Cold weather is creeping back into San Francisco after a glorious month and a half of summer weather. To me, that means it’s time for warm, comforting dishes like risotto.
I especially love risotto because it tastes naughtier than it is. Although it looks and tastes incredibly creamy, risotto doesn’t contain any cream. Usually, the only high-fat ingredient I add is cheese, and even then, I don’t add much. Plus, without anyone noticing (ahem, Jay!), I can almost double the recipe’s output by adding tons of vegetables. As far as I see it, the only downside of risotto is the constant stirring.
But constant stirring is a double black diamond, super steep downside, probably covered with ice and moguls. It’s no gentle, downward sloping bunny hill. There’s no denying it: standing in your kitchen for 35+ minutes, stirring every minute or so, then adding broth every few minutes is downright laborious. And incredibly boring. It often makes me wish my rice cooker had a risotto-cooking mode.
Enter my knight in shining armor: farro.
Farro does not require constant stirring to avoid sticking and burning, as does arborio rice, but it still releases a creamy, binding liquid when cooked, making it a perfect substitute in risotto (or let’s be clever and call it farrotto, as some restaurant chefs are apt to do).
To top it off, farro doesn’t have an odd oddly distinguishable taste or funny texture. It’s a bit chewier than rice, but in a way that makes it more satisfying to eat. Also, farro is loaded with fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E but low in gluten.
At the farmers market this week, I found a great deal on bunches (chard, kale, lettuce, carrots, you name it!), and thought the mildly bitter flavor of ruby chard would pair well with earthy mushrooms and bring beautiful ruby and green colors to an otherwise incredibly brown meal. Onions, garlic, ginger, and, for some zing, a dash or two of red pepper flakes add a bit of depth to farrotto’s flavor foundation, while a touch of lemon juice (and zest, if you’re a lemon fanatic like Kristen) added just before serving brightens the rich, earthy taste of this hearty, heart-healthy dish.
This creamy and warm farrotto will keep you satisfied on cold evenings, and leftovers popped in the microwave will make your frigid office seem cozier the next afternoon. But this hearty comfort food won’t make you outgrow your pants by spring. Phew.
Farrotto with Mushrooms, Chard, Garlic, and Ginger
Serves 4 (approximately 350 calories per serving)
If you haven’t played with chard before, start by removing the stems, which take longer to cook than the leaves. Fold the leaves in half, and starting at the thick end of the stem, gently rip the stem away from the leaves. For another dish, stems can later be chopped up, blanched, and served in the same way as asparagus, but beware that red-stemmed chard has tougher stems than white-stemmed varieties. As for the leaves, it is recommended that you boil them uncovered, as this method reduces the concentration of oxalic acid in chard. Otherwise, chard is one of the most nutritious veggies around and ranks second to spinach in total nutrient richness. Flavor-wise, chard is similar to spinach, with chard’s mild bitter flavor being only slightly more noticeable than that of spinach.
To make this vegan, use vegetable stock and either skip the Parmesan or replace it with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast for a nutty, salty flavor.
1 c. farro
1/2 lb. ruby or swiss chard (usually 1/2 bunch), stems removed and leaves cut into thin, inch-long strips
1 1/2 c. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced ginger
3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. to 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
juice and zest of one lemon (or just juice if you’re not a lemon fan)
salt and pepper to taste
In boiling water, cook chard strips for 3 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
In medium pan, saute mushroom slices with 1 tsp. olive oil and a sprinkle of salt until tender. Set aside. (May start cooking mushrooms at same time as you begin the farrotto.)
In a medium pot, bring stock to a gentle simmer.
Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, saute 1 Tbsp. olive oil, onions, garlic, and ginger until onions are translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Stir in farro, and toast in the pan for about 2 minutes, stirring a couple times. Stir in wine (and give a splash or two to the chef), and cook for a minute or two until it evaporates. Stir in 1/2 c. stock, and let cook until it is absorbed by the farro, approximately 2 minutes.
Add remaining stock, and cook until farro is al dente and stock is absorbed, approximately 45 more minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, add the sauteed mushrooms and red pepper flakes, and stir the mixture. Check back periodically to make sure stock has not been completely absorbed, and add an additional 1/2 c. to 1 c. hot water if necessary to keep farro cooking until al dente.
Once farro has reached desired texture and absorbed the liquid, remove from heat. Stir in chard, lemon juice, and lemon zest (if desired), and add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle each dish with a tablespoon or two of grated Parmesan, and serve hot. Farrotto will keep in airtight, refrigerated container for up to 3 days, but the texture of the chard gets a little softer than I like it.
Do Ahead: If you want, you could do everything (except preparing the chard) up to the point where you remove farro-mushroom mixture from heat and either freeze or refrigerate it. On the day you want to serve this dish, defrost and heat up the farro (microwave will do), blanch and drain the chard, and stir the chard and lemon juice into the farro.