Farro, quite simply, is my favourite grain. I was first introduced to it and its one-pot wonderousness by the fantastic smittenkitchen blog. Since then, it’s become a little bit of an obsession of mine to maximise its nutty flavour. For me, even when cooked simply, it tastes a bit like a truly great wild mushroom risotto. To that end, I’ve used farro in almost every way possible: I’ve made a stock from the grains; I’ve made a creamy farro risotto; I’ve tried spiced farro; I’ve even done a spring vegetable farro – it really is remarkably versatile. And delicious. The creamy version of farro in the picture above is a staple dinner with some sausages – I think G would happily have it every day, and so would I.
Farro is an ancient grain, popular in Italy, similar to pearl barley or Freekeh, it’s available in most supermarkets here in London. I most recently cooked it in my Springtime Lunch, and in fact the recipe below is the last recipe from that lunch, so now all the recipes and the recipe plan for how to get the work done without stress are up on the website – do check them out. Before I share the recipe for that particular farro dish, I just want to digress a little and extol the versatile virtues of this wonderful grain. Not only does it only take one pot to cook (for minimal washing up) and it has an amazing nutty flavour that you can maximise by roasting first (see below), but it also has an amazing textural range. By this I mean it can be served very al dente or quite soft, it can be dry and textural or intensely creamy. In fact, my search for the creamiest way to cook a farro risotto lead me to consider one of my favourite pasta dishes – carbonara. In carbonara, you thicken the sauce by a last minute addition of an egg yolk which is cooked by the residual heat of the pasta. This actually works brilliantly with grains, especially farro, and is my delicious cheat for making the creamiest, most luxurious, one pot, no-stirring risotto (just like in the picture above). If that’s not enough, farro can be cooked days in advance and heated through last minute (if you’re doing this, only add the egg yolk after reheating).
Hmm I’m rambling – something which will not surprise my regular readers! For the Springtime Lunch, I didn’t want a creamy carbohydrate like mashed potato or risotto. I wanted something clean and relatively dry that could match the sweetness and purity of the vegetable purées whilst holding up to the strong flavour of the roasted monkfish. In order for this to work, I wanted to bring out the nutty flavours of the farro and, after much experimenting, discovered the best way to do this was to roast the farro in the oven for 15 minutes before cooking. Then to actually cook it, you simply sweat some very finely diced vegetables before adding the farro, spices and some stock. I find that a mixture of onions, carrots and celery very finely diced works brilliantly – the Italians call this soffritto and I use it as the base for most of my risottos (including the tomato essence risotto I made). In this version of farro, I’ve increased the spice through the addition of cayenne pepper, and it really works with the mellow sweetness of the vegetables. However, if you don’t like spice, feel free to leave it out, the dish also works well with cumin or even paprika; it’s versatile enough to take most spices you can throw at it. Be creative and let me know how your experimenting goes in the comments.
- 250g farro
- 1 dash of brandy or dry sherry
- 500ml dark brown chicken stock (may need some water to top up)
- 2-3 carrots very very finely diced
- 2 sticks celery, peeled and very finely diced
- 1 large onion very finely diced
- 1 half teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- black pepper
- sea salt
- 1 teaspoon mild tasting honey (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius and roast the farro on a shallow tray for 15 minutes.
- Heat some olive oil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and sweat the soffritto vegetable base for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Make sure to season with salt whilst sweating as it will draw out the moisture to help the vegetables to not colour.
- Add a little more olive oil and add the farro, cooking for 3 minutes to further accentuate the nuttiness.
- Deglaze the pan with the brandy or sherry and cook until no liquid remains.
- Add the chicken stock so it just covers the farro (it’s better to add less and then add a little more at the end than to add too much). Add the honey (if using), salt and pepper and the cayenne pepper. Reserve a little but of the cayenne pepper to add at the end.
- Simmer until the chicken stock has evaporated, should take about 15 minutes. If the farro has too much bite, add a little more stock or water and cook a little more.
- Adjust the seasoning and add the reserved cayenne pepper if you desire, adjust how “wet” you want you’re farro through adding a little stock. For the dish above I actually wanted it quite dry.