Do you know what time the sun set in Burlington, Vermont, today? 4:42 p.m.
Things here are still bearable: The few hours of daylight we had today were sunny, the temperature mild, there's no snow on the ground. But although December 21 may be the official first day of winter, the end of Daylight Saving Time is the beginning of the end.
From here on in, it's nothing but gruel (and potato chips and mashed potatoes and cake) until spring, by which I mean mid-May. We here at Gruel for Dinner are in survival mode, which means waking up in the dark and plopping down in front of a light box for half an hour, eating slice after slice of peanut butter toast until it's time for lunch (leftover gruel), gorging on a variety of potato products as the sun sets earlier and earlier each day, eating more gruel for dinner, and watching TV until bed.
What about vegetables, you ask? Vegetables do not grow in the barren, frozen Vermont earth. By February I will most likely have scurvy.
And do not come to this bl*g seeking fanciful winter souffles or holiday cookie recipes. There will be no gingerbread men with bow ties made of icing, no fluffy French cuisine. I will be cooking one pot of gruel per week and eating from it for the following seven days.
But fear not. Gruel is not only nourishing and sustaining, easy to reheat and nutritious, it can—nay, must!—be delicious. And so I present to you my new favorite gruel, featuring a wonderful little grain called farro.
What is farro, you ask? I have no idea, actually, and it's pretty difficult to find here in the godforsaken tundra. I bought mine in San Francisco and brought it home, but have since found it at Healthy Living in Burlington. It's also for sale online.
Farro looks a little like wheat berries, however, according to this New York Times article, "some American cookbooks calling for farro recommend ... wheat berries as an alternative, a misguided suggestion that can create chaos for the cook." Well, this American cook tried making gruel with wheat berries, and chaos did not ensue. The farro is better, but the key to this recipe is the slow-cooked onions.
Gruel of Farro and (nonfluffy) French Lentils
Adapted from Orangette
3 medium-to-large yellow onions
¾ cup farro
½ cup French lentils
1 bunch Swiss chard
1. Thinly slice the onions, ~¼-inch thick. Pour a few glugs of olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet, enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Warm the oil over medium-high heat until it is hot, then add the onions. Stir them to coat and add a couple of pinches of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. Cooking the onions is a long, slow process (at least an hour, usually more), but it's winter and what have you got to do? Shovel snow off the roof? Apply lotion to your cracked skin? When the onions are done they will be a deep amber color and almost translucent.
2. Once you have the onions started, cook the farro according to package instructions. Here are the instructions that came with the farro I bought, which is NOT semipearled; semipearled farro will not take as long: combine farro, 4 cups of water, and a pinch of salt in a pot, bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, then cover and simmer for 50–60 minutes more (the farro should be tender but still chewy). Drain and toss into a big bowl. A cauldron, perhaps.
3. While the farro is cooking and the onions are caramelizing, place the lentils, 3 cups of cold water, and ¼ teaspoon salt in another medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until tender but not falling apart, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, rinse briefly under cool water, and add to the farro in the bowl/cauldron.
4. While the lentils and farro are cooking and the onions are carmelizing (it's called multitasking, people), strip the leaves of chard from the ribs and blanch for a minute or two in salted, boiling water, draining when the greens are tender but still bright green. Squeeze the water from the greens (literally just take bunches of chard in your hands and squeeze) and chop coarsely. Add to the cauldron.
5. When the onions have finished carmelizing, chop them coarsely and add them to the rest of the shizz.
6. Squeeze lemon juice to taste over it all and toss. Serve with crumbled feta cheese on top.