An Old Flame Rekindled

Here in Venice, for the first time, I find that I fall in love at every corner turned. An architecturally perfect palazzo. A canal filled with sleek black gondolas overly decorated with bright seahorses, intricate velvets and tassels. Intricate 12th-century mosaics covering the ceiling of the Basilica of San Marco. The riot of colored houses on the island of Burano. The delightful sound of a small orchestra playing chestnuts while a couple poses for their wedding photographs in Caffè Florian. A love lock on the Academia Bridge.

There is a lot to love in Venice - all these wonders I had not until now experienced. I did, however, run into an old Tuscan flame while here, and it was just fireworks again from the first moment.

Before you start worrying about me and Mark, you needn't; I am (of course) talking about a food item. Farro.

We bought some at the Coop yesterday - a rainy Saturday - for soup. It was an “instant” variety, meaning it didn’t need to be soaked for the requisite 12 hours. Mark made a really hearty and flavorful soup with pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and farro. It was just what we needed on a chilly and rainy Venetian day.

Earlier that morning, we had been at the open-air market with our friend Roque and his daughter Stephanie. We bought lots of stuff with no particular recipes in mind, because we knew the market would be closed for two days. I wanted to buy everything I saw at the fish market: monkfish, sole, John Dory, sardines, squid, cod, octopus, shrimp, clams, and mussels. (Next week: a visit to the market in Venice!)

But I settled on two items. For Saturday evening I got octopus to make a salad with potatoes, celery, and olives. For today, I bought a pound of shrimp, assuming I would use them in pasta or risotto, but I was wrong.

I suddenly had the idea to use some of the farro we had bought the day before. After searching online for some inspiration, I opened our well-stocked larder to find cream, saffron, onions, peas, and parsley (in addition to the farro). Of course, olive oil, butter, wine, salt and pepper are always around.

The end result was quite wonderful; the biggest challenge was finding decent light to photograph it!

I am glad I ran into farro in the market; it has been great reconnecting, and now I think Mark and I will both be seeing a lot of him in the future!

Tutti a tavola!

~ David

Shrimp and Farro with Peas and Saffron Cream

1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed and soaked for 12-24 hours (if not “instant”)
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 tablespoons minced sweet onion
3 tablespoons dry white wine, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 cup frozen or fresh shelled peas
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Leaves from a half-bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pre-soaked farro to 8 cups boiling water; reduce heat to a simmer and cook until al dente, about 30 minutes. At the end of its cooking time, season with salt; do not salt the water in the beginning or you will have very tough farro.

While the farro is cooking, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and cook minced onion in saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the wine and cook until almost evaporated. Add cream and saffron. Cook, stirring well, for 2 minutes, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened - about 3-5 minutes. Season with salt. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Place remaining butter and wine in a small saucepan and add the peas. About 5 minutes prior to farro being ready, bring peas, butter and wine to a simmer. Season with salt and cook until crisp-tender - about 5 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Drain farro and add to shrimp, stirring, just to heat through. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and parsley; season with salt and pepper.

Reheat the saffron sauce, adding a little more cream if it has gotten too thick. Divide sauce among 4 serving plates Spoon farro and shrimp over sauce. Garnish with cooked peas.

Serves 4. 


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