The First Mess // healthy vegan recipes for every season »

Masthead header

farro with grilled endives + realness


I inadvertently took a week off from this little spot, oops. But I’ve made up for it with 287438634972 words worth of text and a lovely spring salad with farro and grilled stuff. Oh yes, get ready.

I caught myself doing something really weird the other day (not like in a feel-super-awkward-after-reading kind of way, don’t worry), but ultimately I laughed at the whole thing. I do a little bit of photography for a food magazine here and there. Just little jobs, yes, but something to take a bit more seriously and work at, which I love. Anyway, I had made one of the dishes they requested, plated it up, brought it over to my lighting rig (a giant window with a tinfoil-ed sheet of bristol board–super advanced), and set everything down.

Then I started meticulously fluffing a pristine, bright white kitchen towel gathered next to the dish, as if it were a pillow on a sofa. And then I placed a serving spoon just so on top of the towel, gleaming from the vinegar polish I gave it prior to–purely for appearance. The whole thing was getting tupped (term of endearment for placing food in tupperware) immediately following this exercise. Looking at a few initial shots, the image seemed bare so I considered a casually calculated placement of some raw ingredients or knick knacks in the background. But did I  have enough perfect-specimen raw ingredients left? Do I even have knick knacks that are rustic-chic enough? I do not want to look like a try-hard with, like, anything remotely new-seeming and non-antiqued. My kitchen twine is pure white! Not even remotely burlap-y and how am I going to even fray this stuff for a picture and… WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME.

Actual life situation: None of my kitchen towels are virginal white. Nor are they ever fluffed/futzed with pre-service. Sorry in advance if you were looking forward to that. They hang haphazardly on the oven door handle, like everyone else’s. Oh, and they generally have a couple of avocado fingerprints on them, you know, the ones that start bright green and then change to gross brown in 5 minutes. My serving spoons probably all have water spots. I say probably because a soup spoon seems to work fine for serving on most nights. I’ve never made a habit of artfully arranging raw ingredients on the dinner table to fill in the white space between plates so that my peeps can get a real sense of the meal’s contents. “Can you pass the roasted potatoes, but PLEASE! DO NOT adjust those thyme sprigs and lemon slices nearby. Dude, I spent a lot of time arranging those to enhance your dining experience!!” I don’t own knick knacks. I do not aspire to own knick knacks.

Not that there is anything wrong with having clean kitchen towels, polished silverware, sprawling food-based arrangements and rustic-chic-but-slightly-modern-urban-sophisticate items in the home. There really isn’t! I honestly have a bit of envy for that dedication to ambient, gorgeous home-dwelling, but I’ve accepted that it will never work for me in a practical way. It’s not an accurate reflection of what happens in our warm, slightly disorganized and sunny kitchen, so it will never appear that way in this space, which is essentially a food-focused journal of sorts. It’s a little bit of life right here.

I like imperfections in a non-lazy way, realness if you will. After being annihilated (in the best way) by this post, I started thinking about that a lot more. I started a blog because I wanted to make-contagious my love of cooking whole food at home, however clumsy or ho-hum at times; not to make home cooks feel like shit because they couldn’t stack, drizzle and present table-side something in the exact manner that I did. I want the cooking masses to have reverence for leafy greens, ripe fruit in season, and whole grains like I do. Seriously. There’s a vibrance in spring time, when out from the cold dirt comes fresh and delicious things we can all eat together to remind us of greater systems at work. It evokes the big mystery that you can’t always explain with words but you feel completely. I know that antique cans wrapped in twine with blossoms inside, food props and perfectly clean and pressed table linens with adorably quaint non-hemmed edges (beautiful as they are) don’t bring me to that place. A garlic scape just poking out of some straw-covered dirt in the shadow of a decidedly unglamorous tractor shed is always ready for its close up around here and I hope you can appreciate the honesty in that as much as I do.

And today’s recipe? It’s pretty awesome if you’re a super-bitter greens lover. You can throw the salad portion together well in advance, then grill the endives last minute, drizzle the reduction on top and you’re golden. This makes a wonderful lunch or a side attraction to some protein, maybe a maple and hot mustard glazed piece of tempeh, a couple of poached eggs, whatever you like. It’s nice to have outside on the still slightly cool evenings, all bundled in a warm sweater, with wine or a beer or whatever. I love the chewiness of farro, but since we’re all about approachability you could use any grain that you have lying around. That principle applies to all of the other add ins as well. Go wild and go forth with realness.

farro and white bean salad with grilled endives
serves: 6-8
notes:  I really mean it on the bitterness, the grilling brings out that strong flavour in the endives, kind of bringing it into love or hate territory. Also, I like to slightly undercook the farro to retain some of the chewiness and deep brown colour. If you like your grains softer, cook about 10 minutes longer than I’ve specified.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (doesn’t have to be baller-level quality)
1 cup farro (whole grain spelt or spelt berries), rinsed
1 cup cooked white beans
1/3 cup raw almonds, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup dried currants
2.5-3 ounces arugula, chopped
1-2 belgian endives (probably 2, mine was crazy huge), trimmed of rough outer leaves and cut in half lengthwise
1 head radicchio, trimmed of rough outer leaves and cut into quarters
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
salt and pepper

dressing:
juice of 1 orange (about 1/2 cup-worth)
splash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 shallot, minced
1 tbsp maple syrup
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or olive, sunflower etc)

Place the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until vinegar is reduced by half and it coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Once adequately reduced, remove from the heat, scrape into a separate container and place in the fridge to set up.

Place farro in a medium saucepan with 2.5 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until slightly tender but still chewy. Drain, rinse with cold water and dump into a large bowl. Set aside.

To the cooked farro, add the white beans, chopped almonds, currants, chopped arugula, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the dressing: whisk together the orange juice, apple cider vinegar, shallots, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the oil while quickly whisking the mixture. Taste for seasoning. Pour over farro and bean mixture and toss to combine.

Heat a grill to medium high. Brush the endive and radicchio pieces with the grapeseed oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place the endives on the grill on their cut sides. Grill for 2-3 minutes or until you see some charring/browning of the leaves. Flip them over and repeat cooking process. Remove from the grill when charred a bit on all sides and slightly tender to the touch.

Place dressed farro and bean mixture in a serving plate. Arrange grilled endive pieces on top. Drizzle balsamic reduction over the whole thing and serve.

You might also like…

sweet chili eggplant + arugula toss

Oh have I got a good one here! This dish is smoky, sweet, spicy, crunchy-salty, a touch bitter and a little fresh at theView full post »

mighty grain salad + a guest post at happyolks

Just a little quickie today. I have a guest post over at the gorgeous, gracious and brilliant Happyolks today. Kelsey&#View full post »

kale salad + eating greens

We still have so many greens in the gardens! Chard, kale, spinach and lettuces, leaves of plenty. There’s a lot ofView full post »

pin it subscribe tweet this post share on facebook email to a friend
la domestique09/04/2012 - 1:11 pm

I love grilled radicchio and endive (which is what I made for chicory week at la Domestique) and cannot handle how fantastic your salad is with the farro! I think keeping it real is also about having a point of view, a personality, and that’s what makes things interesting.

Kelsey09/04/2012 - 1:11 pm

Cheers to ALL of this.

Sarah09/04/2012 - 1:47 pm

Keep on keeping it real Laura! I think you can take pretty real photos. I love the photos with your hands touching the food, or fiddling around in the garden. I also have started to find the over-styled food posts meh. (Or even posts all about food overly pretty food. SOME DAYS I DON’T WANT TO COOK!) It’s pretty, but it’s not real.

Have you read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? It’s a great writing book, and she has a chapter on perfectionism.

“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.”

Eileen09/04/2012 - 2:12 pm

I agree completely! I waver between wanting to improve my inconsistent food photography and wanting to avoid presenting cooking as this perfect unattainable art. There must be some happy medium involving a couple of good lights and an ordinary dinner table. The photography in Nigel Slater’s cookbooks comes to mind.

And those grilled endives look fantastic!

sara09/04/2012 - 4:18 pm

first off, hellooo delicious. second, and more importantly, I love you’re point. Recently creating a book with few props and like you a reflector made out of poster board, you constantly feel like you are “taking away” from someone’s impression on a dish you made. They won’t think it’s good if it’s not beautiful! That is the thing about food photography, we think the perfection seems to drive people to make these foods, but I’m not sure it is. I make things that look approachable, doable, something I can pull off without professional frosting or poaching skills etc. You create stunning work, Laura. Don’t let the expectation get in the way of your truth. You make wholesome goodness, and to see it in context of your everyday life, is ENOUGH. xoxo

adrienne10/04/2012 - 5:25 pm

You (and Brian) read my mind. I’ve been having similar, frustrating thoughts lately that make me want to hit delete instead of publish. Who defined this world of perfectly styled food? That isn’t the kind of world that most of us live in or actually practice. I’ve become almost numb to food photography…everything looking so similar. But it’s the people like you—with real and honest writing and photos—that stand out. Keep on keeping on, my friend.

Erin10/04/2012 - 5:43 pm

Love all of this! I’ve learned that whatever I do, I need to be me and have it come through my photos because like you, my towels all have spots and most of my cutting boards look like they’ve been put through hell and back. I find myself simplifying how I shoot and I’ve really been into photography raw ingredients (with dirt and all) because I know it freak people out :)

Cookie and Kate10/04/2012 - 7:03 pm

Yes yes yes yes yes! That’s what I was thinking as I read this post. I’ve been thinking about this subject a whole lot lately, and how it applies to the way I photograph food. I think what happens is that people want to learn to take better photos (and for good reason, a bad photo can make a delicious dish look totally unappetizing!). So they buy books and study other blogs (I’ve done a lot of both) and eventually their photos look like everyone else’s, cookie crumb placement and all.

I was interesting in photography long before I got serious about cooking, so I do want my food photos to look artful, but in a totally approachable way. I like to think that my food prep photos help visitors visualize making the dish themselves, and it perpetually amazes me that people actually DO cook my recipes quite often, so I must be doing something right. I’m definitely in the process of changing the way I do things, though, evolving more into my own style… like recently, I looked at my tabletop and decided it looked good naked, without burlap. Who uses burlap for a tablecloth, anyway?!

Cookie and Kate10/04/2012 - 7:05 pm

Oh yeah, and this salad looks seriously amazing. I haven’t tried endive yet but I’m an arugula freak so I’m pretty sure I’d love it.

Munchin with Munchkin10/04/2012 - 7:38 pm

First, this salad looks incredible. I love endives, especially when they’re grilled. I have yet to give farro a try, it’s on my list though.

Secondly, it’s so refreshing to hear that other bloggers are feeling this way too. I’ve been so frustrated lately with food photography and the trend of perfectly placed food with rustic antique props. I think it’s a style that has emerged from food porn sites. I’ve started to count how many images of mine get accepted because there is a burlap table cloth, and how many are denied because it doesn’t have that stylistic feel.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to change things up. I feel like I’m in a food photography rut, and nothing but a good change can help me get out of it. Thanks so much for sharing! It’s comforting to know someone else feels the same way.

Kasey10/04/2012 - 8:00 pm

Keepin’ it real! I love this. And, I also think about this..oh…all the time! It totally stresses me out when s*** isn’t perfect on my site, and sometimes I just want to yell really loudly: “I DO NOT EAT FROM RUSTIC METAL BOWLS!” also: “MOST DAYS, I EAT NOODLES OR SAUSAGES FOR DINNER!” I think we do this because we love it, but at the end of the day, you gotta keep it real and stay true to who you are. I’ll continue to try working on my photos, and I’ll still try to make them pretty, but I won’t freak out if some of them start looking more ‘real.’

sarah11/04/2012 - 9:51 am

I really appreciated this post. I’ve found that while I love looking at pretty, well–styled and accessorized food photos, when I’ve tried to take photos like that it just doesn’t feel right. I love a bit of mess and realness to shine forth. My pictures only feel ‘right’ to me when I’ve used my own, personal used dishes and utensils – things I know and use and am comfortable with.

I read that post you linked to last week, too, and have been mulling it over.

Thanks for all your thoughtfulness.
And your photos are lovely, as always!

[...] photo. It’s a bowl stacked on top of another bowl. Who uses two bowls when one does the job?! Laura’s latest post really drove home how silly food photography can be. I want my food to look real, like you could [...]

[...] This Farro with grilled endives from Laura over at The First Mess. (Seriously, go over to her blog and say hi.  I love how real she is and one of my goals is to meet her in real life some day.) [...]

Sarah12/04/2012 - 10:18 am

Thank you for writing this. I couldn’t agree more. So often I feel like we as bloggers lose sight of what’s really important to us, and almost become selfish about it. Making readers feel good means more to me than a perfect picture. Bravo!

Shannalee12/04/2012 - 5:22 pm

This is my first time finding your site and can I just say, it is GORGEOUS. Love your layout, love your design, love your font choices. The photography is icing on the cake.

Carrie13/04/2012 - 10:34 am

First off – I am a super-bitter greens lover, so I dig cooked endive and this recipe. And, as long as your kitchen is warm and sunny, it doesn’t really matter if it’s slightly disorganized. Love your words in this post (and the pics).

Kate15/04/2012 - 1:37 pm

Why do people LOVE quaintly frayed, but perfectly pressed linens? Especially ones that look like they were cut from a burlap bag? My mother would look at that and snort ‘Ridiculous!’ and quite frankly, that’s what I think when I come across them. No one does that, really. Especially people with young children because we all know what bored little fingers do to frayed edges.

And AMEN to ALL of this. AMEN to the annihilation of Brian’s post; I read that and thought ‘Ok world, get ready because this is going to ROCK it hard.’ and that’s why I don’t photograph that way, or diffuse it all with antique white light that looks like it belongs in a museum. I want to see photos of food and think “I would eat that.” and instead, I think “Nice art work!” and that’s really not the goal, at all.

So cheers to you. And to this recipe. Both are necessary, and delightful.

[...] reading pieces from Laura, Kathryne, and many others, I’ve realized that without even knowing it, I’ve developed [...]

Anna @ the shady pine17/04/2012 - 3:28 am

I’ve only recently tried grilled endive….it is just lovely. I am yet to try faro however so am saving your recipe here to give it a go.

Karen28/03/2013 - 9:09 am

Grilled radicchio is one of my favorite things – something about that slight char seems to tame its bite and soften the texture, and I love the contrast of smoky brown color with the interior, still that jewel-like magenta. I love your site; I want to jump in and taste everything here!
Cheers, Karen

[...] Enn-dive? On-deev? Who cares, let’s eat. Recipe here. [...]

[...] Farro & White Bean Salad with Grilled Endives via the first mess [...]

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*