My Goals

  • Rich, nutty-tasting grains with distinct chew

  • Creamy, cohesive consistency

  • Easy method

Most farrottos lack risotto’s velvety body and cohesion. I wanted both: the distinct flavor and chew of farro with the creamy consistency of risotto.

Risotto has been a staple in American restaurants and home kitchens for years, but farrotto has only recently gained a footing stateside. As the name suggests, it’s a twist on the classic Italian rice-based dish, made with farro, an ancient form of wheat that’s been grown in Italy for centuries and that boasts a nutty flavor and a tender chew. Using this whole grain instead of rice yields a more robust dish that still cooks relatively quickly and functions well as a blank slate for any type of flavor addition—from cheese and herbs to meats and vegetables.

There’s just one pitfall to farrotto: bran. Arborio or carnaroli rices have been stripped of their bran layer and thus readily give up their amylopectin, the starch molecule that makes risotto creamy. Farro retains most of its bran (how much depends on whether it’s been “pearled,” or had its bran at least partially rubbed away), which gives it bite and earthy flavor but also traps the starch inside the grain. Hence, most farrottos lack risotto’s velvety body and cohesion. I wanted both: the distinct flavor and chew of farro with the creamy consistency of risotto.

My instinct was to first try pearled farro; since it has less bran, it might cook up creamier. I had a leg up on a basic cooking method, which I’d borrow from our Almost Hands-Free Risotto. The trick in that recipe is to add most of the liquid up front, rather than in several stages, which helps the grains cook evenly so that you need to stir only a couple of times rather than constantly. We also use a lidded Dutch oven, which helps trap and distribute the heat evenly so every grain is tender.

Of the five recipes we initially tested, the one that called for soaking the grains before cracking them produced the most appealing texture. This lengthy preparation was a big drawback, so test cook Steve Dunn decided to focus his experiments on a quicker way to access the grain’s starches.

To start, I softened onion and garlic in butter, added the farro to toast in the fat, and finally added the liquid. But the pearled farro not only lacked the robust flavor of whole farro but also resulted in farrotto that was too thin. I would have to stick with whole farro.

My breakthrough came from an outlier farrotto recipe, which called for “cracking” the farro before cooking by soaking the grains overnight to soften them and then blitzing them in a food processor. This gave the starch an escape route and yielded a silkier dish. The only drawback was that lengthy soak.

Test cook Steve Dunn decided to use the whole grain in order to capitalize on the nutty flavor of the bran. The trick was finding a method that would release the right amount of starches from the farro, building body into the dish and achieving the lush texture of a traditional risotto.

I tried skipping the soak, and I also tried a hot soak to see if I could soften the grains quickly. In both cases the hard grains just danced around the processor bowl without breaking. Switching to a blender created a vortex that drew the unsoaked grains into the blade. Six pulses cracked about half of them so that there was plenty of starch but still enough chew.

A few quick pulses in a blender crack the farro grains, allowing some of their starches to escape and thicken the ­cooking liquid into a creamy, cohesive sauce.

Seasoned with Parmesan, herbs, and lemon juice, my farrotto was hearty and flavorful—and more satisfying than any risotto I’ve eaten. I also created variations with spring vegetables and mushrooms, both of which can stand as one-pot meals.

Keys to Success

  • Rich, nutty-tasting grains with distinct chew

    We use whole, rather than pearled, farro because the minimally processed grains have more robust flavor and resilient bite.
  • Creamy, cohesive consistency

    Blitzing roughly half the grains in a blender “cracks” them so their starch can escape and thicken the cooking liquid.
  • Easy method

    Adding most of the cooking liquid up front and cooking the grains in a lidded Dutch oven helps the grains cook evenly and requires stirring only twice during cooking.