On some days, at the change in seasons, you can walk into your own house and it feels strange to you. In the spring when you first open a window or a door–you might smell a spring rain or sunshine on dirt and grass. Or in the fall when you first turn the heat on, and the radiator kicks and hisses, and the smell is such a new but familiar comfort.
I walked into the house the other day, the back door was open and spring with all of its scents wafted in, and I was reminded of that moment when you come home after being away for a week or so, and can smell your house the way a stranger can–when something so close and so customary that your senses don’t register it becomes a step removed. And then as I passed through the house I imagined that all of it was new to me. The pictures of my beautiful adult or nearly-adult boys; the masses of stones and sticks and other odd treasures we’ve accrued over the years; pictures by David and the boys; all the beautiful nonsense we’ve collected–ticket stubs and feathers and corks and shells and hastily scrawled notes–most of which is only beautiful or valuable because of memories attached.
I imagined myself of 30? 40? years ago, walking through the house, never knowing this life was my life. It’s a strange house, and it’s a lovely life. After the long littleness of being stuck in the same few rooms for over a year, it’s good to float through your own life as in a dream, allowing everything to feel new and unexpected to you. Everyone should try it.
This time of year is all about nostalgia, April mixing memory and desire, as it does, stirring dull roots with spring rain. The cherry trees and Magnolia blossoms lining our streets don’t smell pretty or floral, but their scent will bludgeon you with the memory of playing with friends in backyards till the dusk fell all around you like flower petals, and you were called into the slumbering warm lights and smells of your familiar house, too close to notice.
Speaking of things that make me weepy (it doesn’t take much these days) here’s Johnny Flynn with The Water. I like all the versions, but especially the ones with his sister.
I like a Farro risotto. It’s not as soft and squish as a rice risotto, and I like the fact that it asserts itself in that way. I’m also a bit obsessed with fennel at the moment. And licorice all sorts, though those do not feature in this dish. It’s a bit of a joke in my family–you have the impossible burger, the Incredible burger, but we have the inevitable burger, because if I make something with grains and beans, as I so often do, I will turn the leftovers into burgers. This could be black rice, black bean and beet chili, or couscous and chickpeas, or this very dish. It works well, it’s economical and it’s delicious. Try it yourself! Recipe after the break
1 cup Farro
Glug of olive oil/and or about 1 T butter
1 Fennel Bulb
1 Large Shallot
1 clove Garlic
1 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
about 1 cup roasted butternut squash flesh
Veg Boullion cube
Squeeze of lemon
dash of half and half or cream (optional)
Salt & Pepper
small handful Italian Parsley, diced
small handful fresh basil leaves ripped or chopped
Parmesan for Garnish
Put the farro in a medium-sized bowl and cover with bowling water. Set aside.
Set a medium-sized sauce pan on low and put a bit of butter or olive oil in the bottom. As you trim the vegetables, throw the skins, peels, roots, etc, into this pot and stir from time to time. When they’re starting to brown, add a veg bouillon cube and a couple pints of water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
Trim the fennel and clean out any dirt or grit. Dice quite fine. Do the same with the Shallot.
In a big, wide saucepan over medium-low heat add a glut of olive oil and a dab of butter. When the butter is melted, add the fennel and shallots. Cook, slowly, stirring from time to time until they’re browned and caramelized. you can take your time with this, it can take 20 – 30 minutes. Add the rosemary, sage and thyme and season with salt and pepper. When everything is starting to brown nicely, add the garlic. Cook for a minute or two till it starts to brown. Add the wine and cook till it’s thick and caramelly.
Process the butternut squash with about 1/2 cup of broth until smooth. Add the farro to the frying pan and stir to coat. Pour in the butternut squash and stir to combine. Cook for a minute or two until it starts to thicken. Add about 1/2 cup of broth. Cook till it’s cooked off and then add another half cup. Keep cooking and adding broth until the farro is cooked, about 1/2 hour. Farro will never be as soft as a risotto rice. It stays a bit toothsome, which is part of its charm. It’s done when it’s reached the stage of soft-but-not-too-soft that you’re happy with.
Finish with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of cream (if you like your risotto creamy–farro risotto won’t be as creamy as rice-risotto), salt, pepper. Garnish with chopped basil and parsley. Serve in shallow bowls, with grated parmesan for topping, if you like.
The next day, any leftovers that you have should have thickened up considerably. You’re going to add some bread crumbs and/or processed crackers, some smoked paprika, and lately I’ve been adding a tablespoon or so of chickpea flour and a tablespoon or so of vital wheat gluten, then mixing well. If you don’t have these things, do not fear, it will still be tasty, just not quite so sturdy. You’re looking for a thick but not stodgy consistency, so adjust bread/cracker crumbs according to the amount of leftovers you have.
Preheat the oven to 425. Generously spread vegetable oil on a baking tray. Form the risotto mixture into patties, and place on the baking tray, then turn to coat both sides with oil. bake until browned and crispy, turning from time-to-time. 25 minutes or half an hour. If you like cheese on your burgers, add towards the end of the baking process.
Serve how you like your burgers! I like on a bun with lots of lettuce and tomato, avocado, and pine nut “crema”