I have noticed recently that most restaurants you visit these days (including my own menu) tends to have a risotto of some sort or other listed on there. I suppose it’s a move forward from the days when any Irish vegetarian when asking the waiter or waitress “what do you have for Vegetarians?” the answer would come 9/10 times come back as “we can do you a stirfry”…. Then there was the pasta revolution, often twas pasta served with some stir fry veg.. this is how I was taught in my early years of learning to become a chef in my local hotel in Donegal Town…
Quite often, I used to hear customers say, “ Yes, I am a vegetarian, but I eat chicken or fish”, this became known in my days as the “Irish Vegetarian”… who eats chicken & fish.
Anyway back to the Risotto, not an easy dish to make, it takes time and care to get it right. I love the creamy, starchy, stick-to-your-ribs nature of the dish. It’s very comforting, but not in a way that loves you back I’d say. Despite being SO full after eating it, a part of me is always still hungry after. Now, not only is risotto made with Arborio rice, but pearl barley can be used too. The first time I had a risotto made out of farro, I knew that I had staggered onto something that would satisfy me in more ways than before.
Farro still has a chew to it, which makes it much more interesting texturally. The flavour of the toasted grains translates right to the end too. It’s easy to turn non-rice/alternative risottos into a warm heap of cooked grains with barely a slick of saucing surrounding them though—almost like a pilaf, really. In their whole state, many alternative grains aren’t as starchy as Arborio rice. They need a little help to get to that level of creaminess that we want. This is where some special technique comes in!
“Breaking” half of the farro grains in the blender helps release the natural starch within as they cook. I wouldn’t recommend cracking all of the grains because you’ll wind up with something closer to polenta, rather than a creamy consistency with plenty of whole chewy bits still whole. My other secret: I make a creamy mixture of soaked almonds, cooked butternut squash, water, and a few herbs, such as sage & thyme to add to the farro near the end of the cooking process. This adds a few extra vitamins and some protein to the dish, but it also makes it so, so, deliciously creamy and rich.
Here is my recipe for you to try…
BUTTERNUT SQUASH FARRO-RISOTTO
This should give you enough for 4
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 small butternut squash
4 cups vegetable stock
2 ¼ cups water, divided
1 ½ cups whole farro
1 tablespoon refined coconut oil
½ cup finely diced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs sage & thyme, leaves minced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup raw Almonds, soaked for at least 2 hours and drained
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
LETS GET COOKING:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Cut the butternut squash down the middle lengthwise. Lay both halves, cut side down, on the parchment lined sheet. Slide the squash into the oven and roast until very tender, about 40 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, combine the vegetable stock and 1 cup of the water and place it over medium-low heat. Cover the stock, and let it simmer gently.
Place half of the farro in an upright blender. Grind the grains on high until they are evenly “cracked” and resemble porridge oats.
Make the butternut and almond puree: take 1 cup of cooked butternut squash from the cooked halves, discarding the seeds. Save any extra squash for another use. In an upright blender, blend the squash, cashews, miso, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and remaining water. Blend this mixture on high until it’s completely smooth. Set aside.
Heat the coconut oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, sage and stir. Pour the whole and “cracked” farro into the pot and stir. Keep stirring until you hear crackling sounds and there’s a toasty aroma, about 2 minutes. Pour the lemon juice and ¼ cup of water into the pot and stir until the liquid is evaporated.
Carefully transfer the warmed vegetable stock to the pot with the farro. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and let it cook for 20 minutes. Then, stir the farro risotto a bit and cook it for another 20 minutes—keep stirring it here and there at this point.
Transfer the butternut cream to the pot and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper. Bring the farro -risotto to a boil and simmer, uncovered for another 20 minutes. You will need to stir this fairly often to avoid spitting. The dish is ready when the grains look like they are lightly immersed in a creamy sauce. Whole farro grains will still have some chew to them. The dishwill thicken as it sits, but it definitely shouldn’t be runny.
Serve hot with freshly ground black pepper and some baby spinach leaves or kale.
As always, dont forget to let me know how you get on