There are masculine dishes as there are feminine dishes. Farrotto, or farro risotto, is the masculine equivalence to arborio rice risotto. If I’ve lost you for a minute, let me explain. While risotto is smooth, silky and luxurious, farrotto is rugged, robust, and earthy. There is a difference in character, in food too, as you might have imagined. Rice risotto would complement well any fish, chicken or veal dish with a delicate sauce. Farrotto is meaty enough to fill in for a protein; it pairs well with braised greens. I found this dish, among other Italian recipes, from Giada DeLaurentiis, our featured chef for this week’s IHCC rotation.
Rice and farro have always had a symbiotic relationship. Both are heirloom grains selected by farmers for their cultural and agricultural strengths over many centuries. The cultivation of farro as a protective winter cover crop in the vast rice fields of the Veneto helped it survive into modernity.
I started using ancient grains in my bread making. My favorite is the farro hazelnut bread for its exceptional nutty flavor. No reason why farro is not used more often in our everyday cooking. The bag of farro is eagerly waiting to be deployed in more ways than one.
A grain of farro looks and tastes somewhat like a lighter brown rice. It has a complex nutty taste, with undertones of oats and barley, and a firm, chewy texture. I like putting farro in soups or salads, which adds substance and an earthy note. Cooking farro like arborio rice, following the risotto path, perfectly captures the profound comfort quotient of the grain.
I prefer buying whole grain of any grain varieties for their superior nutritional value. They are not the quick cook version since the grains are still intact with the bran. Farro takes longer to cook than rice, all else being equal. Cooking risotto, the traditional way, takes time and patience. It is essential to keep stirring the grain and adding the stock, continuously with undivided attention, to create that desirable creamy texture. (This takes 45 minutes.) But don’t let that deter you from making risotto.
|Parcook farro in pressure cooker for 15 minutes|
Here is a practical shortcut I’ve been using for a long time. Something that your Italian grandmothers may not approve. The technique is borrowed from Nathan Myhrvold’s “modernist” approach, using a pressure cooker. The trick is to pressure cook the grains after the wine and stock have been added, for about 15 minutes for farro or 6 minutes for arborio rice. Skip step 4 of the recipe procedures listed below when you take the pressure cooker path.
Be sure to add the full amount of stock (3 cups for every cup of farro) needed in the pressure cooker. Begin timing as soon as the cooker reaches full pressure of 1 bar/15 psi. Depressurize the cooker quickly by running tepid water over the rim. Start stirring, after removing the lid of the pressure cooker, to create that creamy texture. Check the farro for doneness. It should be nearly cooked to a perfect al dente. You may need to add more liquid or to simmer it for a few more minutes. I finished the farrotto with grated cheeses and some finely chopped rosemary for an extra punch of fresh herb.
This method has worked well for me every time. You can turn out larger quantities (ideal for holiday meals) with the precision of a professional kitchen. It’s a time saver and turns making risotto pleasurable or, should I say, easy!