Sunday, November 11, 2007

How Do You Spelt Relief?

When November decides to settle in for its annual visit here in northern Ohio, it often brings melancholy weather: heavy gray skies unrelieved by sunshine, rain (or colder forms of precipitation... not that we don't need it, but still), and wind. Not every November day is like this, of course. On some days, the sunshine and blue skies provide the perfect lighting and backdrop for a colorful stage strewn with falling leaves.

But on days like today, when the world outside feels depressing and uninviting to almost anyone, you need a little something to relieve your spirits and to give you reason to carry on.

For me, that "little something" often revolves around food. (Are you surprised?) If I can brighten my day with a warm kitchen filled with sweet or spicy aromas that result in something tasty and comforting, then the weather doesn't bother me so much.

Since I knew I'd have a long weekend at home, I jotted down a long list of dishes I wanted to cook or bake during my time off. I've already made another dent in my holiday baking with the first batch of chocolate charms, I've baked two pumpkins for later use, and I've made a batch of pasta ribbons. But I also wanted to take this time to try something new.

Since I got hooked on spelt flour earlier this year, thanks to the combined influences of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and the warm presence of the Spelt Baker at the farmers' market throughout the season, I've wanted to incorporate more spelt into my cooking. I've enjoyed the faintly nutty taste it brings to baked goods and the tenderness it adds to doughs. And when the Spelt Baker brought unmilled spelt berries to the market, I realized that I had just found a potential local replacement for rice.

I discussed the possibilities with the Spelt Baker, who reassured me that I could easily cook the spelt berries like rice with a 2 to 1 ratio of water to spelt berries, and I had a vision of making something akin to risotto with almost all local ingredients at long last.

With the weather being so dismal today, it seemed like the perfect time to try a hearty spelt "risotto" that showcased some of the last farmers' market produce: spinach (still looking and tasting great after three weeks), parsnips, red onion, garlic, rosemary, and pumpkin seeds.

I started cooking it much like a risotto, by sauteing the aromatic parts of the dish along with the spices. After that, I added the parsnips and the spelt berries, stirring to coat them with the olive oil, and then I poured in the homemade vegetable stock.

But instead of the small additions of liquid and endless stirring found in a risotto, I poured in the liquid all at once, brought it to a boil, and then turned the heat down and let it simmer, checking every 10-15 minutes since I didn't know how long the spelt would need to cook.

Once most of the liquid was absorbed, I laid torn spinach leaves on top to steam, and at the end I stirred them in along with a little squeeze of fresh orange juice.

Aside from the olive oil, spices, and orange juice, the entire dish came from local farms. And once I had the chance to sample the finished dish, I felt the happy relief of finding something new to add to my pantry and to my cooking rotation. The cooked spelt berries look like my homemade fried brown rice, but they have the same faintly nutty taste as the flour and serve as a solid but unassuming backdrop to the flavorful vegetables and spices I used. The spelt is more chewy than rice, but it worked well with the other flavors and textures in this dish.

I'm thrilled now that I decided to bring home two bags of spelt berries from the market this fall, but I suspect that since I now have a better idea how to cook them, it won't be long before I'll need to call the Spelt Baker and purchase more.

Spelt and Autumn Vegetable Not-Really-Risotto

There's no rice here and no fussy stirring, but the resulting chewiness of cooked spelt berries makes a lovely substitute for risotto. You can easily vary the vegetables and spices in this recipe to showcase other autumn vegetables.

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 c spelt berries, rinsed
2 c vegetable stock
1 c spinach leaves, rinsed and torn
1 tsp fresh orange juice
toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, saute the onion until it turns translucent. Add garlic, rosemary, and spices, and saute for another minute or two. Add parsnips and spelt berries, stirring to coat with oil. Pour in vegetable stock, turn up the heat, bring to a boil, and then turn heat down to simmer. Simmer 30-45 minutes, depending on how low you turn down the heat.

When most of the liquid has been absorbed, lay the spinach leaves on top and allow to steam. When all the liquid has evaporated, stir the spinach into the spelt mixture along with the orange juice.

Serve garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds (or other nuts, if desired).

Serves 2


At 11/17/2007 8:17 AM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

Spelt really does focus your mind in a way few other foods do. You cannot eat spelt absently. You cannot cook spelt absently. It commands your attention. Why is that? Something about those very chewy berries. A bowl of spelt really is a meal.

At 11/17/2007 1:52 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

A very good way of putting it, Ed. I found I had taken too much in the way of leftovers to work... a very filling lunch!

At least I also find that my homemade spelt pasta is filling, too, and I don't need as much of it to make a meal.

At 3/25/2008 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you be so kind as to share your homemade spelt recipe?

Spelt lover, MN

At 3/25/2008 3:26 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Spelt lover, I'm not really sure what you mean since there's already a recipe on this post. Could you clarify your request, please?


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