Risotto is one of my favorite foods, in particular, risotto with mushrooms and peas. And lots of Parmesan cheese. But risotto has its pitfalls. First, arborio rice is starchy and not particularly healthy. Second, all of that Parmesan cheese isn’t so waist-friendly either. Finally, and possibly most important, it’s tedious and extremely time-consuming. So I save real risotto for special occasions… dinner parties, birthdays, etc. When I want to make a nice dinner just for me, I go for ‘fake’ risotto… or as I once got laughed at for calling it, ‘farrotto.’ (It was deserved, I realize.) Making risotto with whole grains and minimal cheese just makes me feel better about things!For this dish I generally use farro, which is a wheat grain which retains a nice chewy bite after its been cooked. You could also use barley, which is extremely similar in taste and texture, but check your cooking times/liquid levels. Farro can be expensive, but in DC I’ve gotten it cheaply in the bulk bins at Yes! Organic Market, and I think that Trader Joe’s also has it sometimes. The price at other specialty stores which I won’t name is outrageous, so if you can’t find it easily just go for barley, which you can get almost anywhere.
First, round up your ingredients. Chicken broth, roughly 6 or 7 stems of kale (cut out the center stem and tear into pieces), a yellow onion, squash (hiding in the back, I just used the pre-cut stuff), sage, parmesan, and the farro of course. Grab a bottle of wine (pour a glass if you nearly cut off your thumb chopping the kale, like I did), and olive oil and two garlic cloves, which I forgot to add to the photo.Now to get started. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss your chopped butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and put in the oven to roast for roughly 30 minutes, tossing the squash at least once. When you can slice them easily with a knife they are done. You can always eat a piece to verify. Or two… whatever floats your boat. (You could skip this step and just cook the squash with the farro, but I find that it gets a little bit too soggy, and you’ll need at least 1 cup more broth.)
Chop up an onion into large or small pieces, depending on your preference. Mine were chopped pretty big, but I like onions. Mince your garlic or get out your garlic press. Start heating roughly two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (I used a twelve-inch pan, but you may be able to get away with a ten-inch one). At the same time put a pot of water on to boil, which you will use to blanch the kale. Kale is a very stiff leafy green (with tons of healthy superpowers), and I find it to cook down better if it is blanched before you put it in the ‘farrotto.’
When your oil is hot, add the onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent, then add the garlic. Stir frequently so the onions and garlic don’t burn. As soon as the garlic is heated and fragrant (1 or 2 minutes), pour in 1/4 cup of white wine and stir. Let the wine cook down until it is almost fully evaporated, then add the chicken or vegetable broth.Let the broth heat to a low simmer, then add the farro. You don’t want to boil the farro, so make sure to keep the temperature at or below medium, a simmer. Stir occasionally. If you are using dried sage, like I am, add it once the farro is mixed in so that it will have time to reconstitute slightly during the cooking process. The great thing about fake risotto is that you add all of the liquid at once and let it cook slowly, so you don’t have to stand over it the entire time. When the liquid is nearly 2/3 absorbed and the farro starts to puff up, keep a closer eye on it so it doesn’t burn to the pan. It should take 30-40 minutes to completely absorb the liquid.
When the pot of water boils (hopefully while the farro is simmering, so you don’t have to worry about tending to it), add your kale to the water for 30 seconds to a minute to blanch it, until it is bright green and softened slightly. Drain into a colander. This will soften the kale so that it’s easy to fold into the farro later, but also help it retain its bright green color, which it lost the time I simmered it with the farro for a longer amount of time (I really wanted to simplify the recipe, but it just didn’t work out).
When the liquid is 90% absorbed (don’t wait until the pan is completely dry, because it will scorch), add the blanched kale, the roasted squash, and roughly a quarter cup of parmesan (just enough for flavor). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss until combined. Remove from heat as soon as the parmesan melts and any remaining liquid has been absorbed.
Farro with butternut squash and kale
3 cups (or 1 package) cubed and peeled butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable)
1 cup farro (or barley)
3/4 tablespoon dried sage
6 or 7 stems of kale, stems removed and torn into pieces
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oven to 375. Toss cubed squash with one tablespoon of olive oil , plus salt and pepper to taste. Roast on foil covered baking sheet for roughly 30 minutes, or until easily pierced with knife, tossing/stirring at least once.
2. Put on a pot of water to boil (for blanching kale). At the same time, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. When heated, add the onions and cook until translucent. Then add garlic and cook for one minute.
3. Add white wine to pan, and allow to cook until nearly evaporated. Add broth to pan and allow to heat slightly before adding farro. Bring broth to a simmer (do not boil farro). Add the dried sage, and allow to cook until broth is fully absorbed, roughly 30-40 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, blanch kale in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute, until bright green and tender. Strain into colander, and let it rest until the farro is done cooking.
5. When liquid in the pan is almost entirely absorbed (90%), add the roasted squash, blanched kale, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate all of the ingredients. When the cheese has melted, all ingredients are heated through, and any remaining liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and serve.