March 05, 2022. Dear Kids– With all the “researching” I do for Dad’s Dinner Diary, I come across a good number of recipes, so I thought you might be interested in this recipe, which was “inspired” by my favorite such recipe from last year- “Farro and Cauliflower Parmesan” published by the New York Times (“NYT “) and written by Sarah DiGregorio. Of course, I had to put a Dad Spin on my version, which is distinguished mostly by a very long name full of references that you may or may not appreciate. “Smarty pants” is a reference to the NYT origins of the recipe; “veggie veggie parm parm” is a reference to Tom Haverford’s hilarious food classification system in “Parks and Rec“; and “dump” is a tribute to your Aunt who loves her some “dump recipes” and a reminder of how easy and accessible this recipe is, even it did start out at the NYT.
I have a long and complicated history with the NYT- I think, mainly because I never trusted or was inspired by a paper that didn’t have a comic section. Still, I did realize the NYT was different early on once I heard a chorus of laughter from the smoked filled, Middle School Teachers’ Lounge as a teacher sarcastically exclaimed how “happy” he was to be able to read the local paper after the NYT wasn’t delivered that day.
Then it was on to high school where the smart, AP Kids would pass the NYT around during study halls, looking down at the rest of us in judgment as we passed around paper airplanes, triangular paper footballs, spit balls and a variety of other objects instead.
I didn’t think much about the NYT after high school, but when I became a young professional, it was quite in vogue to get a fat Sunday Times for your coffee and/or brunch table, whether you read it or not- I mostly did not.
I did buy and reads bits of the NYT sporadically once we settled down as a family- mostly for the crossword puzzles and the flashier, Sunday Magazine articles and Mom even subscribed to it online from time to time, letting it lapse when life got too busy. Now, ever since the pandemic started, the online subscription has been going for a record stretch. We’ve even recently started getting the Sunday Times delivered to our back step and I love when you two kids help me with the pop culture and more “sciencey” clues in the crosswords.
In spite of my complicated history with the NYT, the recipe it offered to inspired this one couldn’t be easier since, as alluded to in its title, it’s basically a savory “dump cake”, that takes no time at all to throw together. On top of that, it’s probably one of the best tasting healthiest casseroles out there-packed with vegetables and good grains that come together to make a perfectly textured and highly flavorful dish that looks and eats like a lasagna. I can’t imagine a better dish for a winter holiday dinner, brunch or open house, which is when I originally planned to post this recipe (I did on Instagram), as you can see from the reindeer plate picture in the Lecture. Fortunately, this dish it good anytime of the year, so don’t wait until the winter holidays to make it!
Diet: Vegetarian, Vegan Option
Prep Time: Hardly Any At All!
Cook Time: 60 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 16 ounces cauliflower florets cut into and/or snapped into 1-2 inch pieces
- 8-12 ounces broccoli rabe, broccolini or broccoli, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1¾ cups (12 ounces) farro
- 32-ounces good-quality jarred marinara sauce
- 1 ½ cups water or veggie broth
- ¼ cup olive oil- extra virgin if you have it
- ½ cup pitted kalamata or other olives, roughly chopped- optional
- 8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
- 3 ounces (3/4 cup) grated Parmesan
The Spice Blend.
- 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoon vinegar, like balsamic or sherry
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6-8 ounces fresh or not fresh (part skim), shredded mozzarella
COOK AND PLAY
Since this recipe is inspired by the New York Times, you should play something sophisticated like “The Bells of St. Genevieve and Other Baroque Delights”– the first classical CD I ever bought, and stay classy while you cook.
1. The Dump In. Set up middle and top oven rack (6” or so from broiler)- preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl or a broiler safe, 9-by-13-inch pan, dump and combine cauliflower, broccoli rabe (broccolini or broccoli), farro, marinara sauce, water or broth, olive oil, olives (if using), garlic, Parmesan and Spice Blend. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If mixing in a bowl, pour into a broiler safe, 9-by-13-inch pan. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
2. The Stir Up. Remove foil from pan, stir, and continue baking uncovered until sauce thickens and farro is tender, but still has a nice chew to it- about 15 minutes more. Stir in a bit more water or broth if pan looks dry to keep things saucy and help farro tenderize if needed.
3 The Top Off. As the casserole finishes baking, dump and thoroughly mix panko, Parmesan and olive oil in a small bowl.
4. The Crisp Up. Carefully remove casserole from oven and evenly cover with panko topping and then mozzarella. Turn oven to high broil, return casserole to oven and broil, with a sharp eye out to prevent burning, until panko topping is nicely browned and mozzarella has melted to your taste- a few minutes or so. Let cool and set for 5 minutes and serve on fun plates.
The Dump. I’m usually all for saving on dishes and I’m still classifying this as a “One Dish Wonder”, but in this case I found that mixing the “Dump” in one 13”x9” pan created more of a mess than it was worth- even for a Dad. I preferred to mix the dump in a big bowl and then transfer it into the baking pan- you do what works best for you.
An Ode to Broccoli Rabe and Farro. You two were out of the nest when I started to get into broccoli rabe (sometimes known as rapini) and farro, which is probably for the best since I’m not sure your young palettes would have appreciated the pair as much as I think you would now. As for broccoli rabe, it’s everything broccoli wants to be when it grows up- edgy, a bit on the wild side and just bitter enough to get your attention. I think it’s fantastic and use it often whenever I want the essence of green to come through in a dish. In spite of its name, broccoli rabe isn’t even in the same family as broccoli, which is most closely related to cabbage, while broccoli rabe’s lineage is more closely associated with the turnip family. Sure, you could use broccoli or broccolini in this recipe instead (as I mentioned, the market had no broccoli rabe, so I used broccolini in its place), but keep in mind the end results will read sweeter- Broccolini, a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli that was even marketed as “sweet broccoli” on the package I bought, being the sweetest. The broccolini was still good, but didn’t have the tantalizing bitter contrast to the sweet tomatoes that intrigues the palette. So, if you like the casserole enough to make it more than once, try it with broccoli rabe, broccoli and broccolini, or really any similar vegetable(s), to see which you prefer.
On to farro, which I call turbo charged, al dente rice- it looks like rice, but it has more nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants and can be cooked to a tender-firm state rice can never achieve. If you like farro in this recipe, try using it from time to time as a substitute for rice in other recipes to see what you think. The extent of nutrients and cooking time will vary depending on how the farro you buy is processed- whole, semi pearled or pearled (from longest cooking time to most nutrients to least), which is something I go on about in this Dad Lecture if you’re interested.
Veganize It. Omit the Parmesan and add in some nutritional yeast or a vegan parmesan to the Spice Blend and Topping- a few tablespoons in each would be a good place to start- then add more or less to your taste. If you’re a good vegan, you’ll know to ditch the mozzarella too- instead, use a cashew cream drizzled over the casserole before serving or substitute a good melting vegan mozzarella in its place. Honestly, I think you could even omit both cheeses from the recipe without substitution and have a scrumptious casserole nonetheless!
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