If you like your winter risotto with a bit more bite and substance, then the variation made with farro is the one for you. Especially when combined with caramelised earthy roots and sweet leeks.
Farro is an ancient wheat grain, similar to spelt and, indeed, if you can’t find a grain labelled ‘farro’ or ‘faro’ then you can make this farrotto using whole spelt grains. Just try to source spelt that looks highly polished and refined – you want the finished dish to have a lot of the creaminess of risotto with some chewiness, rather than a dry grainy pilaf.
The technique is the same as that used for rice risotto, though it can take up to 50 minutes of simmering time. In this version, butter which would usually be stirred into a risotto or farrotto is flavoured with citrus and rosemary and added to the dish on the plate. This brings a contrast and a freshnessness to the earthy elements of parsnip and grain that have melded together in the long cooking process.
The ingredient list includes a ‘hard cheese’. I haven’t been specific simply because any of the classic risotto accompaniments – from either cow or sheep milk – will work while I would encourage you to find your own local favourite. In Ireland these days, I would use Gabriel or mature Mossfield, the sheep’s milk Cratloe Hills or the goat’s milk mature Ardsallagh.
leaves from 3 sprigs rosemary
zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons, in large strips
200g butter, softened
1.5 litres vegetable stock
400g leeks, halved, washed and thinly sliced
400g parsnips, woody cores removed, in large dice
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 garlic cloves, sliced
100ml white wine
80g hard cheese, finely grated
Put the rosemary and citrus zest in a small pan with two tablespoons of the butter. Heat gently until the butter begins to sizzle, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes in a warm place. Strain through a sieve and discard the solids. Stir the flavoured butter into the rest of the butter. Keep warm or soften again just before serving.
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan then turn down the heat and keep at a low simmer.
In a wide, heavy pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the leeks and parsnip for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Add the thyme, honey and vinegar, cover with parchment, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes more. The parsnips should caramelise a little but remain firm.
Add the farro and garlic, cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the thyme sprigs, add the white wine, bring to a boil and simmer until the wine has been absorbed.
Pour in a ladle or two of hot stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has been absorbed. Carry on adding stock in this way until the grains are soft and chewy, 40–50 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season well with salt and pepper.
To serve, spoon some farrotto into shallow bowls and drizzle some of the butter over and around each portion.