Wild Mushroom Farrotto
Food prepared and shared with others is among the most powerful bonding methods we humans have. And for me, risotto has a special place permanently tattooed onto my heart, connecting to memorable moments throughout my adult life.
+ Somewhere between poring over mountains of thesis research + the cooking/baking/espresso drinking/solitary rambles through southwest Minneapolis that otherwise kept my grad school self occupied/sane, an online ping from a friend of friends in high school. The note, in response to a photo of the previous night’s triumphant first risotto, challenged me to a long-distance culinary throwdown. My drawn-out reply was returned in kind, and so it all began.
+ Strolling along the Gulf Coast at daybreak, me snapping photos of shorebirds as an angry ocean roared and the salmon-hued sun rose up from behind billowy clouds. Down on one sandy knee he caught me by surprise, a dainty ring in hand, making me his fiancée. The best surprise, to which we popped a bottle of bubbles for drinking + adding to a crispy prosciutto-topped asparagus risotto.
+ Calm, pleasantly warm and sunny, a few feathery wisps of clouds leading the way down a grassy aisle in the rolling countryside on a fifteen-year Wisconsin day — our wedding. The reception held in a century barn a mix of rustic + elegant, with pumpkins, wheat, cornstalks and gourds as decorations; wine bottled and labeled by his aunt and uncle; the meal, three different risottos, prepared in front by our groomsmen, dads, uncles + new brothers-in-law as speeches were made, more bubbly was toasted, a new married life beginning.
From the first conversation I knew he was something special, and had a feeling we’d be together, making risotto — this, the fateful recipe — for many years to come.
Classically risottos use plump short-grain Arborio rice, but the same preparation can be applied to whole grains to create equally as delicious, more nutrient-dense dishes. Here I chose farro — an ancient strain of hard wheat also called emmer — for its robust taste + chewy texture that contrast very well with the earthy, soft mushrooms.
The recipe calls for steeping dried mushrooms in the cooking stock, making the dish richer, and I couldn’t resist a few sautéed fresh ones to really drive home the woodsy, meaty depth of flavor. Feel free to make this with any varieties you like. We most often go porcini for the dried and a mix of crimini + white buttons for the fresh, but it’s when mushrooms pop into season that the real fun begins, experimenting with meaty oyster, pungent shiitake, frilly lion’s mane, buttery chanterelle… and, some day, those honeycomb harbingers of spring — morels.
Already brimming with umami, our rustic farrotto is really set off by an infusion of white wine, shallot, garlic + fresh herbs, plus a last-minute splash of brightness from lemon juice. It’s satisfying even without the salty tang of Parmigiano-Reggiano stirred in at the end — making it a nice main or side option for both omnivores + vegans — but we can’t pass on tradition.
What’s in it for me?
Also known as hard emmer wheat, whole grain farro cooks up to have a chewy texture and nutty flavor. The semi-pearled variety of farro (as opposed to fully pearled) retains more of the fiber + bran, the latter of which is rich in vitamins, minerals + healthy fats. Per serving of farro (from 1/4-cup dry) provides about 5 grams fiber, 6 g protein, plus 10% of your daily iron, for about 170 calories. Farro is also a source of magnesium, zinc and antioxidant selenium.
Mushrooms in general are low in calories (about 20 per cup), contain no fat or cholesterol, and provide potassium + several of the B vitamins. Mushrooms also come with a couple grams of protein per serving, and are plant-based sources of glutamate — the amino acid our taste buds recognize as umami (the “fifth taste”), that enhances savory flavors of other foods without salt. And as we learned in last week’s Nutrient Spotlight post, mushrooms exposed to UV light during cultivation can be a good natural source of vitamin D.
Porcini mushrooms (aka wild ceps) in particular are excellent sources of two free radical-fighting antioxidant amino acids — glutathione + ergothioneine. Fortunately for us, cooking these nutty, earthy-flavored mushrooms likely does not affect the functionality of these heat-stable antioxidants.
Like a good soup, risotto shines when made with good-quality stock, and I really encourage you to make your own. Naturally hydrating, homemade stock is low in calories, fat + sodium, is a good source of the B vitamin niacin, and offers small amounts of phosphorous, potassium + copper. Stock can help replenish depleted stores of electrolytes, and research suggests it may serve as a mild anti-inflammatory.
It is wisely said that food is love and also that cooking is putting your heart on a plate, so how about we get into our kitchens and help spread a little more around? I’ll — we’ll — eat to that!
Tell me… Which recipes evoke strong memories for you? Have you experimented with farro?
- 1 cup semi-pearled farro (see HGN Notes for alternative grains, including cooking time differences)
- 1 oz dried mushrooms, such as porcini
- 4 cups veg or chicken stock (see HGN Notes for homemade bone stock recipe)
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, divided
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, peeled and minced
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc (or more stock)
- 2 cups fresh cultivated or wild mushrooms (or a mixture), such as chanterelle, oyster, shiitake, morel, or even crimini or white buttons, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
- Half of 1 large lemon
- 1 to 2 oz (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup) grated Romantina or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more to serve if desired
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Add the dried mushrooms, stock and 2 cups hot water to a medium saucepan off the heat. In a medium bowl, add the farro and pour over enough hot water to cover by 1 inch. Set both aside to soak for at least 10 or up to 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Place the pan with the stock and mushrooms over medium-low heat and, when simmering, use a slotted spoon to retrieve the mushrooms (reserve; set aside in a strainer to drain), then reduce the heat to low to keep the stock warm. Drain the farro and set aside. When the reconstituted dried mushrooms have drained and cooled slightly, chop and set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven or wide, heavy saucepan, heat the oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper, until softened but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and farro and continue to stir, allowing the grains to toast and crackle slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook, stirring, until no liquid is visible at the bottom of the pan when you drag your spoon through the middle. Stir in enough of the warm stock to just cover the farro, about 1/2 cup (we use a measuring cup to dip into the stock and transfer it to the grains; you can also use a large ladle). Cook, stirring often, until the farro has just about absorbed all of the liquid, then add another 1/2 cup or so of stock and continue with the occasional stir. Repeat these steps with the remaining stock, until the grains are tender but still have a slight al dente chewiness. (You may not need to use all of the stock, but it is smart to err on the side of caution with these longer-cooking whole grains. If you have extra, let it cool and refrigerate it for other uses.) Altogether the process should take about 40 to 50 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat the remaining 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the fresh mushrooms in a single layer and sauté until golden brown on the first side. Flip the mushrooms and continue to cook on the second side until it is also golden and the mushrooms are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. (You may need to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan.) At the last moment, add the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms, squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, and toss. Immediately remove from the heat, and transfer all of the mushrooms to a plate; set aside.
- After the last addition of stock, stir until about half of the liquid is absorbed, and fold in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Immediately remove from the heat and serve in wide shallow bowls or on rimmed plates. Garnish with fresh parsley, and a bit of shaved or grated Parmesan if desired.
+ Pearled Farro -- soak as written in the recipe; expect the total cooking time to decrease to about 25 to 30 minutes
+ Pearled Spelt Berries or Einkorn -- soak both as written; begin checking for doneness of spelt at about 20 minutes into the cooking, and einkorn at 30 minutes
+ Soft or Hard Wheat Berries -- soak both as written; begin sampling soft wheat berries after 20 minutes, and 50 to 60 minutes for hard wheat berries (expect to use more stock for the latter)
+ Pearled or Hulled Barley -- soak both as written; pearled barley will take about 30 minutes, whereas hulled will need at least 40 minutes of cooking time
+ Arborio or Carnaroli rice -- DO NOT soak as written; expect the cooking time to decrease to 15 to 20 minutes
Don't feel like stirring? No problem! Because farro has a naturally chewy texture + releases little starch during cooking like Arborio rice, it actually doesn’t need the amount of tending required for a traditional risotto. Learn about this minimal-stir method from Martha Rose Shulman on NY Times Cooking: https://buff.ly/2DjouxH.
+ Vary the fresh and/or dried mushrooms to those you prefer or have on hand given availability or seasonality, e.g., pungent shiitake, sponge-y (pricey) morel, earthy porcini (also known as wild ceps), frilly lion's mane, buttery chanterelle, etc.
+ Amp up the herbage by either adding 1 to 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, sage or thyme during the cooking process, or including a generous shower of fresh minced chives or marjoram with the parsley when serving. (To substitute dried herbs, always decrease the amount by 1/3 of what is called for fresh.)
+ Make it vegan by opting for the veg stock, and omitting the cheese -- it's rich enough already, even omnivores may not need it!
+ Replace the wine with dry vermouth, try a dry red instead of a white, OR omit the wine altogether in favor of more stock to avoid using alcohol.
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