Buckwheat gets its moment on the plate

Jane Touzalin / The Washington Post /

A little earthy, a little nutty, a little bitter: The flavor of buckwheat can be intense. But roast buckwheat seeds, or mix buckwheat flour with other flours, and the taste is tamed.

It’s a taste more of us are getting to know. The increase in the number of people eating gluten-free diets or more whole grains has been good for the buckwheat business.

“It’s unbelievable,” says John McMath, a director of Birkett Mills, one of the two major buckwheat-producing companies in the United States. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds.” He says the mill, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, has had to push farmers to ramp up production to keep up with the demand.

McMath, who also heads the National Buckwheat Institute, ticks off a list of selling points: Besides being gluten-free, buckwheat is a nutritional powerhouse; it helps lower cholesterol; it can fight adult-onset diabetes.

Buckwheat Pasta with Clams and Broccoli Rabe Pesto

Makes 4 servings.

Garlic lovers will be thrilled with this dish; several cloves of it stand up nicely to the assertive tastes of the broccoli rabe and buckwheat noodles. Non-garlic fans can simply delete a clove or two (or more), and all will be well. You’ll have leftover broccoli rabe pesto, which can be used to sauce any kind of pasta.

The recipe calls for vitamin C crystals, which are available from vitamin and natural-foods stores. They will help the pesto retain its nice green color.

For the pesto:

1 qt blanched, chilled broccoli rabe (from a 1-lb bunch; see note)

2 TBS capers (preferably salt-packed), rinsed and drained

4 cloves garlic, or to taste

1⁄2 tsp vitamin C crystals (optional; see headnote)

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry

1 TBS whole-grain mustard

1 TBS Dijon-style mustard

3⁄4 C extra-virgin olive oil


Freshly ground black pepper

For the clams and pasta:


16 oz dried buckwheat linguine or other thin buckwheat pasta

4 TBS olive oil

1⁄2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus curls of the cheese for garnish

1⁄2 C chanterelle mushrooms (stem bottoms trimmed), cut into 1-inch slices if large (may substitute cremini or oyster mushrooms)

3 cloves garlic, or to taste, minced

1 shallot, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

20 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1⁄2 C bottled clam juice

1 scant teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish

For the pesto: Pulse the broccoli rabe in a food processor until it is finely chopped; transfer to a medium bowl.

Combine the capers, garlic, vitamin C crystals and anchovy fillets in the food processor. Pulse to achieve a medium-fine consistency, then add the mustards and pulse just to incorporate. Return the broccoli rabe to the food processor and gradually add the oil while pulsing to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The yield is 2 cups; reserve 1 cup for this recipe. The remaining pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months.

For the clams and pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; start checking after 4 minutes. Do not overcook, or the pasta will become mushy. Drain in a colander, then return the pasta to the pot (off the heat) and stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano until evenly distributed. Cover to keep warm.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chanterelles, garlic and shallot; cook until the mushrooms’ moisture has evaporated, stirring frequently so as not to burn the garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the clams, clam juice and crushed red pepper flakes; cover and cook just until the clams open. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved cup of broccoli rabe pesto.

Divide the pasta among individual wide, shallow bowls or plates. Arrange 5 clams on each portion. Spoon the pan sauce over the clams and pasta; garnish with parsley and with the Parmigiano-Reggiano curls, if desired. Serve right away.

Note: To prepare the broccoli rabe, slice off and discard the bottom 11⁄2 inches or so from the bunch’s tough stems. Cut the remainder of the bunch into 3-inch lengths; use 4 packed cups for this recipe (best to use a 1-quart container for measuring). Reserve any excess for another use. Cook the 4 cups of broccoli rabe pieces in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, then plunge them into ice water, rinse and drain.

KOD’s Granola

Makes about 12 cups (twenty-four 1⁄2-cup servings).

This recipe by cookbook author Kim O’Donnel is advertised as “kid-friendly,” but really it’s for everyone. The granola can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a week. If it begins to get too sticky, spread it out on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, then let cool completely before storing.

4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

1⁄2 C untoasted buckwheat groats

1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon

11⁄2 C dried fruit, any combination of raisins, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, figs, etc.

2 C unsalted nuts, any combination of walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios or cashews, coarsely chopped if the pieces are large

1 C raw, hulled sunflower seeds

1⁄4 C sesame seeds

1⁄2 C honey, preferably local

3⁄4 C good-quality maple syrup

1⁄4 C neutral oil, such as canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a roasting pan or 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Stir together the oats, buckwheat groats, cinnamon, dried fruit, nuts and seeds in a large mixing bowl.

Heat the honey, maple syrup and oil in a small saucepan over low heat until the mixture thins, 2 or 3 minutes, stirring frequently to keep it from burning. Do not allow it to boil.

Pour the warm mixture over the dry ingredients, stirring until the dry ingredients are well coated.

Spread the granola evenly on the prepared pan or baking sheets. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent burning and sticking. The granola is done when it’s glistening and golden. It may still be somewhat damp.

Allow the granola to cool completely; it should crisp up within 30 minutes. Break it into smaller pieces, if desired. Store in an airtight container.

Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Makes 48 dolmas.

Toasted buckwheat groats, a.k.a. kasha, replace the traditional rice in this Middle Eastern mezze, or appetizer. Kasha is sold in 3 granulations; for this one, use medium.

2 TBS olive oil

1 C chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb lean ground lamb

1 C kasha (medium granulation)

1 lg egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

21⁄2 C low-sodium chicken broth, heated

1⁄2 C fresh squeezed lemon juice

1⁄4 C minced fresh parsley

1 tsp dried dillweed

1 tsp crushed dried mint leaves

1⁄2 tsp ground coriander

1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon

1⁄2 tsp salt

1 lb jarred grape leaves, packed in brine

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic and lamb. Cook until the lamb loses its pink color, using a spoon to break the meat into small pieces.

Combine the kasha and egg in a small bowl and add to the mixture in the skillet along with 1 cup of the broth, 1⁄4 cup of the lemon juice, the parsley, dill, mint, coriander, cinnamon and salt. Heat until the liquid just begins to bubble gently; then cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Plunge the grape leaves briefly into hot water to separate them, then transfer to a colander to drain.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 7-by-11-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Place a grape leaf, shiny side down, on a work surface. Use a sharp knife or scissors to trim off the bare stem at the bottom of the leaf. Place 2 tablespoons of the filling at the stem end and shape roughly into a log about 1 1⁄2 inches long. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling. Starting at the stem end, roll the leaf up tightly. Transfer to the prepared baking dish, seam side down. Repeat to fill 48 leaves. You will be able to snugly fit in 3 rows of 8 dolmas, topped by a second layer of 3 rows of 8 dolmas.

Pour the remaining 11⁄2 cups of broth and 1⁄4 cup lemon juice over the dolmas. Cover the baking dish with foil and weight the top with a heatproof pan or dish to keep the dolmas from unwinding. Bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat and leave the dolmas in the oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the dolmas from the cooking liquid before serving them warm or chilled.

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