How to Turn This Basic Bulk-Aisle Grain Into a Luxurious Dinner
You want to know which aisle in the grocery store is the opposite of luxury? The bulk aisle. If I were a grocery store manager, I would do everything in my power to market that humbly underrated aisle just a little bit better. The bins are an eyesore, all the food is brown and arguably sad, and the whole experience of bagging your items and marking their number on a tag is just lacking...pizzazz. You will not find the adrenaline rush of the chips aisle anywhere near the bulk bins, that’s for sure. That said, just because the bulk aisle needs a serious makeover does not mean that it should be ignored. In fact, there are tons of hidden gems packed away in those heinous bins, and when cooked properly, they can be elevated to a seriously delicious meal. The best kept secret in the bulk aisle? Farro, no question. Grab a few handfuls of this unassuming grain and you’re on your way to a life of unabashed opulence.
Though it has grown in popularity within recent years, farro still does not get the attention that it deserves. And when it does get attention, it’s for the ever elusive “grain bowl.” It is SO much more than that mystery ingredient at Sweetgreen. This ancient grain is often associated with quinoa, millet, and kamut—all of which do not hold a flame to the deliciousness of farro. As the kids might say, I STAN farro. Why? Because it’s nutty, texturally delightful (not too chewy but far from mushy), and highly versatile. My favorite way to prepare farro is risotto-style, A.K.A. farrotto (I mean, how fun is that to say?). To get you up to speed, risotto is a classic Italian rice dish that is prepared by gradually adding warm liquid and whisking constantly to cook short grain rice until it’s softened and creamy.
The difference between classic risotto and farrotto is that a short grain rice is typically used for risotto, like arborio or carnaroli, instead of a farro (as the name implies). These types of rice are fully cooked in the warmed liquid after 16-18 minutes. In other words, they’ve lost their bite entirely. A common assumption with a hearty grain like farro is that it needs to be soaked overnight in order for it to be consumed without making an emergency call to your dentist. While soaking it overnight is certainly a valid way to soften the grain a bit, it also implies that you know what you’re doing 24 hours ahead of time, which for me, is simply not an option. Instead, the key to a delicious farrotto is parboiling the grain before beginning the risotto-style cooking process. This means cooking the farro in heavily salted, boiling water until only a slight bite remains, about 25-30 minutes (but you should taste it and be the judge—if you feel like you need to ice your jaw a bit after your test-bite, let it cook for a little longer). Once you’ve parboiled the farro, you’re good to start stirring, risotto style.
Farrotto Recipes to Try:
The beauty of risotto is that possibilities are infinite—use up whatever veggies you’ve got in your fridge, toss in your favorite cheese (can’t go wrong with some Parm), and eat it with whatever protein you like. Same goes for farrotto—get creative. You’re elegant and you’re worth it. Just make sure you follow this basic order of steps.
First, add your cooking liquid (broth or water) to a small saucepan and gently heat over low (you always want your cooking liquid to be slightly warmed so that you’re not shocking the risotto with cold liquid). Next, sauté your aromatics in oil or butter—onion, shallots, garlic, and maybe a hard fresh herb like thyme or oregano would be great here. You want everything to be just slightly softened and generously coated in the cooking fat.
Then, add your parboiled farro and cook until slightly toasted (it should smell nutty and wheaty), just a few minutes. Incorporate a nice hit of acid by deglazing the pan with white wine and reducing by half (you can skip this step, but you’ll likely need to add a splash of citrus or vinegar at the very end). Now, stirring constantly, begin gradually ladling some of that warmed liquid into your farrotto. You want to keep adding liquid until the farro has completely lost its bite (a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need about 5 cups of liquid for every 1 ½ cups of grain). Finish off your farrotto with a heavy hand of cheese, a knob of butter, and maybe some mascarpone if you’re feeling fancy. Mix in some roasted sweet potatoes or squash, frozen green peas, roasted mushrooms, or top it with a soft boiled egg. Nothing is off limits here.
Can you believe this restaurant quality dish all started from the most lackluster aisle in the whole store? Yup, you did that.