It was a minor revelation when I first realized that risotto could be considered more than just a dish made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Instead, it became a method or a technique that could be applied to any dried ingredient that cooks in liquid for a while, such as pasta, orzo, or in this case, farro. Farro is the italian name for Emmer Wheat. It is an ancient grain that, according to Harold McGee, was probably the second wheat variety ever to be cultivated and, until early Roman times, was the most important grain from the Near East to northern Africa and throughout Europe. Nowadays Farro has been superseded by durum and bread wheats, but is still widely available and seems to be cropping up again in creative restaurants and home menus.
We used to order farro online until we found Bluebird Grain Farms at the Seattle farmers’ market. Their farro is plump and hearty and much better than some of the “authentic” italian brands (whatever that means) you will find online. They have an online store as well where you can purchase whole and milled farro.
The amount of time it takes to get the farro tender will vary depending on your farro. We like to soak our farro in room temperature water for an hour or two before using it in this dish. If you are looking to shorten the actual cooking time, you could parboil the farro for 20 minutes in salted water before adding it in the following recipe. Another important thing to remember here is that you must use low sodium chicken broth, and preferably use homemade stock where you can control the salt content. If you use normal chicken stock, by the time it has all reduced away, you could be left with a salt-lick of a dish.
To finish off your meal, consider using some of your unused farro in this unique crumble from one of our favorite blogs.
Farrotto with Roasted Acorn Squash
- 6 to 7 cups unsalted homemade chicken stock, or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
- 1½ cups farro
- ½ cup dry white wine, or sherry
- 2 to 3 Tbsp finely chopped sage
- 1½ Tbsp sour cream
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 or 2 acorn, or other winter squash
- olive oil
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp caraway seeds
- ¾ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- a pinch of cayenne
One hour before starting, cover farro with water and soak at room temperature. Drain after one hour and reserve.
The squash can be roasting while you prepare the farro. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut the acorn squash into large wedges. In a small bowl combine all the spices. Brush the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Arrange cut side down on a baking sheet and put into the oven. Turn after about 15 minutes, and remove from the oven after about 30 minutes, once the squash is golden and tender. Let cool until easy to handle, then remove the outer skin and chop into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over high heat; add a bay leaf, lower the heat and keep covered at a simmer.
In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil over low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to moderate, and cook, stirring, until the shallots are golden. Add the farro and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, to toast slightly.
Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed by the grains, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sage and 1 cup of the broth and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the broth in this fashion, ½ to 1 cup at a time, until the farro is tender yet still firm in the center, and the risotto is creamy but not soupy (it may not require all 7 cups of broth). This could take an hour or more depending on your farro.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pepper to taste. Gently fold in the roasted and chopped squash. Top with remaining Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6