You may be familiar with risotto, but have you tried farrotto? Farro is a form of wheat, often used in Mediterranean salads and in place of rice, as in this dish. Farrotto doesn’t require... the frequent stirring of a traditional risotto but brings with it a wonderfully nutty flavor that pairs well with savory, meaty mushrooms. Aside from soaking the farro, it doesn’t take that long to make, since the mushrooms can be cooked while the farro is simmering.
Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms for 30 minutes while you prep the vegetables. Drain the mushrooms and reserve the soaking water. Strain the soak water through a fine sieve (see Chef Tips). Set aside. Take the soaked mushrooms, discard the woody stems, and roughly chop. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over a medium high flame. When it shimmers, add the onion, celery, and carrot. Sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the drained farro. Cook until the juices in the pan are absorbed. Add the lemon-water mixture and mushroom soaking water, and cook until the farro is "al dente" — tender but still a little chewy — and the water has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. If the farro is dry but still underdone, add the additional water or stock, ¼ cup at a time.
Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, and thyme. Saute until the shallots start to color, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped dried mushrooms, cook 1-2 minutes, then add the sliced fresh mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and cook until they wilt, about 5-8 minutes. Cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let the mushrooms steam for 5-10 minutes or until the farro is cooked.
Stir in the sauteed mushroom-mixture and all its juices into the cooked farro. Stir the grated cheese, if using. Taste for salt. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
For a vegan or dairy free version, simply leave out the cheese.
Soaking farro overnight helps it to cook faster and with less liquid. If skipping this step, just add another 10-15 minutes to the cook time in step 3.
If farro is not available, use short-grain brown rice. In step 3, add 1 1/4 cups stock instead of 1 cup. Check for doneness at 30 minutes as it may need up to 10 minutes more to get al dente, especially if not soaking prior to cooking.
The reserved mushroom soaking water makes a flavorful broth, but because of the sand and grit that gets caught in the gills of the mushrooms, it needs to be strained before use. If a fine sieve is not available, use a sheet of paper towel and carefully pour the soaking water through it. Squeeze out any the liquid caught in the towel back into the rest.