The original source for this recipe, 101 Cookbooks (by Heidi Swanson, of “Super Natural Every Day” fame), refers to it as “risotto,” most likely for want of a better description. The only thing it has in common with risotto is being cooked by the absorption method. It’s not at all creamy—in fact, its non-creaminess is a key part of its appeal in the first place. The farro absorbs all of the salty, citrusy, zesty flavors while still maintaining a pleasant chewiness. (I will refrain here from saying “toothsome.” I’ve used it before when I was completely for lack of any better word and it was early in the morning and I was tired, but an Australian colleague of mine, being a native of the Commonwealth—whose residents don’t see fit as we do to bastardize the King’s English—has a habit of repeatedly pointing out to people that it does NOT mean chewy, and because she is right, I will help her out.)
Anyhow, this recipe is easily adaptable with different cheeses, tomato products, and even grains. In fact, I once used barley. The textural component I have come to love just wasn’t there, but it still worked in a pinch.
As below it makes 3 fairly large servings; 4 or even 6 if it’s served as a side dish. (And it would make a great side dish.)
• 1 1/2 cups farro (also known as emmer wheat): 88 cents
• Grated zest from 1 lemon (yikes! lemons are expensive this week): 69 cents
• 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan (1/3 of a $2.50 triangle): 83 cents
• 1 cup good tomato sauce: 75 cents
• 1 onion, chopped: 25 cents
• 4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth): 24 cents
• 1 T canola oil: 3 cents
• Salt, to taste: 1 cent
• 1 T fresh oregano, chopped (garden): $0*
TOTAL: $3.68/3 = $1.23/serving
*DO NOT substitute dried oregano; it is in no way the same. It’s worth the effort to find fresh, but if you’re unable to do so, substitute fresh parsley.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
You can bake this in an oven-safe lidded pot or Dutch oven, but if you don’t have one, grease an 8×8 baking dish with olive oil and sprinkle the lemon zest evenly over the bottom. In a pot (the pot you’ll be baking in, if it’s oven-safe and has a lid), heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes, then add the farro, stirring well to coat with the oil and onions.
Add the tomato sauce and broth and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese. Add salt to taste. If you’re baking in a separate dish, pour it in. If not, stir the lemon zest into the pot. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. If you’re using the pot, cover it; if you’re using the dish, cover tightly with foil and poke a few holes in the top to vent. Bake for 35 minutes; remove the lid or foil for the last 1o minutes to crisp up the top. Serve with the oregano sprinkled over the top.