Ed and I agreed in 2013 if we’re eating carbohydrates we’re going to make an effort to make more of them whole grains. In many cases this is easy since we prefer whole grain bread to say, white bread. So, what to do with Arborio rice, the main ingredient in risotto? Thanks to my strong food memory I recalled Ed having eaten risotto made with farro a few years ago at Savona and we decided to give it a try.
Farro (also called emmer) is an ancient strain of wheat. Avoid the “pearled” variety since it’s no longer a whole grain as the bran has been completely removed. Instead look for original farro where you’ll get the most amount of whole grains per serving or semi-pearled farro as it is still considered a whole grain. If you’re able to find an “un-pearled” version of farro you’ll need to soak it overnight in water before cooking. Farro resembles a lighter brown rice and has a complex, nutty taste. Farro contains a starch similar to one found in Arborio rice and when cooked in a risotto-style it becomes creamy.
In addition to trying a new grain, we also flavored the stock in a different way. We used chicken stock and added the seeds from half of a vanilla bean along with the bean itself to the stock. This provided a subtle sweetness that worked really well with both the butternut squash and the farro. It’s still more “savory” than “sweet.” Don’t worry, it’s not “dessert risotto.”
We found it took the same amount of time to cook and the same amount of stock to make the risotto made with farro as it does when we use Arborio rice. If you already have a go-to recipe for risotto, try substituting farro for Arborio rice next time.
|Farro Risotto with Butternut Squash|| |
- 1-1/4 pound butternut squash, cubed
- ½ vanilla bean
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 1-1/2 cups farro (whole grain or semi-pearled)
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 4-1/2 cups chicken broth/stock
- ⅓ cup grated cheese
- fresh parsley, chopped
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds from both sides. Using a vegetable peeler remove the skin from the squash. Cut squash into 1-inch cubes. (Alternately, purchase pre-cut butternut squash and ensure the cubes are about 1-inch in size.) Place the cut squash in one layer (packed together) on a large piece of aluminum foil. Fold the foil over the top and sides to make a pouch. Place pouch in oven and cook for 45-60 minutes. Squash should be tender, but still retain its shape.
- Pour broth into a stockpot or large saucepan. Using a small paring knife, slice the vanilla bean lengthwise exposing the seeds. Use the knife to scrape the seeds into the broth pot. Add the vanilla bean, too (but don't add it to the risotto). Bring the broth to a gentle simmer over low heat.
- Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Sauté the shallots until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the farro and sauté until it’s glistening and well coated with the shallots, about 3 minutes.
- Raise the heat to medium and add the wine. Stir until it almost evaporates, about 2 minutes. Using a ladle, add about 1 cup hot broth. Stir constantly until the broth has been adsorbed. Add another ladleful of broth and keep stirring until it’s been adsorbed.
- Continue the process, adding broth ½ cup at a time and stirring in this way until the farro is plump and tender. This should take 25-30 minutes altogether. The farro is almost done when the kernels are still separate but starting to bind, and there are pools of broth on the surface. It’s done when the liquid has been adsorbed, and the kernels are bound in what looks like very ricey, yet somewhat creamy, rice pudding. You don’t have to use all of the broth.
- When the risotto is nearly done, add the butternut squash and stir well until all of the liquid has been adsorbed. Remove from heat; stir in grated cheese and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley. Serve immediately with additional cheese on the table.
* I recommend starting with a half a vanilla bean - if you'd like it to be more sweet, use a full one the next time you make it.