Asparagus, lemon and feta ‘spelt-otto’

Using spelt instead of rice makes this light(er) work of this Italian classic


Farro perlato, aka pearled spelt, is a lighter and healthier alternative to rice. It also needs less attention during cooking as it doesn't absorb liquid as rapidly as rice does. You can use barley instead but that may require slightly longer cooking times. This recipe is ‘in brodo’ which means it’s served with a delicious lemony broth, flavoured with feta and parmesan. For a drier more risotto-like version, reduce the amount of stock used, or use risotto rice instead.

Serves 4

Prep: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, finely sliced

400g asparagus, hard stem removed

300g pearled spelt

A splash of white wine (about 50ml)

1.2 - 1.5 litres water

½ tsp rock salt

1 tbsp vegetable bouillon

50g feta, crumbled

30g butter

½ lemon, grated zest and juice

4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  • Heat the olive oil in a wide shallow saucepan, add the sliced onion, a pinch of salt and pepper and cook gently for 5-7 minutes over low heat.
  • Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil, add ½ tsp rock salt and the trimmed asparagus. Boil, uncovered, for two minutes, and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Turn the water down to a simmer and add a tablespoon of vegetable bouillon. Leave simmering over a low heat throughout the cooking of the speltotto.
  • Cut off four asparagus tips, half lengthways, and set aside.
  • Slice the remaining asparagus into small rounds – about ½ cm each. Add to the sweating onions and sauté over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove about a third of the asparagus and onion mixture and set aside for the end.
  • Add the spelt and stir for about a minute. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Now start adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring and adding the stock every time the spelt has partially absorbed the liquid.
  • The cooking time for the speltotto is approximately 20-25 minutes. The spelt should be tender but still firm to the bite. For this version ‘in brodo’ the spelt needs to be still covered with stock when the heat is turned off.
  • Once the heat is off, add the butter, parmesan, lemon zest and juice and two thirds of the feta. Stir well, cover, and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.
  • Serve each portion with 2-3 tbsp of the lemony broth, and top with a sprinkle of feta, a grind of black pepper and the asparagus tips/chopped asparagus that you set aside earlier.

Instagram: silvia_nacamulli

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