Spelt, or farro in Italian, is a cereal widely employed in Tuscan cooking. In the summer it is boiled until tender, then tossed together with ruby red tomatoes, fragrant basil leaves and savoury Parmesan cheese shavings to form beautiful, fresh salads; in the winter, it bulks up thick, warming borlotti bean soups (minestra di farro e fagioli), which are served drizzled with peppery extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of black pepper. For our evening meal a couple of days ago, I decided to employ spelt for another comforting seasonal dish, i.e. risotto. As its name reveals, this dish is of course always made with rice but spelt grains are somewhat similar to it and represent a tasty, even healthier, alternative. The cooking process I adopted for making the spelt version is also different from the one used for traditional risotto, but the end result is very close. Meaty oyster mushrooms and wilted spinach leaves, together with a dash of cream and some Parmesan, are the ingredients I chose to infuse my spelt risotto with flavour.
INGREDIENTS (for two people as a main course, four as a starter)
- 150 gr of spelt (rinsed under cold water)
- 200 gr of fresh oyster mushrooms
- 100 gr of frozen spinach leaves
- A splash of double cream
- A handful of freshly grated parmesan
- Half a stock cube (I used chicken stock but you can use vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian dish)
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- The leaves from two sprigs of fresh tarragon, roughly chopped (remove the stalks)
- Salt and pepper
Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan; when nice and hot, add the oyster mushrooms broken into large chunks, the clove of garlic and the tarragon leaves. Keep the heat high to caramelise the mushrooms; it should only take three-four minutes. Season them with salt and pepper, transfer them to a bowl and again, reserve them for later.
In the same frying pan, this time at low heat, gently fry the leeks in a little olive oil until translucent and soft; if they absorb the oil too quickly, add a little hot water to facilitate the cooking process without using too much fat. Once they are ready, stir in the frozen spinach leaves and let any water they may release bubble away. When all the excess water in the frying pan has evaporated, season the vegetables to taste, stir in the cooked spelt, turn the heat on to medium and let it warm through.
Next, add the mushrooms, again letting them warm up for a couple of minutes, and finish it off with a touch of cream and the grated Parmesan to give it a creamy texture. Serve immediately with a nice glass of crisp, dry white wine.