Cinnamon-Scented Rice Pilaf with Apricots & Raisins

A stick of cinnamon, crushed cardamom pods and whole peppercorns add terrific flavor to this golden pilaf. Instead of adding them directly to the rice, tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth, so you can easily remove them once they've added their terrific seasonings to the dish. 

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BARLEY RISOTTO WITH SQUASH & PEAS

Oftentimes, I prefer cooking barley like risotto rather than boiling it, because adding broth slowly causes the grains to become creamy and swell. If you want to make the dish ahead, you have two choices: You can partially cook the barley and leave it covered on the stove to be finished before serving. Or, because barley risotto is heartier than rice, the finished dish can be reheated very successfully in the microwave.

 8 oz. butternut squash (1 1/2 cups) cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas, at room temperature
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cinnamon stick (about 3-inches)
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

 1.      To cook squash and peas, bring a deep saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add squash, cook until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.  When the squash is almost tender, add the peas. Cook 2 minutes, drain and set aside.
 

2.     In a 3 1/2 to 4 quart saucepan, heat olive oil over moderate heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Cover pan with a sheet of waxed paper and the lid, reduce heat to low and cook until onions are very tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Do not let them brown. 
 

3.     Meanwhile, pour the stock into another saucepan.  Add the cinnamon stick and thyme and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes. Leave on low heat. Stir the barley into the onions for 1 minute.  Raise the heat to medium. Stir 1 cup stock into    the barley mixture and cook, stirring slowly, until the barley has begun to swell and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 6 minutes.  Add 1 more cup of stock and stir slowly until barley absorbs the stock completely. 

 MAKE AHEAD: The risotto can be held for up to 2 hours off the heat after the first 2 cups of stock are partially absorbed. Some liquid should be remaining in the pan.  Cover and reheat before continuing. 

 4.     Add 2 more cups of stock, one cup at a time, cooking until the stock is completely absorbed before adding the fourth cup.  Barley is done when it is creamy on the outside and slightly firm (al dente) in the center, about 30 minutes. If barley is still too firm, stir in the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time. 

 5.     Fold in the peas and squash.  Cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Season to taste. Garnish each serving with a small thyme sprig.

 MAKE AHEAD:  Risotto may be held at room temperature for several hours and reheated in the microwave.

Makes 6 to 8 servings. 

 TIP: To easily peel squash, prick it several times with the tip of a sharp knife and microwave it for 2 minutes to soften and then peel with a vegetable peeler. 

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Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Arugula & Pine Nuts

Next time you need to bring a dish for a luncheon or dinner or are looking for an easy-to-prepare dish to complete any meal, make this delicious toasted couscous salad. Like the basic black dress, it is so versatile it fits in anywhere. I call it my go-to salad and once you make it, I know it will become yours, too. 

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Farro & Kale Salad with Lemony Kale Pesto

My trick for getting lots of lemon flavor without making a dish too juicy is to use the peel of the  lemon and mince it in the food processor. This salad has it all--healthful ingredients, nutty farro, crunchy pine nuts and a light, refreshing pesto. You can watch me making this by going to Videos on my website. 

1-1/4 cups farro (9 oz.)
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 pkg. (5 oz.) baby kale
1 medium lemon, plus several slices for garnish, if desired
1 medium shallot, peeled
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 cup currants
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted at 350° until golden
3 tablespoons grated Parmesano Reggiano, plus more for serving, if desired

1. To cook farro: Put farro into a deep saucepan. Cover with water by 2-inches. Add salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until the farro is tender, but still chewy. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl; cool.

2.  Measure 2 cups packed kale for salad, chop into large pieces and set aside.  

3. To make pesto:  Using a sharp vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemon.  Cut off any white pith from inside peel.  Squeeze lemon; reserve juice.  Put lemon peel and shallot into a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add remaining 3 cups kale and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; process to blend. With machine running, pour oil through feed tube. Process until pureed. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour over farro. Stir in currants..

MAKE AHEAD: Salad may be refrigerated overnight or held at room temperature up to 8 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

4. Before serving, stir in reserved chopped kale and pine nuts. Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired, 

Makes 6 servings.

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