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Saffron Quinoa with Baked Feta and Tomatoes

When we first started connecting with like-minded individuals in the whole grain space, our connection with cookbook author and grain advocate Maria Speck was immediate. Maria's book titled 'SIMPLY ANCIENT GRAINS' is a truly wonderful resource for anyone looking for creative and delicious ways to incorporate whole grains and freshly milled flours into their diet. This recipe was one we've wanted to make for a while now, with quinoa, a richly flavourful tomato sauce, and feta, all baked to perfection. We've adjusted the quinoa cooking instructions slightly to accommodate this unique Canadian grain. 

Saffron Quinoa with Baked Feta and Tomatoes
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup Flourist Golden Quinoa 
3 cups Saffron Infused Tomato Sauce with Shallots and Vermouth 
2 slices mild feta 
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1/8 tsp loosely packed saffron threads 
1 fresh hot Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise into rings 
Baguette, for serving

Saffron Infused Tomato Sauce with Shallots and Vermouth
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
6 shallots, thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
2 bay leaves 
1/2 tsp loosely packed saffron threads 
1/4 tsp fine sea salt 
scant 1/2 cup dry vermouth 
2 (28 ounce) cans whole packed tomatoes with their juices, crushed 
1-2 tsp sugar 

For the sauce
Heat a large dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in the olive oil and wait until it shimmers. Add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, saffron and salt and cook, stirring often, until the shallots soften and turn golden, about 5 minutes. Watch closely and err on the side of stirring more rather than less because you don't want any browning or bitterness from burning the shallots, garlic, or saffron. Everything should stay golden, which means it will be sweet. 

Add the vermouth and cook, stirring once or twice, until it becomes syrupy and is almost evaporated, about1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring a few times. Decrease the heat to maintain a steady simmer, cover with the lid askew about one inch, and cook for 20 minutes. 

Uncover, stir through, and continue cooking at a steady simmer, stirring once or twice, until nicely thickened, about 20 minutes more. Remove the bay leaves and fish out the garlic if you like. Season with the remaining tablespoon of sugar if needed and perhaps a bit of salt if desired. 

For the quinoa
Place a rack in the centre of the oven and pre-heat to 375 degrees. Oil a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Meanwhile, bring the water and quinoa to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, for exactly 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit a further 10 minutes with the lid on. 

Stir the tomato sauce into the cooked quinoa and transfer the mixture into the baking dish. Cut each slice of feta into long 'fingers' for a total of 8 pieces. Place the feta fingers into the sauce, leaving about 3/4 inch between. Combine the olive oil and saffron in a small bowl and drizzle on the feta fingers, placing a few strands on each piece for visual appeal and garnishing each with a couple of chile rings. 

Bake until the quinoa is bubbly around the edges and the feta has softened, 20-25 minutes. Spoon some of the quinoa onto each plate and top each serving with 1 or 2 feta fingers. Serve warm, accompanied by baguette slices.


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