Here in the depth of winter, I have been searching for some healthy dishes that focus on whole grains and vegetables to serve for dinner at least one night a week.
I am highly attached to pasta, and I never met a mound of mashed potatoes I didn’t like. But, in an attempt to add some lighter and meatless options for our evening menu rotation, I found a wonderful dish that stars farro (instead of pasta), asparagus and mushrooms. I made it one evening along with some fruit, which countered the richness of the butter and cheese. The recipe is from “Giada’s Italy,” the newest cookbook from the famous chef and author Giada De Laurentiis.
Farro is what is referred to as an “ancient grain.” To me, it looks a lot like barley. It has a chewy, nutty flavor, is not hard to cook, and can be found in most grocery stores. It is best to rinse farro before cooking in salted water or broth, and after that, all that is really needed is a tossing with good olive oil or butter and a little grated cheese. Serve it instead of rice or potatoes. The recipe that follows is more involved, but I thought it was delicious and worth the effort. I would serve it to company.
Mushroom and Asparagus Farrotto
- 2 leeks, white and tender green parts only
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
- 1 cup farro, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese (plus extra for serving)
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- ½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into segments about 1½ inches long
- Cut the trimmed leeks in half lengthwise. Then cut them across into half -moons. Rinse under running water and drain well. (Leeks can be very sandy.)
- Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat for another 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often until they are golden brown and the liquid is evaporated. Remove the mushrooms to a plate.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the sliced leeks and cook until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and salt and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add the farro to the pan and stir to coat the grains in the oil, toasting them slightly.
- Stir in the wine, cooking until it is almost completely absorbed, about 8 minutes. Begin adding the broth in 1-cup increments, cooking each addition down until each has evaporated. (This is very similar to cooking risotto.) Stir the farro often until it is creamy. This will take a total of about 45 minutes.
- When the farro is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the cheeses and butter. Continue to stir a little longer.
- Fold in the asparagus and mushrooms and heat for another 2 minutes.
- Serve in pasta bowls with more grated cheese.
The next time I make this, I am planning to substitute broccoli florets or baby peas for the asparagus. Small cubes of butternut squash would work too, as would a touch of chopped sundried tomatoes.
Now this dish takes more time than baking a few chicken breasts in the oven. But try it on a weekend and remember—it’s your whole dinner in one dish. Some sliced apples and navel oranges are a great finish. Don’t forget some nicely chilled white wine.
I tried this on “Mr. I like steaks and chops,” and it was well received! I hope to toss in a few “just soup for dinner” nights and maybe some main dish salads. Now, I just have to find a way to sneak in some eggplant!