A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Napa, California with a group of bloggers, nutritionists and journalists from around the world. We were invited by the California Prune Board to learn all about the antioxidant packed fruit, its countless health benefits and how versatile it is when it comes to cooking and baking.
Our first day started at The Culinary Institute of America where we attended a panel led by Donn Zea, the California Prune Board executive director. He introduced us to John Taylor, Joe Mitchell and Nick Michelli, men that have been instrumental in the California prune growing scene. Their families are dedicated to the task of carefully growing the best plums in the area. One of the things that stayed with me after hearing them speak about how they started at the orchards, was the passion and commitment that to this day, they have for the land.
That passion carries into their lush orchards and continues with the process of turning these delicious and one of a kind plums into prunes. These families also have a few things in common. Resilience and a deep love for what they do.
During the panel we learned that California produces the highest quality prunes in the world and exports them to many countries. Not only are they unparalleled when it comes to flavour (believe me, I had SO many!) but they are a great source of fibre. They also contain polyphenols, which helps slow bone loss, are rich in antioxidants, potassium and without a doubt, my favourite health benefit is that these nutritional powerhouses expedite recovery after a workout. So you bet that since I came back from Napa, I’ve been adding 3 prunes to my post- CrossFit smoothie.
Let’s get cooking
Our visit to Napa was made even better by the gastronomic experience we had at The Culinary Institute of America. We got to create around seven different dishes using California prunes as the star ingredient.The results were simply spectacular! From pasta with wild garlicky mushrooms, pine nuts, pickled prunes and feta, to the most delicious lentil falafels with a prune dipping sauce on the side, as well as a delicious and nutty prune and vegetable quinoa.
A tasting prior to cooking, demonstrated pairing the sweetness of the prunes with savoury ingredients and showed us how versatile prunes can be. I loved the flavour combinations of prunes with feta, toasted walnuts, miso salted caramel and peppery arugula.
The next morning we went to visit the orchards of Joe Turkovich, whose entire life has been devoted to growing prunes, as the orchards have been in his family for generations. After a lovely farm to table brunch, we walked around beautifully lined rows of plum trees, while Joe talked about the process the fruit goes through from its harvest until its dehydrated. I’ve got to say that I ate my fair share of plums that morning, and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted any other plums as sweet as those.
Inspired by Napa, the orchards and the eye opening prune pairings we experienced, I came home ready to whip up a few recipes using California prunes. I’m starting with these nutty farro bowls topped with roasted butternut squash, garlicky wild mushrooms, juicy pomegranate seeds, pickled prunes, peppery shishitos, walnuts and grilled halloumi.
I tend to use farro as soon as fall arrives. There’s something utterly comforting about a nice bowl of farro as soon as temperatures drop. The pickled prunes, a technique Chef Peter Sidwell taught us, creates a subtle balance between sweet and savoury and adds a luscious layer of flavour to this Napa inspired bowl. With Thanksgiving around the corner, this vegetarian dish celebratesFall and ingredients that are meant to be together.
Farro Bowls with Roasted Vegetables, Prunes and Halloumi
1 hr 5 mins
- 1 1/2 cups farro
- 5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/2 red onion, cut in wedges
- 3 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
- 8 asparagus spears, cut in 1 1/2 -inch pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup parsley, tightly packed and coarsely chopped
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 3 tbsp pure Maple syrup
- 3/4 cup California Prunes
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 tsp honey
- 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- 8 shishito peppers
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
- 1 250 grams halloumi cheese, cut into 1/2 -ich slices
- Preheat the oven at 375 F. Cook farro in 7 cups of previously salted boiling water, for 40 to 45 minutes. Note that its texture will remain chewy.
- Place the cubed squash on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 tsp sea salt and pepper. Bake in the oven turning once halfway through, for 20 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic stir for 15 seconds. Sauté the onion, mushrooms and asparagus until the asparagus is crisp and the onions and mushrooms are slightly browned. Set aside.
- In a medium frying pan, toast the walnuts on medium high until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Pour in the maple syrup and stir for 1 minute until the nuts are evenly coated. Transfer them to a piece of parchment paper.
- Coarsely chop the prunes. Place them in a medium bowl and add the lime juice and honey. Stir well and let rest for 8 minutes.
- Poke each shishito pepper with a fork and sauté them with a tablespoon of olive oil, in a medium frying pan until they blister a bit. About 3 minutes. Sprinkle Maldon salt on top and set aside.
- Drain the farro. Place it in a big bowl and pour in the balsamic vinegar, remaining olive oil, parsley and green onions. Stir the mixture well and evenly divide it into 4 bowls.
- Top each bowl with the squash, candied walnuts, onion, mushroom and asparagus mix, pomegranate seeds and shishito peppers.
- Drain the prunes from the lime juice, and add a heaping tablespoon to each bowl.
- In the same frying pan used to sauté the peppers, pan fry the halloumi slices over medium heat. About 1 1/2 minute per side, or until golden. Top each bowl with one or two slices and enjoy!