Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Risotto-Style Farro with Asparagus

Last night I taught one of my favorite kinds of classes—a class devoted entirely to one vegetable. The culinary possibilities of a particular vegetable are shown off to great effect by this type of class format since the participants get to taste the same vegetable cooked in numerous ways and in combination with a variety of other ingredients. Last night's topic was Asparagus. Over the course of the evening, I showed how to turn asparagus into a beautiful spring green soup, how to bake it in parchment with some scallops and compound butter, how to use it raw to top a pizza (already posted about here) and finally, how to combine it with other spring vegetables into a satisfying and flavorful risotto-style farro.

Today I thought I would share the farro recipe. I posted a winter version of this dish in February. The basic cooking method for the two versions is pretty much the same. The difference lies almost entirely in how the vegetable "garnish" is cooked and then added to the final dish.

I first tasted farro a few months ago—in a soup, then in the risotto-style preparation and then in a pilaf. It has become one of my new favorite ingredients. It is simple and relatively quick to prepare. Best of all, it combines well with a wide variety of vegetables and other ingredients...making it a suitable canvas upon which to build a wholesome, satisfying and delicious weeknight meal. If farro is new to you, I have given lots of basic information about it in the two posts referenced above.

Drained, cooked farro

Each time I have prepared a pilaf or risotto-style farro, I have cooked the vegetables first before adding them to the finished farro. The asparagus may be blanched in boiling salted water, sautéed or roasted. I chose to blanch it so that I could show how to extract just a little bit of life out of the tough ends that are usually discarded. Asparagus is expensive and unfortunately it has an edible yield of only about fifty percent. It's nice to know how to turn these tough ends into something besides compost.

Since the farro must be cooked in water or a broth of some sort, I used the tough ends to make a quick asparagus broth. The tender tips of asparagus can then be blanched in this broth to give the broth even more flavor before it is used to cook the farro. If you are using fresh peas in the final dish, they can be blanched in the broth as well.

To make the broth, split the tough ends of the asparagus lengthwise to expose more of their flesh, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Lift the ends out and discard. It is surprising the amount of asparagus flavor that can be obtained in such a short period of time.

If you are in a hurry to get dinner on the table and don't want to take the time to make the broth, you could just use chicken broth in the recipe and roast the asparagus instead of blanching it. This can easily be done while the farro cooks. To roast, just toss the trimmed and cut asparagus in some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and roast in a hot oven (425° or so) until just tender...10 minutes or so. Take it out ever so slightly before you think it is done since it will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the oven.

Besides asparagus, I added peas and mushrooms to the final dish. Mushrooms are one of my favorite things to combine with asparagus. (If you like pasta, you might be interested in the asparagus and mushroom pasta I posted last spring.) They are also particularly good in grain based dishes so they seemed to me an obvious addition to this dish. The peas, because they are in season at the same time, are a natural partner for the asparagus. Other good seasonal additions could include artichokes or fava beans. To make your own spring vegetable farro, just choose your own favorite seasonal combination, cook them as you prefer and add them at the end with the asparagus.

Creamy Risotto-Style Farro
with Asparagus, Peas & Mushrooms

10 oz. Asparagus (to yield about 5 oz. usable weight)
1/2 c. shelled peas—thawed, if frozen
4 T. olive oil, divided
3 spring onions—including a few inches of the green—thinly sliced
1 T. picked thyme, minced
1 c. semi-pearled farro, rinsed
4 oz. crimini or button mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 T. butter
2 to 3 T. minced parsley
1/3 c. finely grated Parmesan

Snap the tough ends off of the asparagus. Split the ends in half lengthwise and add to 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes to obtain an asparagus broth. Lift out the asparagus ends and discard. (The broth may be made the day before. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.)

While the broth simmers, cut the remaining asparagus into roughly 2-inch lengths on a short diagonal. You should have about 2 cups of asparagus. Return the asparagus broth to the heat and bring to a boil. Season with salt. Add the asparagus and blanch until just tender. Lift the asparagus out of the cooking liquid and spread on a plate or baking sheet to cool. If using fresh peas, return the broth to a boil, add the peas and cook until just tender. Lift the peas out, rinse with cold water and add to the reserved asparagus. Measure our the cooking liquid. There should be 2 1/2 cups of liquid remaining. If there is more than that, boil to reduce to 2 1/2 cups. If less, add hot water to make 2 1/2 cups.

In a wide saucepan, heat the 3 T. of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the spring onions along with the thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook briefly to wilt. This will only take a minute or two. 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 hot broth, along with some salt (if necessary...taste the asparagus liquid before adding it), and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, partially covered, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 to 30 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for minute or two.

While the farro cooks, sauté the mushrooms: Heat 1 T. of olive oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms and sauté until golden and softened and any liquid they release has been reabsorbed. If the mushrooms seem dry, add a bit more oil or some butter. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Drain the cooked farro in a fine mesh sieve or colander, set over a bowl to catch the cooking liquid. Return a half cup of the cooking liquid to the pot along with the asparagus, peas and mushrooms. Heat the vegetables through. Add the drained farro along with a tablespoon of butter. Stir constantly to emulsify the butter with the liquid, continuing until the dish is creamy.

If necessary, add more of the farro cooking liquid. Remove from the heat, season to taste, and stir in the parsley and Parmesan. Serve immediately. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée; serves 4 to 5 as a side or first course.

Working Ahead: The farro and vegetables may all be prepared ahead. Cook the farro and vegetables as directed. Spread the drained farro on a baking sheet and allow it to cool. Reserve the vegetables, farro and cooking liquid separately in the fridge. The next day, warm the vegetables and farro through as instructed, using the cooking liquid. Finish as directed.

Printable Recipe


Matt Veatch said...

Paige, thanks so much for introducing us to farro. We made the pilaf with asparagus tonight and it was excellent.

Renee Reed said...

Thank you for posting this recipe! One of my favorite restaurants makes a similar dish and my boyfriend asked if I could find a recipe. I'm excited to try it!