OVEN FARRO RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS

 

A minor miracle happened in our house last night. No, it wasn’t the second coming, or the first, depending on where you stand on these matters. Instead, my entire family ate whole wheat fettuccini without uttering a word about its whole “wheatiness.”

This has never happened before, despite the dozens of dinners I have made featuring whole grain pasta in every iteration. They know better than to complain, but at the very least I usually get a suspicious, “is this whole wheat?” out of at least one of them.

Perhaps the months (years?) of whole grain indoctrination is finally paying off. Or perhaps robust tomato sauce with bits of braised pork disguised said whole wheat pasta.

This brings me to the topic of whole grains, which seems to have become as much a part of our 21st century lexicon as “fat free” was in the 90′s. It’s a catch-all phrase for grains that haven’t been heavily processed: Wheat before it’s stripped of its bran and germ, rice before its processed into pearly white, though nutritionally inferior, grains.<!–more–>

Opting for whole grains instead of processed ones, whether in bread, or oatmeal or rice, is smart from a health standpoint because they have more fiber, which means they digest more slowly so they sustain you longer. They pack in more vitamins and minerals, can help keep cholesterol in check, and a whole bunch of other good things. Later in the week I will be posting about some of my favorite whole grains. In the meantime, I’ll share this recipe.

I got the idea for this dish from my friend Suzanne, who raved about a baked risotto she cooked recently. While the original was made with arborio rice, the fat little Italian variety, I thought I’d use farro instead, a grain that also hails from Italy but is less processed and more nutritious. Farro is reminiscent of barley.

The recipe has extra mom appeal because unlike classic risotto that requires constant stirring, this version requires no fuss once it goes into the oven. The dish relies on onions, bacon and lemon to get the flavors going as it cooks. If you are vegetarian, or vegan, or kosher, or halal, or if there’s any other reason you don’t each pork, just leave out the bacon. I’m personally fond of a hit of bacon in my cooking, along with its fancy Italian cousin, pancetta. Although both are notoriously fatty, they pack in loads of flavor so you can get away with just using a small amount to season an entire recipe.

The asparagus and peas, which are excellent this time of year, go in at the very end and cook until just until tender. Yes, shelling peas takes time, but it’s the perfect sort of chore to pass onto your staff (that’s code for children). Mine don’t seem to mind it. Just be sure the peas make it into the measuring cup, not their wee mouths. Fresh chopped mint and Parmesan finish the dish. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, the farro is great in a lunchbox the next day.

OVEN BRAISED FARRO RISOTTO WITH SPRING VEGETABLES


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 strips bacon (nitrate-free if you’ve got it), chopped*
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 juicy lemon)
  • 1 cup semipearled farro
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup shelled English peas (3/4 of a pound in the shell)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, stems snapped off, cut into 1-inch long pieces
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large pot with an oven-proof lid over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add the bacon. Continue to sauté until the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked (though it won’t be crispy).

Add the farro and the lemon juice and turn the heat to high. Cook until the farro absorbs the juice. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, set the lid on the pot and put it into the oven.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the farro is just tender, with no crunch to it (al dente). Remove from the oven and add the peas and asparagus. If the farro looks dry, add 1/4 cup of water or broth. Give it all a good stir and put it back into the oven for another 7 to 8 minutes until the vegetables are just tender (keeping in mind they will continue to cook a little once out of the oven).

Remove from the oven, add mint, salt, and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

* For a vegetarian version, leave out the bacon and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

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17  Comments

Comments

  1. Kim
    05.02.2011 at 3:35 PM #

    I’m looking forward to trying out this recipe this week. I’m also interested in learning more about the recipe that lead to the “minor miracle” – “robust tomato sauce with bits of braised pork” – sounds fantastic and I too need ways to disguise whole wheat anything. Thanks.

    • 05.02.2011 at 5:43 PM #

      Hi Kim, I made a vat of the sauce a few months ago during ski season and stored the leftovers in the freezer. I braised a whole pork shoulder in onions, garlic, canned plum tomatoes, and red wine for the better part of a day. When the pork was very tender, I shredded it and put it back in the sauce. I’ve made a leaner version of this in smaller batches using pork tenderloin. The cooking time is much shorter. As for whole grain pasta, I’ve had the best luck with Barilla Plus multi-grain.

  2. Cynthia Jones
    05.02.2011 at 6:31 PM #

    BTW: I asked Katie where to buy Farro and she suggested markets such as Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, or some of the upscale small markets such as Canyon and Bi-Rite.
    CJ

  3. Pam
    05.02.2011 at 11:16 PM #

    I can’t wait to try this! Re where to buy farro, my husband bought a giant bag of it at Costco recently.

  4. Cristina
    06.20.2011 at 4:20 PM #

    Rainbow also carries farro

  5. Allie
    08.04.2011 at 7:36 AM #

    Hi Katie, I’m Meagan’s cousin and made my way to your blog through her. The whole site is fabulous, and this recipe in particular caught my eye, as I’ve been wanting to cook a farro dish. Are English peas still in season, or will it be hard to find them fresh at this point? Thanks!

    • katiemorford
      08.04.2011 at 9:33 AM #

      Hi Allie

      Good question. This was a recipe I did in Spring when both peas and asparagus were at their peek. Asparagus remains available but peas…not so much. You could substitute fresh corn for the peas. Use a serrated edge knife to shear the raw corn from the cob and use as you would the peas. Let me know how it goes!

  6. Lynda
    08.31.2011 at 8:18 AM #

    Thanks for this one Katie – it is terrific! I made it for the first time last night. My almost-11 year old son declared “this is going to be the worst dinner ever” when he saw my ingredients… that changed to “it actually looks pretty good” when he saw it on his plate and finally to “I’ll have more please” and “you should make this again.” :-) The whole family gave it the thumbs up. I threw a little corn in with the green veggies. Not sure it would be as tasty without the fresh peas. I am so happy to have “discovered” farro – so flavorful – used it in tabouli last week and loved that too!

    • katiemorford
      08.31.2011 at 9:28 AM #

      Thanks for sharing that. I love farro too…and use it in place of other grains all the time…as you did with the tabouli!

  7. 04.25.2012 at 12:13 PM #

    I love how you cook the farro in the oven. I have never tried that technique before but it’s going on my list of must-try recipes… and I plan to pin it too!

    • katiemorford
      04.25.2012 at 2:38 PM #

      Thanks Liz. The oven makes it less laborious than a typical risotto, but still results in a creamy texture.

  8. 04.09.2013 at 7:53 AM #

    I live in a tiny, tiny (did I mention tiny?) town. What can I use instead of farro?

    • katiemorford
      04.10.2013 at 8:18 AM #

      Try it with barley…you just may have to adjust the liquid and cooking time.

      • 04.10.2013 at 11:50 AM #

        Sweet. Thanks.

  9. Layne
    04.09.2013 at 8:15 PM #

    Katie,
    I just pulled up this recipe and made it tonight. It was delicious! Thank you! Next time I’ll add more bacon because…in our household, you just can’t have enough bacon. Also, that mint added at the end was a wonderful taste-surprise.
    Thanks for everything:)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Holding my Ground on Whole Grains « Mom'sKitchenHandbook - 05.20.2011

    [...] Farro – Hailing from Italy, I think of this ancient grain as a sort of fancy barley. It has a similar appearance, and that same chewy, earthy quality. Add it to soups, warm or cold salads, or braised such as in this Farro Risotto recipe. [...]

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