Farro is rapidly becoming the new “it grain”—and for good reason: it is satisfyingly chewy in texture and full of nutrients and fiber. It makes a great substitute for barley and therefore is well suited to stews, hearty soups, and grain salads. For this recipe, farro is treated like a short-grained rice, with its starch gently coaxed out, and is combined with asparagus and lemon, two ingredients that are quintessentially spring.
Risottos are traditionally made with a medium- or short-grain rice which releases its starch upon heat and agitation (stirring) to help create the characteristic creamy texture that makes risottos so comforting and delicious. This means that the best risottos—including this one—require quite a bit of hands-on time. If serving this dish to guests, either make it before (up until the point where you add in the asparagus and seasonings), or better yet, have your guests join you in the kitchen, and share the stirring duties while sipping some wine.
Farro Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon
1/2 bunch (1/2 pound) asparagus spears, tough ends removed, chopped into 1-1/2–inch pieces
1 cup farro (semi-pearled or cracked), rinsed well
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium shallots, finely minced (about 1 ounce)
1 small garlic clove, or to taste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
- Boil water with a big pinch of salt in a large pot. Add asparagus and blanch for 2 to 4 minutes (depending on the thickness of the asparagus stalks) or until the asparagus is just crisp-tender and still retains its bright-green color.
- Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water to cease the cooking and preserve the intense green color. When asparagus is chilled, transfer the asparagus to a plate lined with a dish cloth or paper towel and set aside. Do not discard the hot water!
- While the water is boiling, rinse the farro and place it in a large bowl.
- Pour the boiling water used to blanch the asparagus over the farro. Allow the farro to sit in the hot water undisturbed for about 20 minutes. Drain well.
- While the farro is resting, heat the stock in a mediumpot until it reaches a low boil and is very hot.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds.
- Add the drained farro to the sauté pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat the grains of farro well. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the grains start to take on a bit of color.
- Add the thyme and wine to the farro mixture, and increase the heat to high to bring the mixture to a low boil, allowing the wine to evaporate.
- Reduce the heat to medium-high and start adding the hot stock to the farro mixture, 1/4 cup or about half a ladle at a time, stirring well until each addition is fully incorporated into the farro grains. Add more stock when the pan starts to dry and the farro starts to move as a mass when stirred.
- After about 3 cups of the stock have been added, check the farro for doneness. It should be chewy but tender. Add additional stock and continue to cook as needed until the farro reaches the desired level of tenderness. This might take 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the asparagus, 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice, and the lemon zest to the farro. Warm through.
- Finish the dish by seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and add the remaining teaspoon of lemon juice, if desired. Serve with the cheese on the side.
- Vegan Farro Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon. Double up on the olive oil, eliminate the butter, and use vegetable stock. Nutritional yeast makes an interesting and delicious substitute for cheese.
- Traditional Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon. Use the same method as above but substitute equal amounts of either Arborio rice or Vialone Nano rice for the farro.
- Farro Risotto with Peas. Eliminate the asparagus. Replace with 1 cup of frozen peas that you have brought to room temperature. Add the peas to the farro mixture just before the farro is tender, to warm through. If you are lucky enough to find them, substitute fresh peas for frozen!
A microplane grater is one of the best kitchen tools you can own. You can use it to grate garlic, onions, ginger, hard cheeses, chocolate, and citrus fruits. A trick: turn the grater upside down and scrape your food item from underneath: you will capture any juices/oils and all your gratings in a small, easily visible space.
Farro—also known as emmer wheat—is unsuitable for anyone with celiac disease, but for those who tolerate wheat, farro is a nutritional goldmine. Loaded with fiber, protein, magnesium, niacin, and zinc, this ancient grain, which has been found in the tombs of Egyptian kings and is reputed to have been a food source for the Roman legions, will certainly help you to power through your day (or night!).
Paper towels are incredibly useful and indispensable in the kitchen, but please consider using dish cloths for all tasks where disposability is not necessary. In this recipe, for example, dry the asparagus with a clean dish cloth. Another small step for the environment!