Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Mother Nature is a cruel mistress.  She teases and flirts with the first few sunshiney days of spring.  She whispers sultry sweet nothings in our ears.  “Mmm…you must be awfully warm in that heavy sweater of yours…maybe you should just take it off?”  Eager and encouraged, we oblige.  We strip down and strut around in a seasonal mating dance, basking in the warm glow of her affections.  And then POW!  Just like that, she takes  it all away and leaves us shivering and blue balled with her fickle fancy.  Today, once again, the back yard is groaning under a cold and desolate blanket of snow.

It’s depressing, really.  I’ve spent the last two weeks anticipating and salivating over the prospect of steamed fiddleheads in vinaigrette and wild leeks from the farmer’s market.  Those dreams were just a fleeting fancy though.  Apparently we’ve still got some time to wait before fresh local produce is abundant again.  In the mean time, I refuse to resort back to braised meats and roasted root vegetables.  Bleech.  I’ve eaten enough butternut squash this winter.  It’s time for some cross over food – the food which is lighter and greener, but still nourishing and hearty enough to keep the winter woes at bay.

I love cooking with whole or ancient grains like quinoa, millet, kamut, barley and spelt. They have a high nutritional value, deliciously varied flavors, and when purchased at a bulk foods store they’re generally also very affordable.  And, as you know, I’m a sucker for affordable.  

Farro is a rather new addition to the cast in my cupboard, because frankly I rarely came across it and had no idea what to do with it.  After a little bit of research, this is what I learned:

  • Farro is an ancient grain, with evidence of human farro consumption dating back to 7700 BC.
  • The grain is easily digested, has low gluten levels, and nutritional benefits include being high in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E.
  • There is a lot of speculation about farro.  Is it wheat berry?  Spelt?  Maybe both, depending on size?  Something called emmer?  The verdict is still out on that one, but it’s generally accepted that farro is it’s own distinct ancient grain which has similarities to both wheat and spelt.
  • Being a low-yield crop means that it’s less popular to cultivate.  Although farro grows in the Middle East and North African regions, common cultivation is more popular in Italy.
  • Farro can be cooked similarly to rice by bringing it to a boil and then reducing the heat to let it steam for 20 – 25 minutes.  You can also boil it like pasta, draining off the extra water when the farro is tender.  My preference is to steam it because I like that the grains become tumescent and just slightly split, but stay fluffy and light.  Boiled grains always seem vaguely slimy and mushy to me.  Cooked farro grains should be just slightly chewy and delightfully toothsome.
  • The flavor is delicate, slightly sweet and a little bit nutty.  

Because farro is commonly found in Italian cuisine, usually in whole grain form to give soups some gusto or add body to a salad, I took some inspiration from common rustic fare.  I love traditional home cooking, particularly what is often described as ‘peasant food’.  After all, why do we look down our noses at simple and honest meals?  There is a time for fresh borlotti beans and a time for canned chickpeas.  Sometimes grain-rich, easy, and comforting food deserves a little place in the sun as well….particularly when the winter drags on so long that you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever see the sun again.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5 cups farro *
  • 3 + 1/4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock**
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic (or 4 medium ones)
  • 3/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • small bunch kale (about 6 packed cups when chopped)
  • 1 can chickpeas (19 oz)
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

* I found farro in a local grocery store which stocks a lot of Mediterranean (specifically Italian) goods.  You may also be able to locate it at a bulk foods store.  If you can’t find farro, barley would be an adequate substitute.

** Vegetable stocks vary enormously in terms of color and flavor.  I suggest looking for a richly flavored and aromatic golden stock, as opposed to a tomato based stock.  A recipe for flavorful vegetable stock can be found here.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Preheat your oven to 400ºF.

Cut the half head of cauliflower up into florets that could reasonably be considered bite sized, but not exactly reminiscent of popcorn.  Drizzle the cauliflower with 2 tbsp of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss them around to make sure that each piece is evenly coated in a light sheen of oil.  Spread the cauliflower out on a baking sheet and tuck it into the center of your oven.

Let the cauliflower roast away, pausing only after about 10 minutes to shake the pan and flip the florets over so that they don’t just caramelize and cook on one side.  The cauliflower will need to roast for about 20-25 minutes in total, or until it’s tender and slightly golden most of the way around with bits of delightful char smattered here and there.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

In the mean time, throw the farro into a dry pot set over medium-high heat. Stir the farro and let it toast for only a minute or two – be vigilant, because you want toasted farro and not burnt farro.  

Toasting the farro is not really part of the cooking process, but I love toasting grains before I cook them because it just releases a whole new dimension to the grains’ flavor.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

When the farro is fragrant and nutty smelling you can stir in 3 cups of chicken stock (reserving the last 1/4 cup) and the bay leaf.  Keeping the pot over medium high heat, bring the stock up to a rolling boil.  As soon as you’ve reached a good boil cover the pot, turn the heat down to minimum, and let the farro steam away undisturbed for 20 – 25 minutes.  Remember not to peek and lift the lid while the grains transform.  Nobody likes to be surprised when they’re undressing.

And see?  Just like cooking rice!  Now how easy is that?!

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Dice the onions and mince the garlic cloves.  

(If you haven’t already checked on your cauliflower and given it a good flip, well, there’s no time like the present)

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

In a large and deep pan heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic and hot pepper flakes.  Sautee them gently for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent.

Cut the tough stems off of the kale and discard them.  Give a nice rough chop to the rest of the kale leaves.  There should be about 6 cups of chopped kale in total, which seems like a lot until you consider that after it cooks you’ll be left with just enough to get stuck in your teeth as a celebration of awkward social occasions the world over.

Add the kale to the onions and sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour in your remaining quarter cup of chicken stock and immediately cover the pan with a tight fitting lid.  Let this cook away undisturbed for 5-7 minutes, at which time the kale should be soft and wilted but still recognizable as a winter green.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Drain and rinse your can of chickpeas and add these to the kale.

Squeeze in the juice of a nice heavy lemon and give the pan a stir.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Ah, and the cauliflower!  God forbid that we should forget about the cauliflower.  I really enjoy that roasting cauliflower transforms it from a pudgy, pale band geek (you know it’s true.  When’s the last time that you had a vegetable platter and thought, “Dang!  Somebody ate all the cauliflower already!!”) into a rich, sweet and nutty sophisticate.  Roasted cauliflower can work a room and be just as comfortable lounging around in sweats with baked chicken, discussing existential poetry with that goddamned hippie wild rice, or cozying up intimately beside a titillating and testosterone fueled beef tenderloin.  

Add the roasted cauliflower to the kale and chickpeas.

Fluff the cooked farro up with a fork (all of the liquid should be absorbed), remove the bay leaf, and stir this well into the vegetable mixture.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Hearty and wholesome, dinner is served.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetarian and vegan meals into our diet.  Mike has no problem with this, and now he only occasionally mutters things like, “Huh. This is good…..but it would be better if it had chicken in it….”  I find that to mitigate our struggle, using whole grains, protein rich legumes, and a hearty balance of vegetables are really the keys to success for our vegetarian or vegan meals.  Particularly because they’re heart healthy but just filling enough that I’m not wandering around the kitchen a half hour later looking for cheese.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Ooh, lovely caramelized cauliflower.  Be still my heart.  The combination of textures with the slightly chewy farro, creamy beans, watery bright greens and just a light kiss of lemon and chili – well, it makes my belly sing.

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale

Farro with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Kale
  • cayenne

    Tina, this looks great, but where did you find farro in Toronto? I have a couple of recipes for it that I want to make, but have been subbing kamut, barley, wheatberries or even Israeli couscous because I couldn’t find farro here. People just look at me blankly when I say farro or emmer, phooey.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Cayenne – try an Italian grocer, or a larger grocery store that tends to sell more Italian items. I live in the suburbs and I’ve found farro at Michaelangelos (Woodbine and Hwy 7) and the Garden Basket (Markham Rd/Hwy 48 and 16th avenue).

      If you live right in the city I’m sure you could find it in one of the grocery stores in the Little Italy area (maybe even the Metro at College and Ossington?). Other than that, Woodbridge has got to be a shoo-in. I think I might have seen it in the Bulk Barn that’s outside Vaughn Mills as well, but my memory is a bit fuzzy on that one….

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ noble pig

    I love the chickpea and cauli in this!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    Man, this is just as good the second day, too.

    And for the record, I only object to vegetarian meals because I have a hyperactive runner’s metabolism that explodes through complex carbs like the Kool-Aid Man through a brick wall. I need something to weigh me down!

    • http://chrisgurney.ca Chris

      I was *just* wondering about whether we’d be seeing more vegetarian recipes on CB. Being a newly forged vegetarian myself, my girlfriend and I are always on the lookout for tasty dishes to take for a spin.

      • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

        Ha – thanks Chris! You’re giving fuel to my fire….and I’m sure that Mike is mentally shaking a fist at you right now. As a former Girl Guide I promise to put up more vegetarian and vegan entree recipes in the coming months.

        • Kelsey

          I’m so excited to see more vegetarian recipes on CB too! Thanks, Tina. Although I do have to make one humble request–since the chicken broth in this recipe de-vegetarianizes it, I would be thrilled if, when you were making explicitly vegetarian recipes, you’d let us know how you think they’d do with veggie broth. I use VB as a substitute for CB all the time, but it always requires a little bit of flavor adjustment, and sometimes that gets pretty trial and error.

          • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

            Whoooops!! Thanks Kelsey! I’m such an ignorant meat eater :)
            The post has been updated and I linked to the vegetable stock that we use when we make a strictly vegan soup.

            I think that veggie broth would be great to use for this meal, as long as it’s a rich and flavorful broth with enough salt (chicken stock tends to be a bit saltier unless it is home made). Oh, and I like to look at color – if it’s orangey rather than golden it is probably made with tomato juice…which is great for Pappa al Pomodoro, but maybe not for this…..

            BTW, thank you so much for checking out our site!!

        • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

          Someday I’m going to be found under a park bench, gnawing at a Slim Jim and muttering to myself that nobody can take my beef away from me.

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com _ts-eatingclubvancouver

    “Ah, and the cauliflower! God forbid that we should forget about the cauliflower. I really enjoy that roasting cauliflower transforms it from a pudgy, pale band geek (you know it’s true. When’s the last time that you had a vegetable platter and thought, “Dang! Somebody ate all the cauliflower already!!”) into a rich, sweet and nutty sophisticate. Roasted cauliflower can work a room and be just as comfortable lounging around in sweats with baked chicken, discussing existential poetry with that goddamned hippie wild rice, or cozying up intimately beside a titillating and testosterone fueled beef tenderloin.”

    That is the BEST PARAGRAPH EVER.

    • dorens

      was thinking the same thing myself!!

  • http://thisdessertlife.blogspot.com alicat

    Made this dish tonight for supper (with wheatberries instead of farro because the Bulk Barn in suburban Ottawa failed me) and it KILLED. We loved it. It will become a regular feature in our home. THANK YOU.

    The cauliflower really is the best part.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Alicat – Thank you, thank you!! We are absolutely delighted that you tried this dish, and even more so that you enjoyed it!! That just tickles me, you totally made me day. Thank you for visiting our site!!!!

    TS – aw, shucks. Thanks girl!

  • Amanda

    I bookmarked this back when you first posted it, and I was looking for something cozy to make tonight after a long Sunday stuck at the office that would hopefully leave me with leftovers for the next few days. This is amazing! The recipe really brings out the natural flavors in each of the ingredients. It took just under an hour to make but I also like that the prep time isn’t spent on fussy stuff. I had to substitute barley because that was all I could find, but it definitely works fine with barley. If I were going to make a change next time I would throw in the whole head of cauliflower – so delicious and I’m guessing it won’t throw the other proportions off too much. Thanks so much for posting this!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Amanda – thank you for trying out our recipe!!! We’re so very glad that you enjoyed it!!! In terms of the cauliflower, I have a total soft-spot when it comes to the roasted veg. If you put in the whole head, I would be happy as a clam – AND your leftovers would be just that much healthier!

    Thanks again for stopping by and trying this recipe!

  • http://kirbyvonscrumptious.blogspot.com Kirby!

    These types of one-pot dishes are my absolute favorites….. I could survive solely on bowls of grains, veggies, beans, and nuts!

  • http://taibhsearachd.wordpress.com Janet

    What serendipity! I found your blog on a day when I had some of that pudgy, pale cauliflower getting bored in my fridge, a tonne of kale overflowing in my garden, and some left-over quinoa from last night’s dinner. So I used the quinoa instead of farro (which I never would have found in Whitehorse, Yukon anyway) and it turned out just great. Quick, easy, nutritious, frugal…what more could a girl ask for?

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  • Kianga

    Googled ingredients I had in the house and up came your recipe. I usually make farro for breakfast bit decided to give it a try. This is absolutely delicious and hearty! My husband and I absolutely love it. And it was easy to make. Plus we have leftovers to enjoy for the rest of the week. It was simply “delicious and nutritious”. Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Kianga, thank you so much for your comment. We are delighted that you and your husband enjoyed this healthy recipe! Thanks for stopping by to let us know :)