Did you know that you can make a perfect chewy risotto without all the stirring? This revelation has officially rocked my world over the past month. I’ve been working on a whole grain risotto recipe, and after hours, and hours, and hours of stirring, walking away from this recipe altogether, a random moment of shazam, and a couple of more tests, I’m coming at you with maybe my favorite risotto ever: Baked Farrotto with Basil-Walnut Pesto.
Risotto is one of my very favorite foods, and until recently I thought it was something I was just going to have to save for special occasions. I could not get it to work well with anything but (processed) white Arborio rice. I finally decided to play around with brown rice, barley, and farro and see if I could come up with something I loved that didn’t take an hour of stirring. Friends, this baked farrotto with basil-walnut pesto has officially won my heart!
Farro brings whole grain goodness to the table
One of my favorite aspects of the Mediterranean diet is the focus on whole grains. I actually prefer whole grains to processed grains most of the time, and it’s been a real treat for me to discover new grains and new ways to cook them. Farro in particular has become a staple in my kitchen over the past year. I’ve come to appreciate basically everything about it: its nutty flavor, chewy texture, and versatility.
Farro, which is also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain that originated in Mesopotamia. It is packed with nutritious goodness, including fiber, protein, and a range of vitamins and minerals. A single quarter cup of cooked semi-pearled farro contains:
- 6 grams of protein (12% of DV)
- 5 grams of fiber (20 % of DV)
- 60 milligrams of magnesium (20% of DV)
- 2.25 milligrams of zinc (15% of DV)
- 4 milligrams of vitamin B3 (niacin) (20% of DV)
And that’s in just a quarter cup! Not to mention the fact that studies show that farro is much higher in antioxidants than just about any other wheat grain. Farro also weathers heat waves better than commercial wheat, so it’s also likely to be an important crop in the future as global temperatures continue to rise.
Frequently Asked Questions About Farro
No, farro is a type of wheat, so although it has much less gluten than commercial wheat, it is not gluten-free. If you eat a gluten-free diet, it is possible to make this recipe with brown rice if you adjust your cooking time. See the recipe notes for details.
Look for semi-pearled farro, which has had some of the hull removed, but still appears brown. Pearled farro is much lighter in color, and has had almost all of the hull–and hence almost all of the nutrition–removed. Most of the farro I’ve seen in U.S. stores is semi-pearled.
I typically buy semi-pearled farro from Bob’s Red Mill, mostly because it is the most reasonably priced farro at my grocery store. Farro is often available in bulk from health food stores, usually at a much better price per ounce. Whole grains spoil faster than processed grains however, so ask when the farro in the bin was last replenished, and make sure it’s not giving off a rancid smell.
As I mentioned above, whole grains spoil relatively quickly. I tend to use mine up, so I store it in a glass jar in my pantry most of the time, but I move it to a Tupperware in the freezer for the summer months since we don’t have A/C. Anything that won’t get used up within 2-3 months should be stored in the freezer.
Switch up Your Baked Farrotto with Basil-Walnut Pesto
Farrotto is endlessly versatile once you’ve got the technique down. Here are some delicious variations you can try:
- Add a different pesto for flavoring, such as my macadamia nut pesto (which would make this a great side for fish and shellfish).
- Stir in ⅓ cup ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon thyme in place of the pesto for a delicious summer-y side dish.
- Fold in any cooked seasonal vegetable you have on hand to finish off your farrotto.
- Add cooked chicken, sausage, or shrimp for a complete meal.
Prep Ahead and Storage Information
I always cook my risottos mis en place style, where all of the ingredients are prepped and measured before cooking. In this case, the oven time is the perfect opportunity to make the pesto and prep the asparagus.
Basil-walnut pesto can be made up to 3 days in advance, and everything else can be prepped a day in advance, including blanching the asparagus. It’s a great way to do it if there’s a lot going on in the kitchen.
Farrotto is better fresh, but it reheats pretty well in the microwave, too. I heat it on 60% power in 90 second increments, stirring in between.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
I Love Hearing From You!
Drop me a question, a comment, or a rating and let me know what you think of this Baked Farrotto with Basil Walnut Pesto recipe. You’ll make my day! You can also take a picture and tag me @parsleyandparm on Instagram.
Baked Farrotto with Basil-Walnut Pesto
- Heavy oven-safe 3-4 quart saucepan with a lid or a small Dutch oven
For the farrotto:
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup shallots diced
- 1 ½ cups semi-pearled farro avoid pearled or perlato farro, which is white
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ pound asparagus cut into 2-3 inch pieces
- ½ cup sundried tomatoes rehydrate in warm water if dry-packed, drain well if packed in oil
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated or shredded
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or 2 tablespoons verjus
- Fine sea salt and pepper to taste to adjust seasoning at the end of cooking
For the basil-walnut pesto:
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup fresh parsley
- 2 cloves garlic about 1 teaspoon
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated is fine
- ¼ cup walnuts whole or pieces
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy 5 or 6 quart saucepan (with a lid) over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the farro, and stir, coating the farro with the oil, until heated through and toasty, about 4 minutes.
- Carefully pour in the white wine and stir into the rice while it cooks off. Add 3 cups of the broth and the salt. Stir well, cover the pan, and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
- While the risotto is in the oven, prepare the asparagus. Place in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover with a microwave-safe lid and cook on high for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking, and set aside.
- Prepare the basil-walnut pesto by placing all of the ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Pulse for 20 seconds. Add the olive oil and blend for 20-30 seconds more, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. If the pesto seems dry, add a little more olive oil.
- At the 30 minute mark, take the farro out of the oven and taste for doneness. It should be cooked all the way through, but will still be a bit chewy (this is the basic texture of cooked farro). If it's not done, return to the oven in five minute increments, testing for doneness each time.
- Note: Be very careful handling the pan when you take it out of the oven! I wrap a towel or a hot pad around the handle while I finish this dish.When the farro is done, add half of the remaining broth and stir vigorously for 1 minute. If the risotto seems dry, add the remaining half and stir for another minute. If you need more moisture, it's perfectly fine to add more broth or even water, though I've never needed to.
- Stir in the parmesan cheese, the pesto, and the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning before folding in the sundried tomatoes and asparagus. Garnish with a few chopped walnuts and basil.