Mediterranean Mussels & Farro

Maria Speck has given us a great gift; her book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals takes whole grains out of the realm of should and into the province of want. Going from "I know I should eat more of these" to "That looks great - more, please?" is no small feat with something like grains. Whole grains sort of have a small PR problem. If whole grains were a Hollywood starlet, she might be advised to do something slightly naughty to catch a headline. Maybe she could date a bad boy just to get noticed?

Grains have been the culinary equivalent of your plump Auntie, beloved yes, but not one to inspire covetous fantasy. Or, they've been like that Deadhead roommate you once had, who ate everything in shades of gray and brown and dressed the same. All patchouli, unshaven, draped in Indian prints; her Dr Bronner's soap seemed more inspired and flavorful than the food she ate.

With Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Maria Speck gives grains a saucy makeover. From drab to fab, the enticing recipes and gorgeous photos will actually have you skeptics thinking "Hm, I should try this."

Click the image to order from my Powell's Bookshelf. Follow Maria on Twitter @MariaSpeck.


Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011


✔ Remember these 5 Tips for combining a healthy Mediterranean Diet with Gluten-Free eating? Some of those tips can apply here - though Farro is not GF. For example, Tip #3: Cook once, eat often: you can make a large batch of farro ahead of time and then prepared farro can be quickly combined with a salad or tossed into a soup on any harried weeknight.


PEI Mussels Share the Spotlight with Saucy Grains

Malpeque Harbor, Prince Edward Island Malpeque-wm Just back from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, I'm inspired to incorporate more seafood into our diet. I'm especially fond of the mussels and oysters from PEI. Having a taste of something plucked from the place it grows offers an unparalleled taste memory. Ropes of these beauties reminded me of jewelry. [recipe and giveaway after the break - read on!] mussels


Did you know: Mussels are an excellent lean protein, high in Omega 3s, Vitamin B12 and iron, they're also low in fat. From a sustainability standpoint, mussels are an excellent choice. They grow on ropes (no sand!) and harvesting doesn't damage the habitat. They're filter-feeders so they actually clean their environment.

In this recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Mussels are paired with farro and Mediterranean flair.


Mediterranean Mussels with Farro and White Wine

Serves 3 or 4 as a light main course, or 4 to 6 as a starter


  • 11/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup farro
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 whole peppercorns
  • Pinch of fine sea salt


  • 2 pounds fresh mussels in their shells
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 small)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced carrots (about 2 small)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery stalks (1 to 2 pieces)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 11/2 cups dry white wine
  • 11/2 cups chopped fresh or diced canned tomatoes with their juices, (one 14-ounce can)
  • 11/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

To finish

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. To prepare the farro, bring the water, farro, bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the grain is tender but still slightly chewy, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, drain any remaining liquid, and set aside.

2. While the farro simmers, rinse the mussels under cold running water, brushing to remove sand and residue on the shells. Remove the beards (hairy clumps around the shell) with tweezers or a sharp knife. Discard chipped mussels. Tap any open mussels and discard if they don’t close. Set the cleaned mussels aside.

3. To make the stew, heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the rosemary, the bay leaves, chile, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add 1/4 cup of the white wine, and cook until syrupy and the liquid is almost gone, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the water, the remaining 11/4 cups white wine, the pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, at a lively simmer until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar.

4. Add the mussels and the farro together with the remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and steam over medium to medium-high heat, shaking the pot once or twice in between, until the mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and discard any unopened mussels.

5. To finish, add the lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust. Drizzle the mussels with the olive oil and serve right away in deep plates, garnished with parsley and with lemon wedges on the side.

To get a head start:

Make the farro, as in step 1, ahead (see page 23). The stew, as in step 3, can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Reheat before adding the mussels and farro, as in step 4. The mussels should be bought the day they are cooked. For a speedy, light dish, omit the farro altogether, and do not add the water to the stew.

To vary it:

Easily available and affordable pearl barley plumps up nicely to compete with farro in this dish, or simply use leftover brown rice. You will need about 2 cups cooked grain (for cooking instructions, see page 25).

maria_mussels200Maria's Mediterranean Mussels



I love grains with fish. Two simple things together often elevate each other, such is the case with grains and seafood. What is your favorite grain?

Leave a comment with your favorite way to make grains sexy and you will be automatically entered to win a copy of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

✦ Alternatively, if you're new to cooking with grains, you may leave a question or a recipe request and also be entered to win!


Ed. note: as a Twitter follower pointed out, rather tactlessly, my original title included the words "Meatless Monday" and that would be false as this recipe does contain a non-plant protein. She was "embarrassed for me," so to spare her further trauma, I removed the offending "species-ist" wording. Indeed, this recipe would be wonderful minus the mussels for purists. And, would also be a step toward more sustainable protein for those taking steps toward a truly meat-free Monday. May we all dine with more forgiving and pleasant company.