Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Farro Vegetable Soup

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Umbria is a lesser known region of Italy just east of its more famous cousin Tuscany. Just as beautiful, but less crowded and more rustic. In October the warm sunny days of summer are gone, and the air is chilly. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that almost every restaurant I visited for lunch was featuring a farro vegetable soup. This classic dish is hearty and robust; but interestingly it was slightly different in almost every restaurant. I have made this soup many times, and in the spirit of a peasant dish, I also modify the ingredients to reflect what I have in my pantry.


Farro is a grain with a nutty flavor and a toothsome texture. I use it in many recipes as an alternative to rice or orzo; not just in soups but also in salads and risotto. Farro is readily available in Italian specialty stores or online.

When I make this soup I would always add onion, carrot and celery. Today’s version also includes leek and turnip. If you look at the Mise-en-Place below, you will also notice a little pancetta. In Umbria, either pancetta or a ham bone is included to add depth of flavor. I prefer pancetta.


Recipe for 4 Servings:

2/3 cup farro, chopped                                            1 leek, diced

1 onion, diced                                                             1 small turnip, diced

2 carrots, diced                                                           1/4 cup pancetta, diced

2 celery, diced                                                             1/4 tsp tomato paste

pinch oregano                                                             pinch parsley flakes

1 qt. vegetable broth                                                  2 cans chicken broth

Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, grated                     salt & pepper

First, saute the pancetta till brown, then remove it from the pan. Next I use a knife to rough chop the farro, which I believe  produces a thicker consistency. Now add the vegetables to the pan and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes (add a little olive oil is needed). Add the farro into the pan with the vegetables and toast the farro for about a minute. Finally add the other ingredients (except the cheese) and cook for about 30 minutes. You can test the farro just like you would risotto, the grain should be cooked, firm but not mushy.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and grate Parmigiana Reggiano cheese on top.

Farro Soup

Buon Appetito!

Fresh Mussels

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

The Farmers Market in Santa Barbara has over 70 vendors featuring some of the finest organic produce that you will find anywhere. My favorite vendor is SB Mariculture who sells mussels and oysters. They farm mussels twice a week and sell them at the market every Saturday morning.

Mussels are healthy, easy to cook, inexpensive, and most importantly delicious. You can prepare mussels in 10 minutes…and it’s foolproof. There are many mussel recipe variations, but I keep things simple. Here is a recipe for 2 people:

3# Mussels

3 Leeks, chopped

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 Tsp. Butter (if desired)

1 Cup of White Wine

1 Tsp. Thyme

1 Tbs. Parsley, chopped

First clean the mussels if your seafood shop does not. Clean and chop the leeks, using only the white part of the leeks. Add olive oil (and butter if desired) to a tall stock pot and heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.


Once the leeks have softened, add thyme and white wine and cook until the wine boils, about a minute. Now add the mussels and cover the pan. After 3 minutes shake the pot leaving the lid in place. The mussels are cooked after 5 minutes of cooking. When you remove the lid all the mussels should be open (toss any that didn’t open). Add the chopped parsley to the pot and serve.

Serve the mussels with some crunchy French bread and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy!

Favorite Salmon Recipes

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Sorry for my lack of posts lately, I have been distracted studying for the Real Estate exam. I just passed the test and will soon be selling real estate in my hometown, Santa Barbara. But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my love for all things food…

There has been so much press lately about the healthy properties of salmon. A fish so rich in Omega -3 has to be good for you. Actually, there is an equally compelling reason to eat salmon, it’s delicious. I have been cooking salmon at least once a week, and have included my two favorite recipes below. Note that the wild salmon season has just begun in Santa Barbara; but these recipes can use either wild or farm raised.

Salmon with Leeks

2 salmon fillets (6 -8 oz each)                                      2 leeks, diced

1 tbs. heavy cream                                                         1 – 2 tsp. mustard

1 lemon                                                                               1 -2 tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. dill                                                                             salt & pepper

Clean leeks thoroughly. Cut leeks lengthwise into quarters (see below) and chop into a fine dice.

Diced Leeks

Diced Leeks

In a saute pan, add olive oil, leeks, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. The leeks should be soft and barely brown. Zest the lemon and reserve for later. Add the cream, mustard (1 -2 tsp. depending on your love of mustard) and the juice of one lemon to the leeks. Cook for a minute or so; the mixture should be nicely blended.

Wild King Salmon

Wild King Salmon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Tear off a 2 foot strip of parchment paper (you can substitute aluminum foil) and place into a baking dish.  Now place the salmon on top of the parchment and add lemon zest and dill onto each. Finally add the leek mixture on top.

Salmon Dish before Cooking

Salmon Dish before Cooking

Now fold the parchment as if you were wrapping a present, and tuck the sides under to keep the package intact. See below what the parchment will look like.

Salmon in Parchment

Salmon in Parchment

Bake the salmon dish for about 20 – 25 minutes. Note that if your salmon is thick then you might need to cook for 35 – 40 minutes. Once cooked through, just plate and serve. I think you will find the salmon to be very moist and flavorful. The only tricky part of cooking salmon is knowing when it’s done. Usually I buy one fillet for the two of us, and it will weigh just under a pound. To ensure the salmon is cooked through I remove it from the oven after 20 minutes and cut it in half. This allows me to see if the salmon is cooked or needs to be returned to the oven.

The Plated Dish

The Plated Dish


Another salmon dish that you might like has a horseradish crust.

Salmon in a Horseradish Crust

2 6 -8 oz. salmon fillets                                        1 1/2 tbs. horseradish

1 tbs. Dijon mustard                                             1/2 lemon juiced

1 – 2 tbs. olive oil                                                    1 tbs. dill

4 Tbs. breadcrumbs                                              salt and pepper

Grease a baking pan with either a tablespoon of olive oil or use a cooking spray. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients except the salmon and the breadcrumbs. Coat the top of the salmon with the mixture then spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of each fish.

Bake the salmon dish in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Once salmon is just about cooked through, broil the dish for about a minute to brown the breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

If you have a salmon recipe that you really enjoy, I’d love to hear about it.

Grilling Umbrian Style

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I am a big fan of grilling. For many years I used a Weber grill with charcoal. Since moving to Santa Barbara, I have grilled with gas. You can argue that it has a bit less flavor; but the upside is that it’s so much easier. For example, I can grill sausages for lunch in about 15 minutes.

Today I am in Umbria on vacation, and I have learned a new way to grill – using wood. Actually you build a fire using twigs, branches and logs. As the wood burns, it turns into charcoal which fall through the grates.

Building a fire
Building a fire

After about an hour (or 2 hours if you are grilling a lot), you have homemade charcoal. When you believe that you have made enough coals for your meal, you shovel these glowing embers in front of the grate and voila…you have bed of charcoal ready to begin grilling. I grilled lamb chops  that I bought at the local butcher. I would guess the chops were a shoulder cut, but they looked different than the chops I have purchased in the states.  I rubbed the chops with olive oil and added rosemary, salt and pepper.

Grilling Lamb Chops
Grilling Lamb Chops

Although these chops had more fat than those that I would typically buy, the fire did not flare up as I would expected. Grilling over natural coals worked very well. The fire added just the right amount of heat; but more importantly added an extraordinary amount of flavor. Lamb chops Umbrian style – delicious.

Grilled Chops
Grilled Chops

I’ll share other highlights from Umbria, and other areas in Italy, as I get an internet connection. Ciao.

Favas, Favas, Favas

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Springtime is always an exciting time at the Farmer’s Market.  Although we are lucky to have an active Farmers Market 12 months of the year in California; Spring always seems particularly exhilarating. I have friends that can’t wait for ramps. Others enjoy the freshness of peas. Artichokes are a huge crop in Santa Barbara from March through May. However, for this household it’s Fava Beans! I buy them twice a week and add them to everything.

Did you ever see a fava bean? It actually has two pods. The big long green pods holds about five fava beans.

Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh Fava Beans

Each of the beans above still have a second shell that you will want to remove. It’s easy. Just boil a pot of water and toss the beans in for about 45 seconds. Pour into a strainer and cool by running the beans under tap water. Several recipes recommend that you add the hot favas to an ice bath, but I don’t find that step necessary. After about a minute under running water the favas will be sufficiently cooled and are ready to peal. Just pinch off the green stem with your fingernail and then use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the fava…the inner fava bean will slide right out.

Removing Favas from their Shell

Removing Favas from their Shell

Look at the picture on the right. You will see the final fava bean. It’s bright green and coming out of it’s shell. Remember the fava has cooked in boiling water for 45 seconds, so it only needs to cook for a few minutes more. You can treat favas like peas, and add them to any recipe where you would add peas.

I typically use fava beans three ways: sauted with butter, added to farro pasta with shrimp, or added to a risotto.

Sauteing favas is very easy. Add a little butter to a saute pan then add your favas. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes. Add to your plate and voila. A nice way to finish the dish is to grate a little Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.

To add the favas to a pasta dish or a risotto is the same concept; add the favas about three minutes before the dish is done. So, for my pasta dish, I add the pasta to the saute pan where the shrimp has been cooking with a bit of the pasta water. I then add red pepper flakes and the juice of two lemons. Then add the favas. If the pasta looks too dry, add a little more pasta water. Finish with a tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Risotto typically takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook. When you’re ready to add the last half cup of broth to the risotto you can then add the favas. Cook the risotto  for a couple more minutes, remove from the heat and add butter and cheese.

The season for favas and many other Spring vegetables is short, so enjoy them while you can.