For a very long time, Risotto seemed to me like a dish meant only for special occasions, mainly because making risotto in the traditional manner requires at least 40 minutes of constant stirring and ladling to carefully and gradually coax out the starches that are held underneath the surface of Arborio rice grains. It’s a labor of love, but the end result of a perfectly creamy and al dente bowl of risotto is worth it.
Or, at least, I thought it was a worthwhile use of my time until I discovered the Cook’s Illustrated technique for risotto with minimal stirring. What they do is add all of the cooking liquid in the beginning of the process and simmer the rice briskly until al dente. The abundance of simmering liquid agitates the grains just enough to slowly release their starches without constant stirring. In much less time than it takes to prepare a bowl of traditional risotto, you can have a bowl of perfectly creamy, hands-free risotto that tastes just as good as a traditional risotto.
However, this is not a recipe for risotto, but farrotto. Farro is an Italian grain similar to wheat and it has an incredibly toothsome texture with just enough chew. I prefer farro to Arborio or Canaroli rice, and it has the added benefit of being a whole grain. Farrotto has a wonderful texture and is cooked in the same manner as risotto: a hot pan with some olive oil, onion, and garlic, a quick toasting of grains, a splash of white wine, and a good amount of hot cooking liquid. The final cooking step, known as the mantecatura (or mixing in of the butter), involves vigorously stirring in a touch of butter and some good parmesan cheese.
The texture off risotto and farrotto is often described as all’onda (wavy) for its loose but not soupy consistency. Farrotto can be enhanced in any number of ways, with a vegetables such as asparagus or mushrooms stirred in, or even some fresh chopped herbs, but I prefer the simplicity of parmesan and butter. A final drizzle of truffle oil or good olive oil is a nice addition, but no matter what it’s a delicious dish that makes any meal taste like a special occasion.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups (9 oz.) semi-pearled farro (see note)
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 ½ cups water (see note)
½ cup grated parmesan, plus extra for serving
1 ½ tablespoons butter
Truffle oil or good olive oil to finish, if desired
- In a large pot (at least 4 quart capacity), heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot then add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add the farro and stir thoroughly to coat each grain with the olive oil, 1-2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed. Add the sea salt and 4 cups water, bring mixture to a vigorous simmer, then cover and simmer briskly for 25-30 minutes over medium heat, covered, until the farro is almost tender, stirring every 10 minutes.
- Stir the farro once it is almost tender, then stir in the final ½ cup water let it sit off heat for 5 minutes before stirring again to redistribute the farrotto. Stir in the parmesan and butter, adjust for seasonings to taste, then portion into individual bowls. Serve immediately with some grated parmesan and a drizzle of truffle oil or olive oil, if desired.
Note: There are multiple farro varieties and each will behave a little bit differently in the risotto and will require a different cooking time or liquid content. Here are a few general guidelines:
If using Trader Joe’s Quick-Cooking Farro: 4 1/2 cups water and 25-30 minutes of cooking
If using semi-pearled Farro: 4 1/2-5 1/2 cups water and 30-40 minutes of cooking
If using traditional (un-pearled Farro): 8-9 cups water and 50-60 minutes of cooking