It's not like farro is new; actually it's anything but. More than likely this ancient wheat dates back to long before the time when modern wheat was readily available. I can't even say that it's new to the U.S.—it's been available here for many years now. But for some reason, it's only in the last few months that I've actually "discovered" it.
If you're like me and you knew next to nothing about farro before finding this little piece here, it's an old grain that, as I said, dates back to pre-Roman times probably. The Latin name, if I have my words right, is Triticum dicoccum. It's somehow related to spelt but seemingly isn't spelt despite the fact that many people present it as such. Glenn Roberts, from Anson Mills, who's a master of these things, gave me a long discourse on the subject of the sort that only Glenn can give, sharing more tiny details than even I can keep track of (which, as you might have guessed, means it was a LOT of details). Suffice it to say that the man knows his seed history, traditional grain growing and milling methods, and that, honestly, everything that he grows and grinds—we get grits, polenta, corn meal for mush, and Carolina Gold rice, just to name a few—is incredibly good. The thing to know for now is that farro is clearly related to spelt and another ancient grain that goes by the name of emmer.
Regardless of family tree and genetic tracing work, farro tastes terrifically good. We've been serving farro a lot of late at the Roadhouse, a whole-grain farro piccolo (the hard to find, smallest size) by Glenn at Anson Mills. It's fantastic. Definitely smaller in size, and I think a bit nuttier and fuller of flavor. At the Deli we've got a bigger-grained farro medio that comes from the Gragnano region of Italy, courtesy of the folks at Rustichella pasta, who send us pretty much nothing but really good things, and this stuff is no exception. You can buy either to cook at home.
Here are some ways to prepare this really good, really easy to cook, really versatile, and really good for you ingredient.
With Olive Oil, Salt, and Pepper
Farro's not hard to cook—most recipes call for soaking it overnight, in which case the cooking time is really no more than a few minutes. Being more of an in-the-moment cook, I just boil it straight from the bag (okay, I rinse it quickly before it goes into the boiling water) with a bit of salt for about 30 to 40 minutes 'til it's tender. You can go to any degree of doneness you like; I prefer it a bit more on the firm side, so it's got a bit of nice al dente chew left in the middle. When it's done, just drain it and dress it up with really good olive oil, some sea salt, and whatever else you want, and serve it as you would pasta, rice, or beans. If you're going green you can add a bunch of chopped kale or sliced thin collards to the cooking water so that they're done when the farro is finished. If you have a chunk of bacon or a parmesan rind sitting around you can put those in the cooking water too. When the farro's ready, just drain, dress, and go straight to soup bowl and spoon away.
Farro Salad with Mozzarella and Roasted Peppers
One salad technique I came across in my reading was to serve room temperature farro topped with bits of fresh mozzarella and chopped tomato. Given that we're in the middle of winter, I've been using roasted red peppers instead of tomatoes to great effect. Finish it with a lot of good green olive oil (the Pasolivo from California has been high on my list) along with a bit of sea salt, a touch of Maras (Turkish) red pepper, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. This dish is actually good as well with the farro hot and the mozzarella at room temperature—the cheese will get slightly soft when you toss the two but won't be fully melted down.
Roman Farro Soup
I'm very big on farro-based soups—they're easy to do, I can put pretty much anything I've got at home into 'em, and they keep we warm and well-fed. Basically the old Roman recipes seem to be what most of the world might know now as "minestrone," but they're made with farro instead of beans or pasta. Sauté some chopped carrots, celery, tomato, garlic, and onion, along with a good bit pancetta, then simmer the lot of them in chicken (or other) broth (or water) with farro and plenty of olive oil. Chopped greens are always a good addition as well. Add pork or parmesan rind if you have one laying around to buck up the flavor even further. Finish with ground black pepper and chopped fresh parsley. Serve it with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and more olive oil at the table.
You can also prepare farro as you would Italian rice and make it into a farroto. The recipe is really no different from what you'd do to make a risotto. Sauté some onion, celery, and pancetta in olive oil 'til soft. Add the uncooked farro. Sauté a few more minutes, stirring regularly. Then add a ladleful of bubbling hot broth—chicken is good but actually any type of broth would work. Stir the farro; when the broth is almost absorbed, do it again. And again. And again. 'Til the farro is al dente. Should take about 30 minutes or so. Finish it with a bit of added fat—olive oil is great, but bacon fat is a fine way to go too if you have that around. Add some grated cheese. Farrotto, like risotto, can be made with most any additional ingredients: Mushrooms, chicken, and various vegetables are all high on my list. Nuts of most every sort are excellent—for sure those Freddy Guys Oregon organic hazelnuts would be great! Honestly the point is you can do pretty much anything.
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