Farro creates comforting vegetarian meal

AP
Baked farro will be slightly stewy when it first emerges from the oven, but will thicken as it cools.
AP Baked farro will be slightly stewy when it first emerges from the oven, but will thicken as it cools.

For a cheesy -- and easy -- one-pot vegetarian dinner, we move our grains off the stovetop and into the oven. But first, we give them an almost effortless flavor boost.

Like most grains, farro typically is prepared by simmering it in broth or water until tender but slightly chewy. But it turns out farro does just as well in the oven with a mostly hands-off approach.

In this recipe from our book "Cook What You Have," which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals, we cook farro in the oven with tomatoes and a few dried spices. It's all built in a single pot and requires just 20 minutes active time.

First, we toast the farro in a couple of tablespoons of oil. This easy step amplifies the grain's nutty flavor, which we then balance by sautéing it with kale and garlic to add an earthy, savory note. Baking the farro in a simple broth of canned crushed tomatoes seasoned with oregano and red pepper flakes adds bright acidity and a hint of heat. Mozzarella and Parmesan make up the browned, bubbling topping. It's comforting, substantial and completely vegetarian.

Be sure to bring everything to a vigorous boil before covering and transferring to the oven -- this extra step prevents the grains from clumping. And let the farro cool a bit before serving. It will be slightly stewy when it first emerges from the oven, but will thicken as it cools.

Baked farro with kale, tomatoes

Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes

Servings: Six to eight

1½ cups pearled farro

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 bunch lacinato kale or curly kale, stemmed and chopped into rough 1-inch pieces (8 cups) or 8 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced (4 cups)

4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano or dried thyme or 2 bay leaves

¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

8 ounces mozzarella or Swiss or provolone cheese, shredded (2 cups)

2 ounces Parmesan or Asiago cheese, finely grated (1 cup)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack in the lower-middle position. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, combine the farro and 2 tablespoons oil. Cook, stirring often, until toasted, three to five minutes. Add the kale, garlic and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is bright green and slightly wilted, about two minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, pepper flakes and 3 cups water, then bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes,then remove from the oven and uncover. The mixture will have thickened slightly but still will be soupy. Stir, then sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella and Parmesan. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Return to the oven, uncovered, and bake until browned and bubbling and the farro is very tender, about 20 minutes; the mixture will be slightly stewy but will thicken as it cools. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

photo AP Baked farro will be slightly stewy when it first emerges from the oven, but will thicken as it cools.