There gets to be a point in the summer when I start to crave cold weather. I want to be back in the kitchen turning out batches of tender-melty chocolate chip cookies, braising pork shoulders and lamb shanks, and heating the oven to 500°F. for three-cheese pizza. At the first sign of fall, usually when the mornings start to require a light hoodie for seven a.m. coffee on the deck, it feels okay to think about cooking something a little more substantial than my lunchtime addiction of tomato, cucumber, and sriracha-mayo sandwiches and at night, anything off the grill.
Here on the East Coast, sweet corn comes into its own sometime in August. Sure, you can get it before then and it’s okay. But it’s in August and September when the corn is candy sweet and ripping-juicy. I love corn on the cob. LOVE. I mean hey, I’m a Midwesterner after all. Matt and the kids, well, they have more refined East Coast palates. They like they’re corn civilized and nicey-nice, sliced off the cob and delivered to the table in a mess-free package.
When the corn is sweet enough to eat raw, and fresh enough for its juices to run as white as milk, I make corn farrotto. Farro is an ancient grain—while it looks like rice, it’s actually emmer wheat, and has been cultivated for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s toasty, nutty, chew is absolutely lovely paired with sweet corn (sliced off the cob, of course). I like to keep the flavors as pure and clean as possible. So instead of chicken broth or even vegetable broth I make a corn stock from the kernel-shaved cobs and a little salt. With some scallions, a shallot, a nod of Parm, and some basil just because, it satisfies my craving for something fall-like and hearty without completely cutting my summer ties.
Farrotto doesn’t require as much stirring as Arborio or Carnaroli rice, the two varieties most commonly associated with risotto. So don’t think you have to stand over the stove and stir endlessly. Plus, it doesn’t give off lots of starch like risotto rice either, meaning the window of perfection is cracked a little wider. Enjoy that open window while you can—cold days are just around the corner.
Sweet Corn, Scallion, and Basil Farrotto
4 ears sweet corn, husked
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups farro, rinsed
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (more if you like)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Set a box grater inside of a large, wide mixing bowl and grate the ears of corn on the medium-hole side of the grater. Set the corn pulp aside. Place the cobs in a large pot, add 8 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the broth tastes sweet and corny. Remove the cobs from the broth and set aside. Pour the broth into a large liquid measuring cup; you should have about 5 to 6 cups of corn broth. Set aside. (If you have less than 4 cups, squeeze and “milk” the cobs over a bowl to extract more liquid. Or add enough water to equal 5 cups).
Finely chop the white parts of the scallions and set aside. Finely chop the green parts of the scallions (except for the top 1 1/2 inches of the greens—these can be tough) and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white scallions, the shallots, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soft and starting to get sticky (if they start to color, reduce the heat to medium-low), 4 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the farro and cook until smells toasty, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of broth and stir and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat another 4 times until you have added 5 cups of liquid and about 35 minutes have passed. Taste the farro. It should taste like it needs another 5 minutes to cook, meaning it is slightly too al dente (when cooked perfectly, farro should have some chew but not hardness at its core—it won’t become as soft or porridgey as risotto rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli), which is perfect for now. (Don’t be tempted to add salt—Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is quite salty, so taste the farrotto for salt after stirring it in later.)
Mix in the reserved corn pulp and the chopped green scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pulp starts to threaten to stick to the bottom of the pot and the farro tastes less raw at the center, about 5 minutes longer (you can add more corn stock if you think it needs it). Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and the basil. Taste for salt, adding more if needed, and serve hot.