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Madrone Farrotto, or Farro ‘Risotto’

This is just about as earthy a dish as I’ve ever made. It is all about deep, mellow flavors that are at once both rustic and warming. Not something for a hot summer’s day.

An Italian farrotto is the grain farro, a primitive kind of wheat related to spelt, cooked in the style of a risotto — lots of stirring, lots of cooking liquid, so the grains give off their starch and make their own “cream” sauce.

The cooking liquid in this case is a tea made from steeping the bark of the madrone tree in water. Madrone trees are native to the West Coast, and are common in the Coastal Range Mountains. I realize this is an esoteric ingredient, so use beef or venison stock if you are nowhere near a madrone tree.

If you are near madrone trees, pick the bark off in high summer, when it peels into cinnamon-like curls, and store it in a dry place. Madrone’s flavor is part cinnamon, part mushroom, part woodsmoke, part something I have trouble defining.

Remember farro is very filling, so you need less than you would if the dish were made with rice. Can’t find farro? Just use risotto rice. You can buy morels online from Earthy Delights.

Serves 4

  • 1/2 ounce dried morel mushrooms (about a handful)
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat or butter
  • 1 1/2 cups farro, or 2 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups madrone tea (see below)
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  1. To make the madrone tea, bring the 5 cups of water (use a bit more than five cups to account for evaporation, loss, etc.) to a boil, add 10 madrone bark curls and cover. Turn off the heat and let steep at least 4 hours, but overnight is better.
  2. To make the farrotto, heat the duck fat or butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Crumble the dried morels into the pot, then pour in the farro. Stir well to combine.
  5. Let this cook for a minute or two, then turn the heat up to high.
  6. Add 2 cups madrone tea and stir to combine. Add about a teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a simmer, turn the heat back down to medium and stir often (every minute or two), until the liquid has almost evaporated.
  7. Add another cup of madrone tea and repeat Step 6. Keep adding the madrone tea until the farro is tender. I like it a little al dente.
  8. When the farro is cooked, test it again for salt and add if needed.
  9. Turn the heat to low and add the cream and parsley. Stir to combine and serve at once.

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