Since purchasing my first bag of farro last month, I have been experimenting with it as much as my schedule will permit. I thought I would take a moment today to talk about what I have been doing with it. I love main course grain and vegetable pilafs, so both of the things I have made so far are variations on that theme. But either dish would make a fine side dish too.
There appear to be two commonly used methods for cooking farro—although you will find lots of minor variations on these two methods. The first method is to simply boil the farro in salted water—much as you would pasta—until it is al dente. It may then be drained and used immediately, or drained and spread on a sheet pan to be cooled and used later.
The second method is the standard "pilaf" method used for cooking any grain: Cook some onion (or shallots, or spring onions, or green onions, along with any other aromatic vegetable you would like) in a generous amount of olive oil or butter. When the onion is tender, add any herbs or spices that you might be using and cook until fragrant. Add the grain (in this case, farro) and cook for a minute or two to coat the grain in the fat and get it hot. Add liquid (water or stock) and salt and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a gentle simmer, covered, until tender, but still firm in the center—20 minutes for pearled farro and 25 to 30 minutes for semi-pearled farro. Remove the farro from the heat and allow it to sit and rest for a few minutes.
When using the pilaf method, most recipes call for about 2 1/2 cups of liquid for every cup of farro. In my limited experience, the farro will not absorb all of this liquid. But this does not seem to be a problem—just drain off this excess liquid. It may be discarded or reserved to finish the final dish. Once the farro has been cooked, it can be "finished" in a number of different ways.
The first thing I made was a risotto-style dish. This style farro is compared to risotto because it is very like risotto in its final texture and consistency—tender, slightly chewy grains are suspended in a creamy, thick liquid. This result can be achieved in a couple of different ways. The first is to cook the farro from start to finish using the exact same method one uses when preparing risotto (toasting the grains in some fat and then adding liquid in small amounts, at regular intervals while stirring frequently, until the grain is tender and the dish creamy). The second way uses risotto that is cooked first using either of the methods outlined above. The cooked farro is placed in a saucepan, along with a few tablespoons of the farro cooking liquid (or another liquid of some kind) and some butter. The farro is then heated through while stirring constantly until a creamy texture is achieved. Most of the time I have seen this style dish referred to as farro "risotto", but I also found a recipe in Judy Rogers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook that calls this dish "Farrotto".
When I made my farro risotto (farrotto), I cooked the farro using the standard pilaf method. To the onion base, I added some diced fennel, diced carrots, thinly sliced garlic and picked thyme. Because there were only a few tablespoons of liquid remaining when the farro was tender, I didn't even bother to drain it, I simply added some butter (along with some sautéed mushrooms and minced parsley) to the rested pilaf and stirred over medium heat until the farro was creamy and risotto-like. I couldn't believe how good this was.
The second dish I made was inspired by a farro pilaf in Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. To a base of cooked farro, Jenkins adds Brussels sprouts, turnips and beets. Although I happened to have some nice Brussels sprouts in my fridge, I didn't have any beets or turnips. I also didn't feel like running to the store. I did have some carrots—which I love in combination with Brussels sprouts—so I used those in place of the beets and turnips. Jenkins cooks the farro for this recipe by boiling it like pasta. Because I'm fond of the pilaf method, I used that method instead. Following her lead, I topped the finished dish with some shaved cheese (she suggests Pecorino Toscano, I used Dubliner). This too, was excellent. With the addition of some wedges of hard cooked egg, it made a satisfying and substantial dinner.
Both dishes reheated beautifully for lunch the next day. I can't wait to try farro in something else, because so far, farro is batting a thousand in our household. It is certainly well on its way to becoming a staple in my pantry.
Creamy Risotto-Style Farro with Fennel & Mushrooms
3 T. olive oil
1/2 small onion, cut in a 1/3-inch dice
1 large carrot, cut in a 1/3-inch dice
1 small (1/2 medium) bulb of fennel, trimmed and cut in a 1/3-inch dice
1/2 T. picked thyme, chopped
1 large clove garlic, halved or quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 c. semi-pearled farro (rinsed)
2 1/2 c. hot chicken stock (or water)
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, quartered and sautéed in some olive oil or butter until tender and caramelized
1 T. butter
2 to 3 T. minced parsley
In a wide saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and fennel along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender—about 10 minutes.
Add the stock, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, partially covered, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for minute or two.
Return the pan to the heat, add the mushrooms, butter and parsley. Stir until the dish is creamy. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée; serves 4 as a side.
Note: If there is an excessive amount of liquid (more than a few tablespoons) left in the pan after the farro is cooked, drain the farro. Return the cooked farro to the pan, along with 2 or 3 tablespoons of the liquid and proceed with the recipe.
Farro Pilaf with Roasted Carrots & Brussels Sprouts
1/2 lb. carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick pieces on a short diagonal
1/4 medium onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 t. chopped thyme
2/3 c. farro, rinsed
1 2/3 c. hot water
6 to 8 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved.
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
Dubliner, Cheddar or Pecorino
Toss the carrots with enough olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small baking dish just large enough to hold the carrots in a snug single layer, add a splash of water and cover with foil. Place the carrots in a preheated 400° oven and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to roast until the carrots are tender and beginning to caramelize—another 10 to 20 minutes.
While the carrots roast, sweat the onion, thyme and garlic, along with a pinch of salt, in some olive oil until the onion is tender—5 to 10 minutes. Add the farro and continue to cook and stir until the farro is well-coated in the fat, lightly toasted and hot through—about 3 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for minute or two.
While the farro is resting, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan wide enough to just hold the Brussels sprouts in a snug single layer. Add the sprouts to the pan, cut side down. Season well with salt and cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until the sprouts are golden and tender—about 5 minutes. (If the sprouts are small and tender, 5 minutes will be sufficient. For larger sprouts, it may be necessary to add a splash of water to the pan after they are golden so they can continue to be cooked to tenderness without burning.)
Transfer the sprouts to a large bowl. Drain the farro and add to the bowl along with the carrots and parsley. Toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning. Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and toss again. If the farro and carrots are not hot when the sprouts are done cooking, the pilaf can be assembled in the pan the sprouts were cooked in so that the pilaf can be warmed through over moderate heat.
Served topped with thin shavings of cheese. Serves 2 as an entrée.