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Finally, just in time for official Spring, we have a new green coming in from Gortnanain this week. Not one, in fact, but two. First out of the blocks is cime di rapa, closely followed by sprouting broccoli a few days later. To some extent, these two are interchangeable in recipes, and that is definitely the case in the one below. I think of this as a plate of greens with some farrotto on the side, but you can easily vary the quantities to flip it around the other way.
The shared characteristic, besides colour, is the sheer sense of vibrancy and concentrated lifeforce that early Spring greens bring to the table. Cime di rapa may lean more to the bitter end of the flavour scale – in a good way – but both serve as great foils for rich food, like pasta, risotto, mash, gratins and so on. And they both love a touch of chilli and citrus.
Farrotto is essentially a risotto made from farro, an ancient wheat variety related to spelt. (I have to admit as this point that I can never decide how many r’s are in those words, so it may very well be ‘farotto and faro’). Either way, it makes a great winter dish, being denser than risotto, with a nutty flavour and chewy texture. Definitely a few notches up from the barley risotto that was fashionable a few years back. Bear in mind when buying farro, however, that it’s not just another word for spelt and you’re not making stew. Take a good look at the grains – to make a good farrotto with some of that creamy texture you love in risotto, the grains should be well polished so that their starch leaks into the dish as they cook.
I like this with a strong hard sheep’s cheese, such as Cratloe Hills from Co. Clare, but it works fine too with goat or cow’s milk cheeses.
leaves from 3 sprigs rosemary
zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons, in large strips
200g butter, softened
1.5 litres vegetable stock
250g shallots, thinly sliced
400g parsnips, woody cores removed, in large dice
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 garlic cloves, sliced
100ml white wine
80g hard cheese, finely grated
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 large handfuls sprouting broccoli
1 or 2 fresh red chillies, thinly sliced
Put the rosemary and citrus zest in a small pan with two tablespoons of the butter. Heat gently until the butter begins to sizzle, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes in a warm place. Strain through a sieve and discard the solids. Stir the flavoured butter into the rest of the butter. Keep warm or soften again just before serving.
Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan then turn down the heat and keep at a low simmer.
In a wide, heavy pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and cook the shallots and parsnip for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Add the thyme, honey and vinegar, cover with parchment, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes more. The parsnips should caramelise a little but remain firm.
Add the farro and garlic, cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the thyme sprigs, add the white wine, bring to a boil and simmer until the wine has been absorbed.
Pour in a ladle or two of hot stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has been absorbed. Carry on adding stock in this way until the grains are soft and chewy, 40–50 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season well with salt and pepper.
When the farrotto is almost done, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a wide heavy pan over medium heat. Add the red onion and sprouting broccoli, and saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring and occasionally adding a splash of water to keep the vegetables moist. Add the chillies, cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the broccoli is tender but still firm.
Serve the broccoli alongside a mound of farrotto in shallow bowls, and spoon some of the citrus-rosemary butter over and around each portion.