When we’re craving Italian flavors but need to avoid the heaviness a big plate of pasta delivers, we can lighten up — and still be happy. In this bowl, roasted tomatoes star, with supporting help from onion, garlic, zucchini and mushroom. To give the sauce a little more protein and substance, I puree a cup or so of garbanzo beans and cook that into the sauce. Served over the nutritious, chewy, slightly nutty grain called farro, it’s a gratifying bowl. And with the nubby texture and intriguing flavors in the pesto that crowns the dish, you’ll find yourself wanting seconds.
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cups vegetable broth, divided use
1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, pureed (See Note)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix, or to taste
Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked farro
Crushed red chile flakes, optional
White Balsamic Pesto, for serving, below
Puree drained garbanzo beans in a food processor or blender with ½ cup vegetable broth or water until smooth. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, warm the oil and saute onion and garlic for 4 to 5 minutes or till translucent. Add zucchini and mushroom, stirring for 1 to 2 minutes. Add pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining vegetable broth and pureed garbanzo beans, stirring well at a low boil over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add dried herbs and salt and pepper, to taste. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile prepare farro according to package directions and then make pesto. At serving time, adjust seasonings in the sauce and ladle it over bowls of farro. Season with a sprinkle of red chile flakes, if you like, and top with a spoonful of pesto.
White Balsamic Pesto: In a food processor bowl or blender, combine 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 3 garlic cloves, ½ cup walnut pieces, 2 cups packed basil, ½ cup shredded Parmesan, and salt and pepper, to taste. Blend until rather smooth but still nubby. Variations: Substitute Italian parsley and/or arugula for some of the basil.
Note: When beautiful tomatoes are in season, or you can find hothouse tomatoes, the sauce is easily made. Cut 6 to 8 tomatoes in half and place, cut side down, on rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt before roasting at 275 degrees for 1 hour to 1 ½ hours, or till tomatoes are blistered and bubbling. Cool and puree. Store unused portion in freezer-proof plastic bags and use for pasta or pizza sauce, as well as in chili or soups.