Food tastes best when it's made with love. And this past weekend was the perfect example. I had the opportunity to get together with my favorite gaggle of girlfriends (and guy) for a potluck-style dinner. And get this. The hosts requested that everyone bring a dish from the blog. Our blog! Anguel and I were at first super thrilled when we saw the FB message pop up...and then we became slightly (okay, very) nervous. We asked each other about a hundred questions, because for some reason a whole dinner party focused on our food seemed pretty darn intimidating. Will they miss the meat? What if someone picks a recipe with arrowroot flour – will they even know what that is?! What dish should we make? We were overthinking it, clearly. Thankfully, as soon as we walked through the door, all our nervousness disappeared. And let's not forget those hefty glasses of spiked Red Rooibos Tea "Sangria", because they definitely didn't hurt.
In the end it was an awesome evening, filled with plenty of belly laughs and too many wine-stained teeth to count. And that night, I realized that as satisfying as it is to hit "post" on a new recipe each week, nothing beats being in a room with a bunch of smiling faces eating food from the blog. There were stories about slightly intoxicated zucchini fritter prep, creamy white bean pesto being eaten like a bowl of soup, and freshly whipped coconut cream taste tests ("OMG, I can't believe that's coconut"). As much as I try to document my feelings about a particular recipe each week, there are no words to describe what I felt sitting down at that table. Staring at the overflowing plates of food prepared by my friends: lettuce wraps, zucchini fritters, quiche, rainbow slaw, white bean pesto pasta, chocolate coconut cream pie…it was all there… and then it was gone (yay!). Most of all, it was made with love. So much love.
When I think about meals that exude love, creamy pasta dishes are probably at the top of the list. Feeling inspired by my amazing friends, I decided to test a creamy risotto dish. After a few tests I can confirm...nothing says love like a slow cooked pot of carbs. It only gets better when you get to enjoy it with your favorite man, curled up on the couch wearing your coziest (i.e. ugliest) sweatpants. And thankfully, you know you’ve met your match when he’s sitting right beside you...wearing even uglier sweatpants. Two peas in a pod, you could say.
To mix things up, I opted for nutty farro instead of Arborio rice. Farro is one of my favorite whole grains. It remains fairly al dente, so once cooked, it'll retain its toothy bite. There are a few different types of farro to choose from: whole, semi-pearled and pearled. I highly recommend whole farro for this recipe, but if you can't find that (or in a pinch for time), semi-pearled is the next best option. Whole farro differs from Arborio rice in that it still has its bran intact (yay, fiber). The means it'll take longer to cook; but the upside is that farro requires a lot less stirring because it doesn't release starch in the same way as rice. I highly suggest soaking the farro overnight, because it speeds up the cooking process. Texturally, the farro version is less soft than the Arborio, but both are equally satisfying in their own right. If you're interested in exploring other farro recipes, check here and here.
The magic 'cream' component of this dish actually isn’t cream at all - it comes from sunflower seeds! After an overnight soak and a quick pulse in the blender, sunflower seeds and water transform into a silky white ‘cream’. The taste on its own is a little too sunflower seed-y (duh), but once swirled and cooked into a savory mixture of farro and vegetable stock – it really does add a wonderful savory creaminess to the whole dish. And it's so simple. Everyone I've served this to so far has been flabbergasted that it’s dairy-free!
For added freshness, I like to add heaps of green veggies like chopped spinach and peas. You can feel free to substitute with whatever produce is in season. Garnish with extra veggies and enjoy while it’s still piping hot. Leftovers taste great the next day – simply reheat with a bit of stock (or water) to loosen up the mixture again if needed.
Creamy Farro Risotto with Greens
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ cup semi-pearled farro, rinsed
- 3 cups vegetable broth (extra if neeed)
- ½ cup sunflower seeds (raw, soaked overnight)
- ½ cup water
- 2 cups chopped spinach
- 1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Black pepper (to taste)
- Cook onion, garlic: Heat oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Simmer: Add farro and stir to coat. Pour in vegetable broth. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat (see note 1). Reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Make sunflower seed cream: Meanwhile, rinse and drain sunflower seeds. Add seeds and water to a blender. Blend until completely smooth.
- Combine: Uncover the pan of farro. Pour in the sunflower cream. Stir to mix. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until farro is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. If the mixture looks dry at any point, add a splash or two of extra broth.
- Finish cooking: Stir in peas. Cook on low until peas are tender (about 2 minutes for frozen, a few minutes longer if fresh). Stir in spinach, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper (to taste). Once the spinach has wilted, spoon and serve in shallow bowls.