Risotto Remix: Farro gives a classic Italian dish a whole grain twist

Posted by Katie Machol Simon on Sat, Feb 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM

I'm sure most of you have had or at least heard of risotto before — a creamy, classic Italian dish made with short-grain, arborio rice that's a veritable blank canvas as it can be made with about a million different accompanying herbs, vegetables, proteins, etc. Well, I've recently come upon risotto in a slightly different form and I must admit that I'm quite smitten with it. What's the difference in the recipe? Farro! Formally known as "farrotto" in Italian, it is made exactly like risotto except that the farro grain replaces the arborio rice. It cooks up just like arborio, creating a tender and creamy risotto-like consistency with a slightly nutty flavor, and, bonus: it has significantly more health benefits.

Farro is a grain that comes from emmer, a species of wheat and has been around since ancient Roman times — it was a staple of the Roman diet and was even used as currency at times. It has been grown in Tuscany for centuries and is always cultivated traditionally, without the use of pesticides. Besides being great because it's a whole grain, farro's other health perks include being high in fiber, B vitamins, and both simple and complex carbs.
This grain has quite a tough outer layer, or "hull", and comes in three different forms: whole (hull intact), semi-pearled (semi-hulled), and pearled (hulled). While the semi-pearled and pearled versions are quicker-cooking, they do not have quite as much fiber and nutrients as the "whole" type of farro because said nutrients are mostly contained in the hull.

As I mentioned above, this super grain can easily be utilized in place of arborio rice for risotto. It cooks up to be creamy, but with a nice al dente bite to it — the farro's starches are slowly released with the low and slow cooking, with each addition of cooking liquid. Farro can also be used in soups, grain salads, and it makes a great substitute for oatmeal in the morning.

This particular recipe for farrotto, below, is a very versatile vegetarian dish which can easily be made vegan by omitting the butter and cheese, and it also makes a great side dish pairing with beef, chicken, pork or seafood. I kept this particular recipe fairly simple, and it can also double as a good basic recipe for standard arborio rice-based risotto.

The next time you're at the grocery store, head for the grains or bulk aisle, grab some farro, pick up some onion and herbs, and try this dish on for size. I guarantee that you'll fall in love with it too.

Herbed "Farrotto" with Parmigiano-Reggiano
Makes 2 main dish or 4 side dish servings

1 cup pearled* farro, rinsed
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or more, if needed)
Olive oil, as needed
1 medium or 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine (optional)
1/4 cup (or more) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh herbs for garnish, chopped

Rinse farro in a strainer and set aside. Put broth in a sauce pot and heat over medium to low heat.

Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. When oil is hot, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to become soft. Stir in the herbs and garlic, stri to combine, and let cook for about another minute. Pour in the wine and let it simmer and reduce.

When the wine is almost all absorbed, ladle in enough of the warmed broth to just cover the farro. Reduce heat to low and let the farro simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until no more broth remains and the farrotto is creamy and al dente. If farro is still not cooked through, use more liquid as needed.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter until they have melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm in bowls, garnished with more cheese and herbs.

*I used pearled farro; if you're using regular or semi-pearled, just increase the cooking time and amount of liquid used as needed.

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