So last night I finally got around to using the farro that’s been sitting in my pantry for several months. I've been hearing and reading farro fanfare and praise for a few years, but had yet to taste it, so when I spotted it last summer (on a visit to the Whole Foods mothership store in Austin) I snatched up two boxes for future experimentation.
You may be asking yourself “what the heck is farro,” a question that was on my mind for some time. The short answer is that it’s a grain. Beyond that, the definition gets trickier. Simple searches bring mixed results; some claim it’s spelt, others that it’s wheat, but neither is the case. It’s similar to both, but farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) is a distinct plant and grain all its own, called emmer.
Poured straight from the package, farro looks a lot like brown rice, or, as Kevin noted when he wandered into the kitchen, “It looks…biblical.”
His wrinkled nose was a hieroglyph of his disdain; I knew he wasn’t envisioning a side-dish miracle akin to water into wine. More likely, it was Noah and his ark: the grains look like something stowed onboard for 40 days and 40 nights of rough weather, and even rougher meals.
(The words “similar to spelt” didn’t exactly generate waves of excitement, either. I was tempted to goad him further with a mock agenda for the rest of my week: weaving my own clothes and boiling homemade lard soap.)
But there is something to Kevin’s biblical sidebar, because as it turns out, farro is an ancient grain, perhaps one of the oldest cultivated crops of all. From a modern perspective, it has tremendous appeal: the instructions for preparation are straightforward and fast (much like making pasta: boil in salted water until tender), the nutrition is off the charts (rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E, easily digested, and low in gluten), and, if Italian cooking experts Mario Batali and Giada de Laurentis are to be trusted, it is incredibly delicious and versatile.
So mid-afternoon I followed the directions on the box, and half an hour later I had a bowlful of fluffy grains ready to cool for a supper salad. I tasted a spoonful: distinctly nutty in flavor, the flavor reminded me of toasted oats or walnuts. It is also very light, both in flavor and texture, with a pleasant chewiness: definitely French bistro, not hippy commune cafeteria.
I tossed it with a few favorite Mediterranean flavors—lemon, basil, pine nuts, and tomatoes, and served it up alongside the steaks Kevin grilled. I had already gobbled half a dozen forkfuls in the making of the salad and knew I was smitten, but I was anxious for Kevin’s appraisal. He tucked in, and began a tentative chew. Then he looked up, marveling. Perhaps not a miracle, but, without doubt, a revelation.
Farro & Cherry Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing
1 and 1/4 cups farro
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely sliced basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cups pre-washed baby arugula
2 ounces goat cheese (or you could use feta), crumbled
In a medium saucepan, combine 3 and 1/2 cups of water with the farro. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the farro is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Add 1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt and simmer until the farro is tender, about 10 minutes longer. Drain well. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
To make dressing, place all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well.
Place pine nuts, olives, tomatoes and arugula in a large bowl with the farro. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Season generously with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Top with goat cheese. Makes 6 servings.
Some online sources for farro:
http://www.amazon.com/ (in their gourmet food section)