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Farro with Spring Vegetables

Farro, an ancient strain of wheat popular in Italian kitchens, holds its shape beautifully as it cooks, making it ideal for salads, side dishes and soups. Here, it is tossed together with peas, leeks and asparagus in a colorful and healthy dish that is perfect alongside grilled poultry or meat. For a vegetarian main course, use vegetable stock and omit the pancetta.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 oz. pancetta, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups farro, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch asparagus, about 1 lb.
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 leeks, white and light green portions, rinsed well and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen English peas
  • Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3-oz. piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

In a large, heavy fry pan over medium heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onion, celery and pancetta and sauté until the onion is softened and the pancetta has rendered most of its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and stir to coat with the oil. Cook, stirring, until the farro is lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the stock and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the pan bottom.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a slow cooker. Stir in the remaining 3 cups stock, the 1/4 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper. Cover and cook on low according to the manufacturer’s instructions until the farro is tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, trim the tough stem ends from the asparagus and cut the spears into 2-inch lengths. Bring a saucepan three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus pieces, reserving the tips, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the asparagus tips and cook until all the pieces are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes more. Drain the asparagus and rinse under cold running water until cool. Spread the pieces out on a kitchen towel to dry.

About 5 minutes before the farro is ready, in a large, heavy fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté for 1 minute. Add the peas and sauté for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and sauté until all the vegetables are just tender and heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

Stir the vegetables into the farro and transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Garnish with the lemon zest and parsley. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The New Slow Cooker, by Brigit Binns (Weldon Owen, 2010).