Farrotto works the exact same way as risotto. Exchange the usual white rice with pearled or semi-pearled farro and pick a few favorite, seasonal ingredients. If you want to add something meaty, go for something that will give some bang for its buck: finely chopped pancetta, salted anchovies, or pork sausages, casings removed and meat crumbled. Prepare a chicken or vegetable stock and get out some white wine, too. Toss, stir, and watch the liquid emulsify, topping up with more liquid until the farro is cooked. A generous grating of Parmesan or pecorino goes far in terms of flavor and creaminess.
With farrotto comes the health benefits of a nutritious grain, but also advantages in texture. Those who love al dente (and who tend to go too far with their rice in traditional risotto) will appreciate the bite that farro retains, even when well-cooked. And farro's nutty, earthy character lends another level of flavor to the dish and makes it especially good when paired with vegetables like wild asparagus, bitter greens, or mushrooms.
A note on farro: In English, farro is a confusing ingredient as there are several different varieties and sizes. Look for Italian farro—Tuscany is a particularly important producer. And try to get farro that is semi-pearled or pearled. This means that the husk is partially or full removed, and it reduces the cooking time greatly. Pearled farro does not require soaking before use and cooks the most quickly; if you have semi-pearled farro, soak it overnight to reduce the cooking time (otherwise, it may take up to 40 minutes). Either way, it's best to follow the recommendations on the packet you end up with in order to estimate the time it will need to cook and whether soaking is recommended.
The other thing to note with this dish is that, seeing as it's not a particularly traditional preparation, you can be free to experiment and combine flavors. This is lovely with a bit of freshly grated lemon zest or some mint (or even better, calamint) leaves, both of which give an uplifting zing to the whole dish. If you want, some finely chopped pancetta, sautéed separately until the fat is rendered and the meat is crisp, goes very well, too. —Emiko
wild asparagus (or regular, but young, thin asparagus)
extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
small white onion, finely chopped
clove garlic, whole but peeled
(200 grams) semi-pearled or pearled farro
(125 milliliters) dry white wine
(1 liter) vegetable stock, warmed
handful of finely grated Parmesan or pecorino (optional)
In This Recipe
Rinse and dry the asparagus. Remove the woody stems from the bottom of the asparagus stalks and chop the rest into 1-inch pieces. Blanch the asparagus in a saucepan of boiling salted water for a minute. Drain, reserving 3 cups of the liquid, which you can use along with the stock to cook the farro.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat, then add the onion and cook until soft and translucent around the edges. Do not let it color. Add the garlic clove and the farro and stir to combine. Toast the farro for a minute.
Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium, and let simmer until the liquid is almost evaporated. Then add some of the stock (enough to just cover the farro) and turn heat down slightly, to medium-low. Let simmer, topping the farrotto up with a ladle or two of stock and one of the asparagus water to cover. Continue cooking like this, stirring occasionally, and topping up with liquid, until al dente.
Towards the end of cooking, with the final ladle of stock, add the blanched asparagus, plus any herbs or extras you may be using (see note). Let the liquid simmer down a little but not too much—like risotto, you want this to be a creamy consistency, it shouldn't look too dry and once off the heat, the farro will continue to absorb the liquid in a rapid manner. Add a handful of grated cheese (if using), remove the garlic clove, and serve on flat plates with an extra drizzle of olive oil over the top.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.