We're cooking in some very familiar territory during Wednesday night's broadcast of Great Taste live from Hy-Vee. Comfort food and Italian cuisine always are at the top of my list of food favorites, so the menu includes two different dishes, both using the same cooking technique. The specific geographical home for these specialties is Northern and a bit of Central Italy, where classic risotto (cooked rice), and farrotto (cooked farro) dishes are found.
Risotti are made primarily with the arborio, vialone nano, or carnaroli varieties of rice. Farrotti feature the small, brown, unhybridized grain, sometimes known as emmer, which is a progenitor of the modern wheat family.
The cooking techniques range from throwing the ingredients in a pot with broth, covering the mixture and allowing it to cook for 25-30 minutes, then adding the finishing touches to an elaborate and soothing process involving four major steps-soffrito, tostatura, brodo, and mantecatura, resulting in a wavy (all'onda) bowl of unctuousness. We're proponents of the thoughtful, conscious step-by-step process, but there is no right method, only what is transmitted from your town's kitchen culture or what was learned by watching your mother.
Before I ever attempted to cook rice and farro, I had numerous intimate encounters with these ingredients that are cooked into my memory. My first experience took place at Da Umberto on West 17th in New York City when I was enchanted by the startling shade of green given off by a spring pea risotto. Next, three distinctly different risotti in Italy captivated me. I lingered over the first one at an agriturismo in the mountains about an hour north of Torino. Where most risotti shine with the final addition of parmigiano reggiano, this one starred fontina val d'aosta, a creamy, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese from the neighboring region.
At a friend's home in Umbria, we were treated to her rendition of the classic-risotto milanese. The dish's gorgeous color and distinct taste is a result of its star ingredient-saffron. And in Emilia-Romagna another friend made us risotto featuring porcini mushrooms picked by her father in the Dolomites. Her finishing touch was not only parmigiano reggiano made at a dairy nearby, but a few drops of the family's aceto balsamic traditionale.
Three more restaurants in the States furthered my risotto/farrotto education. At Picholine, Chef Terance Brennan made a black truffle risotto that was served from its single-serving copper cooking pot. In Philadelphia, Marc Vetri crafted a seemingly simple, but amazing risotto starring the rice, its vegetable cooking broth, parmigiano, and parsley. Finally, TriBeCa's Pepolino opened my palate to the wonder of farrotto. On that icy winter evening, almost 13 years ago, the farrotto del di, farrotto of the day, was Tuscan farro with tomato and parmigiano.
We'll do our best to make these dishes proud. Our own amazing local standout cook, Kathy DuBois, who made a roasted chicken last week that was outrageous (had to get that in so she would make it again and invite me), is making the broth; absolutely critical to how flavorful the final dish turns out. With her broth as our base, we'll greet the cool weather with some butternut squash and fresh sage risotto, and a shallot, tomato, carrot, celery, and parsley farrotto.
On a more serious note, delicious food and food traditions must be protected. Anne Dietrich will join us to discuss her work organizing the food movement into a cohesive political force. Anne is the founding director of The Truth in Labeling Coalition, a 501(c)(4) non-profit political advocacy organization formed in March 2008 to advance her work as executive director of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Food. This advocacy has led her to Capitol Hill to communicate with more than 100 Members of Congress.
Two final additional gems-it's Halloween so Hy-Vee's Catering Manager, Dennis Lopp will whip up an organic version of the classic caramel apple, and our star musician, Tom Allen, will not only bring his guitar, but celebrate his birthday with us.
Come watch the show, taste, and let us know how you like the results. For more information than you might care to know about risotto/farrotto, check out the following links: