Sow some wild oats this fall


catherine-kaufmanBy Catharine Kaufman

While scoping out new seasonal products in the supermarket this week, a fellow shopper approached me as I was intently examining a label, giving an aura of gastronomic expertise. She was exasperated at meal planning, seeking some culinary solace and a grain intervention as her son was allergic to corn, her daughter suffered from gluten intolerance, she was bothered by a soy sensitivity, while her husband had pooped out on pasta.

It’s that neither fish nor fowl time of year – between summer and fall, too warm still for hearty comfort foods, and past the season for light, chilled dishes. Paying homage to the autumn harvest and my frustrated shopping cohort, here are some exciting riffs for the season’s cooler clime.

Fashionable Fabulous Farro

Farro is the bomb not only at health markets, but froufrou eateries across the land. It is the founding father of the grain family from which all others have sprouted, and fortified the Roman legions. But for centuries after the fall of the Empire, farro fell into obscurity, given the shaft by other grains that were higher yielding. It has made a recent comeback in Italy and other parts of Europe while trickling overseas, thanks to the public relations push by farmers of the French Haute Savoie supplying the grain to trendy eateries and health markets.

Farro should not be confused with cousin spelt or other grains although it does resemble brown rice in beige coloring and elongated shape. It is its own grain with a toothy, chewy texture with nuances of oats and barley, but more pedigree and refined in both taste and appearance. Farro, perhaps higher maintenance than others, needs to be soaked prior to cooking, but is well worth the extra pampering. This gem of a grain has a mother lode of fiber, Vitamins A, B, C and E, along with magnesium, and since it is low in gluten, farro is easily digested by those with an intolerance.

This ancient grain also has a starch resembling that in Arborio rice, making a great creamy risotto with nutty undertones. Swap out your go-to pasta or rice with farro for a fun gustatory improv. Whip up a farro fazoul soup with navy beans and kale, farro with grilled wild-caught salmon in a chimichurri sauce, wild mushroom pilaf, tossed Greek salad with heirloom tomatoes, feta, farro and scallions, roast chicken with farro, apricot and fig stuffing, or a farro take on rice pudding with coconut custard and golden raisins.

Beluga of Beans

Lens-shaped lentils that come in designer shades of coral red, mellow yellow, tan, olive green and black have been around since the Neolithic period, being one of the original domesticated crops of the Near East. These legumes loaded with immune-boosting properties, high fiber, protein, folate, stress-relieving Vitamin B and other trace minerals have even been touted by nutrition gurus as one of the five healthiest foods on the planet. The peppery-flavored French green legumes hold up well after cooking, but it is the black beauties, the Beluga beans, that are prized for their slick glistening color, firm nutty texture and circular shape reminiscent of caviar. For some fun change ups, do a black lentil with roasted root veggie casserole, lentil curry and rice or a sweet and spicy lentil garlic soup. One word of legume advice: Since legumes cook more slowly in the presence of salt or acidic flavors, add these last.

Christmas in September

On the culinary radar of trendy gastronomes is the Christmas Lima, perhaps because of its festive maroon color and decorative swirl designs. These lively limas also known as Chestnut Beans for their nutty, full-bodied flavor originated in the southwestern United States nearly 200 years ago. Going stronger than ever, Christmas Limas dial-up minestrone soup, succotash of corn, roasted peppers and caramelized onions, and mixed bean chili, while making a healthier alternative for garlic mashed potatoes swapping out the spuds for the limas.

My final contribution is a farro risotto to enliven autumn’s table and bored taste buds.

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