This month our booksellers are cooking up a seven course feast to highlight the many new cookbooks hitting our shelves in time for the holidays. Join us as we chronicle our ambitious culinary undertakings here on the BookPeople blog. From cocktails to side dishes to dessert, we’ll share our adventures investigating a wide variety of new cookbooks, all of which will add up to one eclectic meal.
First course: Cocktails with Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
Second Course: Tomato and Pomegranate Salad from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi
Third Course: Old Ikarian Tomato-Acorn Soup Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die
For today’s post, Mo cooked up a side of Farroto with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale and Brock’s Benne-Buttermilk Rolls from Heritage by Sean Brock.
Chef Sean Brock is the ___________ (fill in your name of your favorite Austin celebrity chef) of Charleston, South Carolina. His restaurant, Husk, is a huge local favorite, and Brock’s goal of preserving and reinterpreting American Southern heritage foods “sparked a national obsession,” according to the publisher. My contribution to the BookPeople Feast is side dishes from Brock’s new cookbook, Heritage, so I indulged in Brock’s national obsession and made Brock’s Benne-Buttermilk Rolls and Farroto with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale.
We’ll start with the rolls, because you always start with rolls:
As a sucker for a roll baked in a cast-iron skillet, I was eager to prepare Brock’s flagship bread product. I imagine that he has at least a few bakers at his restaurant whose entire job is to make Benne-Buttermilk Rolls. My first job was to answer the question: “what is benne?” Benne, it turns out, is a sort of local-to-the-Carolinas variety of sesame seed. I will confess here: rather than shell out for real benne seeds to be shipped from South Carolina, I substituted the common sesame seed. Please forgive me, Chef Brock.
What ended up being a five-hour odyssey into home baking began with making a simple paste of sweet things: sugar, local honey, and a pinch of kosher salt. From there, I mixed the paste with buttermilk and two different types of flour, again running afoul of Brock’s demand that I use a Carolina-native flour and substituting the King Arthur-brand stuff I had on hand. (Brock recommends ordering your Carolina pantry products from a company called Anson Farms). Then came the squishing:
And the rising, which was done in a warm place, i.e. my stove top:
As I waited the requisite two hours for the dough to rise, I sat on the couch and read the soon-to-be-released novel You Could be Home by Now by my friend, Tracy Manaster. Always have a good book to read while you wait for your dough.
Then the Rock Star Southern Chef-pretending part got under way! Rolling dough into rolls and putting ’em in the skillet. How cute is that?
I brushed the tops of the rolls with egg wash and sprinkled them liberally with kosher salt and not-benne seeds. After twenty minutes of ferocious ovening: chewy, sweet, dense roll perfection! A very satisfying roll that is perfect with butter and honey, or as a sponge for requisite holiday gravy-mopping.
Next, I made Farroto with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale. I accidentally put lacinato kale in my cart at Whole Foods, but that small mistake did not result in any kale-related injuries or disappointments. This was my first interaction with farro, the hearty wheat berry that is the star of this dish. “Farroto” is like a risotto with farro instead of rice.
My friend and housemate, the poet Abe Louise Young, prepped the kale while I tended to the large acorn squash that needed to be halved and roasted. HANDY TIP: microwave the squash for two minutes to soften its skin so you do not risk your precious digits in the event of knife slippage.
I roasted the acorn squash with two dollops of butter, plus salt and pepper. Meanwhile, the farro had to be coated in oil and toasted in the oven, which made the kitchen smell like burning Chex Mix. Abe read from Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters and Lemon while the various ingredients roasted and toasted.
Preparing this dish, I began to regard the three primary elements–kale, squash, and farro–as children with different needs and personalities. The kale was the easy child, content to rest on the counter and wait its turn. The acorn squash was the slightly more high-maintenance child, requiring special appliances (the squash is blended with vegetable broth and its own post-roast buttery juices in a blender, creating a sun-colored slurry that I likened to adult baby food). And the farro? Well, let’s just say the farro was the most demanding of the three.
After sauteeing onion and garlic in a heaping tablespoon of butter and a half-cup of the cheapest dry white wine Whole Foods could sell me while maintaining its dignity, the toasted farro was added to the skillet, along with a cup or so of the warmed vegetable broth (Chef Brock supplies a beautiful homemade veggie stock recipe in the back of the book, scented with fennel, but Chef Daviau was lazy so she used the boxed stuff from the store). One must stand over the farro, adding the broth cup by cup and stirring to prevent scorching, until the farro has expanded and is cooked through. This takes an hour. I did not get any reading done while I was tending to the farro.
But then, beautiful things began to happen:
Glorious fall colors, smells, and substantial creaminess are the hallmarks of Chef Brock’s farroto. The acorn squash adds mild sweetness and creaminess, which, upon finishing, is made even creamier by the addition of parmigiano reggiano and more butter. The kale adds green and a nice, vegetal crunch. And the nutty, chewy, dense farro is the unexpected hero of this dish, adding plenty of earthiness to a hearty side dish that also stands well on its own as a main course. It’s also one of those dishes that tastes better the next day. HELPFUL REHEAT TIP: keep some vegetable broth on hand and add it to the leftover farroto when you heat it on the stove. This keeps it from being too dry from spending the night in the fridge.
Chef Brock’s farroto with acorn squash and kale is the perfect fall side dish for your entertaining needs. If you like it as much as I did, you’ll probably wrap your arm around your bowl in classic “do not want to share/go get your own” position.
All books mentioned in this post are available via bookpeople.com and on the shelves at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas).
Next course: Main Dish!