recipes close so that when your stockpile of dinner ideas springs a leek, you won’t have to look farro for some help.

Tip: If you can’t find farro or you just don’t want to spend the cash, use barley.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. EllaDee says:

    I LOVE leeks but my G.O. is not a fan. I make them anyway, sliced finely and sauted with olive oil/butter and white wine. Sometimes I combine them with baby peas. The G.O. just gets peas. He also doesn’t like rice so the farro is very interesting to me. Currently I subsititute risono. The farrilaf looks like a winner 🙂

    1. I love the wine idea. I’ll try that! I hope you can try the farro to see if your G.O. likes it. Thanks for reading and commenting!!

  2. Mike, I’ve never tried either but now you’ve given me a reason to. Love the comedy, the pictures, and your writing. Keep up the good work! 🙂

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