Sometimes it’s the simplest dish on the most grandiose menu that makes me the happiest. That was the case recently at Boulud Sud, superchef Daniel Boulud’s celebration of Mediterranean food on New York’s Upper West Side.
The menu is cleverly divided into “From the Sea,” “From the Farm,” and “From the Garden,” and is packed with sophisticated creations such as Zaatar Baked Cod; Spring Ricotta Cappelletti with Nettles and Fiddlehead Ferns; and Spiced Lamb with Hand-Rolled Couscous and Algerian Eggplant.
But it was a simple “Side Dish,” and two nibbles from the “To Share” section of the menu that stole my heart.
I was mad about the crispy, wispy explosion of tastes and textures that Executive Chef Aaron Chambers calls Spiced Duck Leg Kataifi and serves with a piquant date chutney. (Kataifi is a classic Greek dessert of shredded phyllo dough, honey and walnuts, but enterprising chefs today wrap it around everything from shrimp to baby eggplants.)
Both dishes came from the “To Share” section of the menu and cost less than $15 for four of us to enjoy.
But I fell hardest for Chambers’ Organic Farrotto swirled with a pesto of fresh spring ramps, mascarpone cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Farro, or emmer wheat in English, is an ancient grain that’s long been popular in Italy and is now gaining fans in the U.S. It’s used mostly in soups and risotto-style preparations, where it has to be cooked carefully or it will turn mushy.
Chambers’ version had a sensational texture – each firm yet tender grain stood out in the creamy sauce that was punched up with the pungent garlic-onion flavor that makes ramps so treasured during their brief Springtime appearance each year.
Lucky for the folks at my dinner party on Friday night, Chef Chambers was willing to share the recipe.
ORGANIC FARROTTO WITH RAMP PESTO
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch (1/2 lb) fresh ramps, rinsed
1/2 cup basil leaves, packed
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablesppons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups farro
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Separate the leaves from the stems of the ramps; chop the stems. Boil the garlic 3 minutes, and then add ramp and basil leaves. Boil 2 minutes, then strain and chill in the ice water. Squeeze dry and transfer to a blender. Blend with enough water to make a thick, smooth puree, and set aside.
In a medium saucepot, bring the broth to a low simmer.
Melt butter in a large saucepot over medium-low heat. Add ramp stems and sweat for 2 minutes, or until translucent. Add the farro and stir for 4 minutes (do not color). Add the wine, stir, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Slowly stir in enough broth to reach the level of the farro and simmer. Stir continuously adding more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, as it is being absorbed by the farro. Season to taste with salt and pepper after each addition of liquid. Cook 16-18 minutes, or until farro is tender and the mixture is moist but not runny. When the farro is done, stir in mascarpone, parmesan and the reserved ramp puree. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve warm.