Cheesy Baked Farro For The Snowquester

Last night, Ken eagerly performed all his usual snow rituals:  flushing ice down the toilet, wearing his pajamas inside out.  Yet, by bedtime, there was still no snow nor any emails from the school system.

However, Kurt and I were awakened by Ken’s entering our room before the alarm rang, announcing that there was “snow” and that school was cancelled.  He even took a picture with my iPhone of the TV announcement and our backyard as incontrovertible proof.  Within a few minutes he yelled up to us from the foyer to let us know that he was “suited up and going to check it out.”  Lovely.  We hadn’t even had our first cup of coffee!

The good thing about snow days is that Ken is outside…a lot.  Not hunkered over his iPad or PS3.  So I like snow for Ken and today was even better because he went sledding with his buddy Ray, whose mom Penny is one of my mommy dinner members.  That left the house quiet enough for Kurt to work!

As the snowfall kicked into high gear, I decided to do what I like to do most– bake.  I pumped out two loaves of sandwich bread, a pan of s’mores bars and for dinner, a very hearty Giada dish– baked farro.  This casserole is basically a spinoff of macaroni and cheese; however, the noodles have been replaced with farro– a grain that hearkens to Roman antiquity.  Farro resembles barley in texture when cooked– slightly nutty and chewy.

The sauce is a basic bechamel:  flour/butter roux with milk.  The cheese in the bechamel is mostly Parmesan; Giada adds gruyere and fontina to the parmesan, but I tend to substitute other cheeses, depending on what I have in my fridge.  Tonight I had fontina, cheddar and smoked mozzarella; I used mostly fontina and a little smoked mozzarella.

You can find the original recipe here; I don’t follow her recipe exactly, so my ingredients and my pictures will differ.  I omit the bread crumb topping as Ken (the one who “can live on baguette alone”), hates bread crumbs.  (Kurt just shakes his head).  Unfortunately, the snowquester buried my thyme, so I left that out, too.  I figured the smoked mozzarella had enough flavor to compensate!

Cheesy Baked Farro (adapted from Giada)

  • 2 c farro, rinsed and drained
  • 6 cups chicken broth/stock
  • 1/2 stick (4 TB) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c AP flour
  • 2 c milk, warmed
  • 2 1/2 c grated Parmesan
  • 1 c grated fontina
  • 1/2 c grated smoked mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste
Lots of cheese!

Lots of cheese!

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a large casserole with cooking spray and set aside.  Rinse and drain farro.

As with dried beans, check for bits of grit, stone, etc.

As with dried beans, check for bits of grit, stone, etc.

Heat the chicken broth in a large pot over medium-high heat.  When the broth is boiling, add the farro and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer.  Cook the farro uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The chicken broth will be almost fully absorbed by the farro!

The chicken broth will be almost fully absorbed by the farro!

While the farro cooks, grate the three cheeses and toss together.  Remove 1/2 cup to use later for the topping.

This is NOT a heart-healthy dish!

This is NOT a heart-healthy dish!

Heat the milk (I microwave mine til warm and leave it in the oven til I need it).  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter completely over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon.

Mix until flour is blended completely with the butter

Mix until flour is blended completely with the butter

Once you have a smooth paste, let it bubble for a minute or two,

You're cooking the flour to get rid of the "pasty" raw flour taste!

You’re cooking the flour to get rid of the “pasty” raw flour taste!

then switch from a wooden spoon to a whisk and slowly add the warm milk while continuously whisking.  (Sorry no pic as I don’t have three hands).  Note that when the milk first hits the pan and meets the flour/butter, it will clump (and if you’ve never this, you’ll freak out), but keep whisking and adding the milk.  It will smooth out nicely.

From lumpy to smooth!

From lumpy to smooth!

Let the sauce cook at a simmer (do not boil) until thick and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Keep the bechamel at a slow simmer

Keep the bechamel at a slow simmer

Turn off the heat (or turn to very low if your cheese is really cold), and begin adding cheese by the handful.

Remember, a little at a time

Remember, a little at a time

Whisk until the cheese is thoroughly blended into the sauce before adding the next handful of cheese.  Once all the cheese has been added, set pan aside.  By this time the farro should be ready.  Taste a few kernels; they should be chewy (and quite flavorful from the chicken stock).

Sometimes all the broth boils away

Sometimes all the broth boils away

Drain into a colander, then return the drained farro to the empty pot.

If you like barley, you will LOVE farro!

If you like barley, you will LOVE farro!

Pour the cheese sauce over the farro, using a rubber spatula to get all of that lovely sauce!

See how smooth and rich the sauce has become?

See how smooth and rich the sauce has become?

Mix well then pour into the oiled casserole.

Just like mac 'n' cheese

Just like mac ‘n’ cheese

Top with the reserved cheese.

For a brown, crusty topping!

For a crunchy cheese crust!

Bake for 25 minutes or until top has browned and casserole is bubbling hot.

You can always add bread crumbs drizzled with olive oil for an additional layer of crusty goodness!

You can always add bread crumbs drizzled with olive oil for an additional layer of crusty goodness!

Let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

It's rich, so start with a small serving (I actually had two bowls)!

It’s rich, so start with a small serving (I actually had two bowls)!

Afterthoughts:

I’ve made this dish a couple of times and I definitely think going forward I will use my standard flavorings for bechamel– thyme, bay and grated onion which I let heat with the milk.  I especially miss the flavor of the bay leaf (which I remove once the sauce has thickened).

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