I met a young farmer recently who has decided to start a growing organic grains to make flour. She is under the impression that many of the grains currently grown for flour production are some of the cause of this whole gluten intolerance craze. She’s not alone in this thought.
As it turns out, there are only a handful of small growers and even fewer small mills that will turn the grains into flour stable for baking.The overwhelming majority of the flour we have access to is grown on a large scale and mixed and milled at facilities that are too big to take on grain from small producers - it’s just not economically viable for them.
My farmer friend sewed seed last fall for harvest this coming summer and I can’t wait to start baking with her flours. I will surely report back when I do.
But because she is such a small producer she couldn’t even use up the seed grain that she ordered and handed me a 1/2 bushel of organic hard red winter wheat to play with. I plan to mill most of it into flour to bake with, but I’ve started with a rustic version of risotto. In fact, it is more of a gruel, but this dish is too delicious to harness with such an awful name. It is hearty and comforting and, who knows, maybe I can even feed it to the gluten intolerant without problem. I’m not going to do that just yet, but I will be looking for volunteers… -Ian
Winter Wheat and Mushroom Risotto
1 pound sliced crimini mushrooms
2 shallots, halved
2 carrots, peeled
2 celery ribs
1 bay leaf
6 parsley sprigs
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cups hard winter wheat
10 cups water
1 tablespoon rendered animal fat or unsalted butter
½ pound asparagus, trimmed
1 cup chicken stock
11/2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ stick unsalted butter
Equipment: Cheesecloth; Kitchen string
Wrap the mushrooms, shallot, carrot, celery, bay leaf, parsley, and peppercorns in the cheesecloth and tie into a bouquet garni. Bring the water, wheat, bouquet garni, and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the wheat is tender, about 45 minutes.
Cut the asparagus into ¼-inch diagonal slices. While the wheat cooks, heat the fat in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot. Stir in the asparagus into the fat in the pan with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden in places, 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove the bouquet garni, pressing on the solids to keep as much liquid as possible. Stir the chicken stock and cornstarch together then add it to the wheat along with the butter and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, then serve.