“Simply Ancient Grains.” By Maria Speck. Penguin Random House. $27.50

Quinoa is commonplace. Farro and barley are back in many home cooks’ pantries. Steel-cut oats have bumped quick oats from the bowls of the health-conscious. Amaranth is having a moment.

As Maria Speck acknowledges in “Simply Ancient Grains,” traditional grains have had quite a comeback in the four years since she published her first book on the topic. Still, rice and wheat prevail. In part, it’s a matter of convenience. Cooking spelt – and soaking it overnight – can seem time consuming. And many of these grains remain unfamiliar. Millet recipes, for example, are just not at the top of many minds.

Speck makes the case, and a convincing one, that these grains are worth it. She offers tips for making ancient grains a part of busy mornings and to-go lunches. Her introduction offers a guide to preparation and a table of cooking times for easy reference.

Admittedly, the recipe that follows does not fall into the category of quick and easy. This is a holiday dish. But it whet my appetite for more from Speck and left me excited in particular to try the dishes that make up not one, but two chapters dedicated to morning meals. (Cardamom-infused Black Rice Porridge with Blueberries and Pistachios would be delicious on a snowy morning.)

This satisfying stuffing would make anyone at the table happy, but vegetarians in particular may rejoice in the blend of sweet and savory, of still-crunchy fennel and plump raisins.


Serves 8 to 12

This recipe makes enough for a crowd, but it also makes excellent leftovers. I reheated it with a few fresh pats of butter, and the second round was just as delicious. Don’t forget to soak the barley the night before.


3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

3 cups water

1-1/2 cups hulled (whole grain) barley, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 cup wild rice

2 sprigs thyme (optional)


1 cup chopped dried apples

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup Marsala wine

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 small)

1 cup chopped celery (1 to 2 stalks)

2 cups fennel, cored, quartered lengthwise and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 large bulb), fronds chopped and reserved

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons herbes de Provence

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, or extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

To make the barley, bring the broth and water to a boil in a large heavy saucepan. Add the barley. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the wild rice and the thyme and return to a simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the barley is tender with a slight chewiness and the wild rice has split but retains some chew, 35 to 45 minutes more. Drain the grains and transfer them to a large bowl. Remove the thyme sprigs, if you can find them.

Once the barley has cooked for about 30 minutes, start on the vegetables. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil or coat with cooking spray and set aside.

Add the apples and the raisins to a medium bowl and cover with the Marsala for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Drain, reserving the Marsala. Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and wait until it shimmers. Add the onion, celery, fennel, garlic and 1 tablespoon of the herbes de Provence, salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften and the onion just starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved Marsala and cook until it becomes syrupy, about 3 minutes, then take the pan off the heat.

Add the vegetables to the grains in the bowl together with the apple-raisin mixture and the cranberries. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.

To finish, dot with the butter pieces (or drizzle with olive oil) and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with the walnuts and the reserved fennel fronds, and serve.

NOTE: The barley and wild rice mixture can be made up to 5 days ahead.

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