First cultivated in 9000 BC, emmer wheat, called farro in Italian, was the standard ration of the Roman legions.
High in fiber, low in gluten (not gluten-free), this ancient food contains more protein than most grains and has a delicious, nutty flavor and chewy texture. I use it in soups, stews, salads and in making risotto.
Farro, like Italian arborio and carnaroli rice, possesses a soft starch that when cooked the “risotto” way, dissolves into a creamy, luscious dish. Although, the flavors may change, the cooking technique for risotto is written in stone.
In a pan of hot butter or olive oil (which would make the butter-only folks of northern Italy cringe), onions are sauteed and then the rice (or farro) is added to the pan and stirred to coat each and every grain while it is lightly toasted. Hot water or broth is then added to the pot a ladle at a time. The rice is lovingly stirred as it absorbs the cooking liquid. Gradually, the process is repeated as more hot liquid is added a half cup at a time until the rice is done. The cooking of creamy, comforting risotto has its own pace, as does so many attributes of the Italian lifestyle and cannot be rushed.
Risotto, originally created in northern Italy (always prepared with butter), has many delicious versions, including Risi e Bisi from Venice but, it is the Risotto alla Millanese of Milan that is most famous.
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (Medium), divided
- 3 large shallots, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 1/2 – 5 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/4 cup farro
- 1/4 cup Parmigiana-Reggiana cheese, grated (plus extra for garnish)
- In a medium-size sauce pan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer, reduce the heat and keep warm.
- Using a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and saute the shallots for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Stir in the farro so that it is well coated with the oil and cook until lightly toasted. Stir constantly and cook for 2-3 minutes and then add 1 cup of the warm chicken broth. The liquid should be just simmering. Stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed.
- Repeat this process, adding just 1/2 cup liquid at a time. Remember, risotto can not and will not be rushed, as it is this gradual addition and absorption of liquid that results in risotto … anything less is simply rice.
- After the last bit of liquid has been nearly absorbed, stir in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the Parmesan cheese.
- To serve, garnish with shards of Parmesan and pass the olive oil for an extra drizzle.