Quick-cooking farro, with its nutty flavor and plump, chewy texture, is the darling of the grain bowl, the star of countless salads and the foundation of many traditional Italian soups.
It’s also pretty wonderful mixed with mushrooms and cheese, and baked into a golden-topped gratin.
Other than homey rice bakes, there aren’t a lot of grain gratin recipes, possibly because grains are already filling enough, needing no extra heft from the addition of dairy and eggs.
But in the depths of winter, when rib-sticking dishes are at their most appealing, a farro and mushroom gratin can be exactly right. And this one works on its own, served as a meatless main course (maybe rounded out with a crisp green salad), or as a rich side dish alongside chicken or fish.
The most efficient way to make this recipe is to work through the steps concurrently. While the farro simmers away in one pot, you can brown the mushrooms in a skillet. Just be sure to get them deeply bronzed so they condense and caramelize.
After that, the shallots need only a brief stint in that same skillet, just enough so they’re tender and sweet.
I added mascarpone to give this gratin an especially creamy core, but feel free to substitute crème fraîche. The mascarpone is plusher and denser, but the pronounced tanginess of crème fraîche can be a nice contrast to the earthiness of the farro and mushrooms.
One thing to keep in mind is that farro can differ wildly among brands. Most of what you’ll find in the United States is pearled, or semi-pearled, meaning that some or all of the bran has been removed so it’s quicker to cook. But you can also use whole-grain farro. It will take longer to soften (about an hour or so), but it’s a lot more nutritious, and chewier, too, in a good way. Wheat berries and barley will also make fine substitutes. And if you’re looking for something gluten-free, try wild rice or brown rice. Gratins like this one are easy to adapt.
On that note, you can also change up the vegetables. Leftover roasted cauliflower, winter squash or brussels sprouts will all work nicely, or some garlicky sautéed kale, and they make this warming dinner even easier to prepare — though no less satisfying to eat.
Recipe: Farro and Mushroom Gratin
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