All about babies

Now that summer vacation is here, just call me Ooh-Mommy Girl. Say it loudly enough, and I might even be able to hear you over the roaring cacophony of little voices. Only the most fortifying meals — like this farro salad with baby beets, beet greens, caramelized onions and feta — need apply for summer employment.

farro salad with baby beets, carrots and fetaOne of the first bits of wisdom I read today was a friend’s status update on Facebook: “Tara was able to work out for nine minutes this morning. NOT consecutively.” Tara, as you may have guessed, is a mom. She is also an award-winning runner.

I read her update with the baby literally strapped to my chest, about to head out to drop off the preschooler for the last day of sanity, known to some as the last day of school. Although I went on to deposit the baby at the excellent gym daycare facility, thereby scoring an entire hour of narcissism for myself, the power of Tara’s message did not dissipate in the slightest. If I’ve learned one thing this past year, it’s that all bets are off when you’re outnumbered by your children. Further, subverting logic (or at least my sometimes tenuous grasp of it), while the amount of disruption created bears a direct relationship to the number of children involved (and thus the total aggregate body mass of the children), it has — if anything — an inverse relationship with the body mass of each individual child. That is, the more but the smaller the babies, the bigger the impact. In a word, it’s chaos. Cuteness, to be sure, but mostly chaos.

Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the fact that, amidst a wave of new words and sounds these past few weeks, the baby has taken to calling me “bitch.” Or possibly “bletch.” Either way, it’s pretty jarring — although she seems to take it in stride.

Many of the preschooler’s friends, namely those with smart, organized parents, are off to full-day camps this summer. As for our own family — well, that’s not really how we roll. Not that I would’ve had any choice in the matter, since the preschooler has informed me on multiple occasions that she does not intend to ride a bus without me. Not anywhere. Not ever. I can’t much blame her, since she’s only four — the age at which, when informed by my own mother that she would like some privacy in the bathroom, I obediently entered the room and closed the door.

So. For better and, at times, for worse, tomorrow begins the season that is All About the Babies. How fitting that our CSA haul this week is, too, with baby beets making their seasonal debut and baby carrots an encore appearance.

In times like these, a girl needs a lot from her food. She needs it to keep her strength up, certainly. And in equal measure, she also needs it to comfort. People in Italy must have been feeling this way for many centuries, because tucked away among numerous examples of their cultural superiority, they have hidden a little, semi-pearled coping mechanism called farro. Formerly only available for purchase in this country at Medicare offices in Italian-American neighborhoods (that’s my theory, at least), farro, also known as emmer wheat, is now fairly widely sold. It is a kinder, gentler grain, particularly in the semi-pearled form you’ll typically find here. Served as a hearty, savory salad with roasted baby beets, flecked with beet greens, caramelized onions and feta cheese, I can’t think of a better way to fuel your body for crawling around on the floor picking small bits of rug fiber out of a baby’s mouth while “negotiating” a TV-watching schedule with a four-year-old.

Farro Salad with Beets, Onions and Feta

One fine day in April, I fell in love with this recipe for warm farro and lentils with caramelized onions and feta over at the blog Orangette. (I plan to eat it all winter. You might consider it, too.) That same week, I had a farro salad with grated raw beets for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, which would have been great if it had tasted like anything. This recipe borrows from both, with a good dose of umami.

15-20 baby beets with greens
2 medium onions
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with ¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup crumbled French feta cheese

1. Roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit with a rack in the center. Cut the greens from the beets, leaving about 1 inch of stem attached to the beet. Wash the beets well, scrubbing to remove all dirt. Dry the beets and wrap them all together in a well-sealed pocket of aluminum foil. Roast the beets in the foil on a baking sheet for approximately 45 minutes, until tender. When the beets have cooled, slip them out of their skins, trim the stems and tails if desired, and cut in half lengthwise.

2. Meanwhile, caramelize the onions: Set a medium skillet over low heat. Pour in two tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Cut each onion in half lengthwise and then slice it crosswise into 1/8-inch slices (which will look like half-moons). Add the onions to the skillet along with a couple of good pinches of salt. Cook over low heat, tossing frequently, for about an hour, until they are gently browned all over and reduced to about 1/3 of their original volume. Remove the onions to a small bowl, reserving the pan for the beet greens.

3. Meanwhile, make the dressing: Combine the sherry vinegar, mustard and garlic-salt paste in a small bowl. Pour in the oil in a thin stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with pepper.

4. Cook the farro: Fill a 3-quart saucepan a little more than halfway with cold water and salt it well. Add the farro. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until the farro is tender. Drain the farro and pour it into a medium bowl. While the farro is still hot, toss it with half the dressing.

5. Prepare and cook the beet greens: Carefully wash and then roughly chop the beet greens, removing stems or chopping them into 1-inch lengths if desired. To the same skillet used to caramelize the onions, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Heat over medium heat. If using stems, add them to the pan and sauté until slightly softened, about two minutes. Add the chopped greens and sauté until thoroughly wilted, about five minutes.

6. Assemble the salad: To the bowl with the farro, add the onions, beet greens and feta and toss gently to combine. Add the beets and the remaining dressing and toss gently once more. Serve at room temperature.