As the world continues to evolve and our lives reach further into the realm of science fiction the search for the new often results in a revamping of the old. Sometimes it makes you cringe, remembering why bell bottoms were abandoned in the first place and other times you wonder why something so delicious and nutritious fell by the wayside in the first place. Farro, or Triticum dicoccum is a grain that is older than the Roman empire (originating in Mesopotamia) and fed the legions, spreading across Europe as Rome’s influence grew. This hearty whole grain is high in fiber (1/4 c contains a whopping 5 g of fiber!) and protein (7g), not bad for a tiny grain that’s cholesterol free. Despite a plethora of hip and trendy fusion menus out there, cuz molecular Indo-Bavarian food go together like peanut butter and sardines ;), there’s been a counter movement with the Cinderella starches like farro and pearl couscous gracing many a simplified menu. After eating a similar presentation at Accanto, one of our favorite Italian cafes, I wanted to try more farro at home and came across a risotto-like preparation from Bon Appétit which is surprisingly (for me) unchanged except for cutting down on the fat a bit, adding kale, and using vegetarian stock. Okay, I also changed the wine and toasted the farro a little but that’s it, I swear! You do get some of the creamy starchiness like with risotto but a much firmer texture from the farro. Although this is a side dish, with the addition of some white beans, mushrooms and asparagus it could easily become a vegetarian entrée.
While you can get pearled farro with the hull removed to decrease your cooking time (30 minutes vs 60 minutes), it really doesn’t take that much extra time to take advantage of all that healthy hull. Before you go to bed you can soak it in a large mixing bowl to use the next day or you can do a quick soak and boil like I do below while you’re multitasking with your other prep work, folding laundry, herding cats, ….
What to do, what to do?
1) Kale? Really? But it’s green and leafy. Yup, which means it’s chock full of vitamins and minerals and all kinds of good things like over 1000% the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin K, 200% of vitamin C, 180% of vitamin A, 5g of fiber, and magnesium all in 1 measly green cup just to name a few. But my favorite thing about kale is that you can sauté or boil it and it still retains some texture, not turning into a slimy mess like many greens and for the most part, its flavor is so mild that you can add it to dishes without changing the overall taste much at all.
2) Is there an easy way to prepare kale? Of course. While I love kale, I’m not a fan of the tough fibrous veins so I just strip them out. You can just rip the leaf off the stem and then rip the leaves into bite sized pieces. Voilà, 1 c of green leafy goodness in 2 minutes.
3) Ugh, I have to soak the farro and then boil it? Can’t I just boil it for a little longer? Hmm, I suspect that the soaking step allows the farro to absorb and puff up with water so that when it’s heated in the boiling water the hulls can split open allowing the starch to be exposed for the risotto-making starchy broth steps.
1 c farro
8 c water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/4 c chopped shallots
6 stalks kale, large veins removed and torn into 1 inch pieces
1/2 c dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
2 c low-salt chicken or vegetable broth (I used Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base)
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large 2-3 quart bowl soak farro in cold water for 20-30 minutes then drain. Boil farro in a large ~3 quart pot with 8 c water and salt for 20 minutes then drain.
Simmer broth in a small pot (I like to use the burner just behind the one I’m cooking the risotto in making it easier to dump a ladleful of broth into the risotto.) Add kale to simmering broth.
In a large sauté pan or skillet with a 2-3 inch lip melt butter and oil together over medium heat till foam subsides. Add farro and sauté for 2-3 minutes stirring to coat with oil. This step also toasts the farro.
Mix in shallots and add wine then cook till all of it is reduced. Add 1/2 c broth, stirring till all of broth is absorbed. Repeat with remaining broth adding 1/2 c at a time ~ 20 minutes. The farro should be firm and chewy but not hard or crunchy. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan. Serves 4.