Wheat berries, fennel broth, Jim. Three things I never would have thought of putting in the same sentence. And yet wasn’t I pleasantly surprised when I put this dish in front of him, and not a word came from him until the final sound I heard was the scraping of the fork against the bowl. He looked up, and I asked, “Well?” “I loved this.” “Get outta town!” “No, really.” This is all the endorsement I needed to share this recipe with you all. I mean, if a guy likes fennel and wheat berries, he’s pretty special, right?!
I am loving all the recipes that I’ve prepared from ‘Gjelina, Cooking from Venice, California’. Every dish so far has depth and layers of flavours. Really, they end up being way more than expected. This recipe sounds so simple in its final presentation, but it is another perfect example of putting the time into preparing a dish and being thrilled with the outcome.
In the last few years I’ve struggled trying to find bread and baking flours that agree with my ever temperamental digestive system. I’ve tried the gluten free route as far as bread goes. Not for me. So it was either give up bread and pasta altogether or accept the consequences and just be extra particular as to when I indulge. In the process I came across Einkorn and Emmer flours. They are ancient forms of wheat, that are much easier to handle. Of course if you suffer from celiac disease, this won’t be the remedy, but for those of us who are just gluten sensitive or slightly intolerant, these are definitely viable options.
Last summer I purchased a bag of einkorn berries at the Union Square Green Market in NYC. I’ve been grinding them into porridge, and also soaking and preparing them in risottos etc. And really, that is what this dish is. A slow cooked berry in a fantastic broth made out of fennel bulbs.
I added more fennel to the recipe by roasting off another bulb, and adding it to the final dish. And if you wanted to serve a lovely pork and fennel sausage on the side, that would be fantastic (in my humble and omnivore opinion) And I also used some of the confits I made a couple of weeks back. This time it was the shallot confit- I added a chopped, softened bulb to the final berries dish, not unlike adding garlic to a traditional risotto.
Take the time to make the broth. When it came together, I was so thrilled with it, that I had to keep from drinking it just like it was! I have a little bit left, and already have plans to use it as a simmering broth for poached eggs (further on this in a future post!) The leftovers became a great base for a breakfast poached egg. There’s something about sautéing up the finished product on a separate day- kind of like frying up leftover mac ‘n cheese! Hmmm, now I want me some mac ‘n cheese!
WHEAT BERRIES IN FENNEL BROTH
- 2 cups (200 grams) wheat berries
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion , sliced
- 4 fennel bulbs , roughly chopped (save the fronds for later)
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf , bruised
- kosher salt
- 8 cups (2 litres) water
- For the 'risotto'
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1/4 cup (7grams) fennel fronds, chopped
- best quality olive oil
- 2 fennel bulbs
- olive oil
- fresh thyme
- kosher salt and cracked pepper
In a medium bowl, cover the wheat berries with cold water and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours
In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil until hot but not smoking.
Add the onion and cook, stirring till translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the fennel, thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and turn the heat to low, stirring every so often, until the fennel is very soft and falling apart.
Add 8 cups of water, raise the heat to medium high, and bring to a simmer. Then reduce to low and continue simmering until very fragrant, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
Strain through a mesh sieve into another pot or large bowl. Push some of the veggies through to yield a thicker broth. Season with salt and set aside.
FOR THE WHEAT BERRIES
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Drain the wheat berries and add them to the pot, and toast them in the hot fat for 3-4 minutes, coating them evenly. Add enough of the fennel broth to cover the berries by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer. Add more broth, 1/4 cup (60 ml) at a time and stir, adding more as the liquid is absorbed. Continue and cook until the wheat berries are tender, about 30-45 minutes. Season with salt.
Roasted Fennel (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Quarter the fennel, removing the tops. Toss in a bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh thyme.
Spread out in a baking dish and roast until just fork tender, about 45 minutes. (this will depend on the size of your fennel)
Transfer the wheat berries to a serving platter, and top with roasted fennel (if using) Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.
An additional garnish could also be the slightest finely grated parmesan cheese sprinkled over everything- the roasted fennel would love this.
This fennel both is so tasty, that I would make extra to use as a vegetable broth. Freeze the broth and pull it out for lighter risotto recipes.
I used einkorn berries. Farro would also be perfect. They're all related really.