Farro “Risotto:” Whole Grain Comfort Food

by Beth

In our book, The Cleaner Plate Club, there is a handy guide to how to cook many of the whole grains available in the bulk bins and the “rice and grain” section at the grocery store. I open the book myself to look at the list and see where I can switch out whole grains for less healthy ones like white rice and pasta.

Farro, the whole grain form of a type of wheat, actually makes a nice risotto. The upside is, of course, more fiber and nutrition than arborio rice, but farro is also a bit more forgiving and easier to work with for a finished texture of al dente. You won’t get quite the same silken creaminess as regular risotto, but farro adds a nice nutty flavor that pairs very well with mushrooms and other vegetables.

I will admit that I refer to risotto as “cheesy rice” to my kid. She loves cheese. She hates plain rice. And I do put just enough cheese in the recipe to add some flavor, more like a garnish really. The rich texture does the rest, so my cheesy rice is not so cheesy. With the farro, it’s not actually rice, either. It is a great way to serve up a few vegetables, too. Just add a few, finely chopped, at first and over time, increase the amount of vegetables in your risotto for those picky eaters.

If yours won’t eat mushrooms and spinach, you can use different vegetables at the end. Just blanch or steam favorites like carrots or green beans or red peppers until they are “tender-crisp.” Omit the mushrooms. Use these instead, adding them at the end where this recipe calls for the spinach.

The main key to risotto is to heat up your chicken stock so it is hot when you add it to the grain. This keeps the cooking constant, instead of adding cold stock then having to bring the mixture back up to the right cooking temperature each time you add more liquid.

Farro “Risotto”

1.5 cups of farro

1 tbs. olive oil

1 shallot, diced

1 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

4-4.5 cups chicken stock

12 oz. spinach, washed and chopped

1/3 cup parsley, chopped

Black pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Prep all your ingredients before you start. Risotto will not hold well while you chop spinach. It kind of comes together quick at the end there. In one pot, heat the chicken stock to a nice simmer. Or, you can microwave it a cup at a time just before you need to add the next round of liquid for a “cheat” that saves washing a pot.

In the other pot, the bigger one, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms begin to soften and the shallot is just golden. Add the farro and continue to saute for two minutes. The idea is to coat the grains with the olive oil and heat them through to toast, but not to the point they turn golden.

Add one cup of the hot stock. And stir to prevent sticking. When the stock is absorbed, add the next cup of liquid. This slow stirring and cooking method helps the grain release its starch — which gives risotto that creamy texture. The farro will take a bit longer to cook than arborio rice, more like 30 minutes.

Continue this method until the farro has reached a creamy, but al dente texture. It should take nearly all the stock. Next, add the spinach and fold in just until it wilts. Season with the pepper. You should not need salt, depending on your stock. Fold in the cheese and parsley, reserving a bit of each for garnish on top. Serve, making vague references to “cheesy” and delicious, um … rice.

Another great way to use farro is substituting 1/3 to 1/2 of the steel cut oats for farro in our  Slow Cooker Oatmeal Recipe, page 161. Use the same amount of all the other ingredients.

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