You know that scene in Mystic Pizza where Julia Roberts nonchalantly smokes some unsuspecting preps in a game of pool? That’s kind of what happened with this month’s Supper Club winner, when it turned out a snapshot of some good looking farro and asparagus (recipe below) was made by (surprise!) a cook who was a finalist on Master Chef. Peek inside Alejandra’s mind and refrigerator as she answers our usual questions:
What ingredient are you currently obsessed with?
Arugula! It’s my favorite early spring herb and a staple in my diet. A nutrition powerhouse, it has lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has a bold, peppery taste and I love it raw as much as cooked. I use arugula to make salads and stir-fries, to prepare pesto sauces, and to top flatbreads. These days I seem to favor it in salads like my Arugula and Radicchio Citrus Salad with Peas and Goat Cheese.
Favorite food memory?
My favorite food memories revolve around family and come from my childhood days in Venezuela. All the women got together every year in December to make “hallacas” (Venezuelan-style tamales) right on time for Christmas. From the youngest to the eldest, everyone was involved and collaborated to produce hundreds of them. It was a true family effort and so worth it.
What’s your go-to easy dinner?
I like to stock my kitchen with organic vegetables and leafy greens. I always keep eggs in my refrigerator too. When hungry and in a rush, I love to make quick vegetable sautés and top them with a poached or soft-boiled egg. Kale, red peppers, asparagus, zucchini, and shallots are usually on the list!
Ketchup or mustard?
I didn’t like mustard for a long time, or so I thought. Once I tasted high-quality, stone-ground mustard for the first time, I was hooked. It tasted so different to anything I’ve had before and I appreciated its good flavor, subtle heat, and texture. I sure love it now and use it to prepare delicious dressings, sauces, and to season certain dishes.
Who would be the ideal dinner party guests (living or dead)?
I love to entertain, I’m big conversationalist and I enjoy a good laugh. Besides my family, I’d invite a pretty diverse group: Anthony Bourdain for good stories and travel adventures, Frank Gehry for architecture and design, Stephen Colbert for comedy, Jamie Oliver for food and healthy eating, Wendell Berry for sustainable agriculture and community development, and Stevie Nicks for music. [Ed. note: Can we come, too?]
It’s your last meal. What’s on the menu?
My mama’s chicken stew, hands down. This is comfort food at its best. Bone-in chicken braised in a tomato based sauce with vegetables, spices, and aromatics. My Venezuelan roots definitely show through in this menu because there would have to be arepas (corn cakes), plantains, and “queso de mano” a raw milk, handmade cheese. YUM!
Lemony Farro with Asparagus, Broad Beans, and Shaved Parmesan
Yield: 4 servings
1 ½ cups semi-pearled farro
2 tbsp grape seed oil
¾ cup shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 ½” pieces
8 oz broad or fava beans, shelled, blanched
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Parmesan cheese, shaved (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Bring water to a boil in a medium pot and season with salt. Cook farro until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, transfer to a large bowl; add a drizzle of olive oil, stir with wooden spoon and set aside.
2. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add grape seed oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add shallots and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, asparagus and blanched fava beans; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until asparagus are just tender, about 8 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir.
3. Add asparagus mixture to bowl and stir with wooden spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning. Plate and top with shaved parmesan cheese and a little cracked pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive, if desired.
Farro is a complex carb and a great alternative for rice (yes, even brown rice). It is available in many markets, specialty food stores, or Italian markets.