For a number of months last year, our dining room table became an object of constant uncertainty. We ate my younger son’s birthday breakfast on a set of cardboard moving boxes arranged in a table-like shape. We ate his birthday dinner (artichokes and takeout burgers) on a loaner IKEA table that had the weight and structural solidity of a cardboard moving box.
Then it was a round cafe table in our hotel suite, then my mom’s old claw-foot dining room table, followed by a folding card table that was approximately half the size you would need to fit four people, followed by my dad’s old office table, followed, finally, by our dining table once it had made the journey across the Atlantic and been reassembled with substitute hardware purchased with the aid of a spec sheet in a foreign language and a not insignificant amount of cursing.
People tell you that when kids are going through big transitions, it helps to keep their routines as constant and reliable as possible. That is a lovely aspirational goal that we did not fully meet in our international move. As someone who loves to cook, and cares profoundly about shared meals, I would like to tell you that at least we ate wholesome home-cooked meals.
Friends and readers, we did not. It was a chaotic mishmash of roast chickens from the market, haphazard salads, takeout.
But then our furniture arrived. School started; work started. We unpacked our sweaters and plates. We found the right hardware for the table. I started making real dinners again. We ate it on a real table that was not liable to disintegrate if a glass of water spilled or blow over in a strong breeze.
And that was the moment that I felt at home again after years of being away, after months of the arduous process of moving a whole household from one continent to another.
Almost five years earlier, it was making white fish with lemon and green beans and roast potatoes that marked in my mind the start of our lives in France. After each of my kids was born, it was returning to cooking that made me feel like I could imagine how to be a parent. I also find making dinner night after night a drag. I also get bored, and feel uninspired. And cooking is the best way I know to make myself at home.
And so here, in the spirit of being home, is my favorite comfort meal. It all cooks in one pan, with the kale getting soft and the farro slightly creamy. The ingredients – kale, farro, bacon – can be hard to find in France, so it’s been a gift to be able to make it regularly again now that we’re in the U.S. I save the carcasses from roast chicken in the freezer until I have a few and make a big batch of chicken stock, which I use in this recipe. The richness in homemade stock helps make the farro almost creamy. That said, canned or boxed chicken stock is fine. We’re all just doing the best we can here.
FARRO AND KALE
The chicken stock and bacon add to the richness and depth of flavor, but the recipe still works and is good if you make it vegetarian. Skip the bacon and saute the onion and garlic in olive oil and use water or vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock.
3 strips bacon, chopped into ½-inch pieces*
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup farro
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock or water)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ bunches kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese, grated
Cook the bacon in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon with a spatula or slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, depending on how much bacon fat is rendered. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until they’re translucent. Add the garlic and stir for another few minutes.
Add the farro, stir. Add the chicken stock and 1 cup of water. You want to add approximately 3 parts liquid to 1 part farro, but it can be any combination of water and stock. Add salt and pepper. Bring the farro and stock to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
Cook, partially covered, for approximately 15 minutes, or until the farro is just beginning to soften. It should not be fully cooked. Add the kale. You may need to gently mix the kale into the farro in batches with tongs because it will seem like too much kale at first. It will cook down and be fine.
Partially cover the pan and cook for another approximately 10 minutes, until the kale and farro are both fully cooked.
Serve with grated parmesan cheese and top with the reserved bacon.
*It’s annoying to use small amounts of bacon, but bacon freezes well, so I typically freeze leftover bacon for this purpose (or wrap the leftovers in foil and freeze them if I open a package of bacon for this recipe). You can chop the frozen bacon and stick it in the pan without thawing. The pieces of bacon will come apart as they cook.
THE COOK: Vrylena Olney, Portland
“I love to cook and I care deeply about cooking and food in the context of relationships. My cooking is shaped by my own tastes and pleasure, but also those of the people I cook for – my spouse, my children (ages 6 and 10), my friends. Beyond that, I try to cook seasonally and with local ingredients. I aim to eat less meat, but I don’t want to be precious about my food. I believe strongly that perfect is the enemy of the good. The majority of my cooking is weeknight dinners and that can be a drag, even for someone who loves to cook.”