Farro – An Ancient Grain.
Nutritionists have been touting whole wheat products for a long time. Whole wheat products are just that: they contain all the good parts, the bran, endosperm, and germ. Farro is one of those wheats, and it has an ancient history. It has been grown for thousands of years in the fertile crescent, and that’s the area of fertile land in the Middle East. Farro is considered a parent of all durum wheat and is sometimes called Emmer wheat which is just the older name for the same grain. It’s been eaten for thousands of years in the Near East and Africa, as well. And in Italy, farro is preferred by some over all other wheats.
Now there’s some confusion about spelt (that’s a grain in Ezekiel Bread) and farro being the same grain. In fact, sometimes farro is called spelt. They are not the same, and, for the most part, I don’t use them interchangeably. Spelt is a younger cousin of farro. They cook up differently, farro stays chewy like barley and spelt can get a bit mushy. Now sometimes you’ll see farro labeled as Emmer, and that’s OK – it’s an older name for the same grain.
FARRO SALAD WITH PEAS AND ASPARAGUS
This is adapted from a recipe I’ve had for years from Bon Appetit. A colleague of mine suggested adding honey to it – the original recipe did not call for honey, so feel free to leave it out if you like. I like the bit of sweetness the honey lends.
1-1/2 cups semi-pearled farro
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1” lengths – use tender part only
6-8 oz snow peas, cut in half
1 carton cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half or several regular tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red or sweet onion or more to taste (I add more)
1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
6-8 ozs. Feta cheese, crumbled (I like Kroger brand w/ basil) or Goat cheese, crumbled
Handful or so toasted nuts, chopped if necessary (optional – but very good and I love pine nuts, walnuts or almonds)
I like to double up on the dressing if the asparagus spears are large. If you double the recipe, you may not use all of it, but this is a good keeper and delicious on other grains and veggies.
1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or more to taste
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
Cook farro in boiling salted water until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain. Cool and place in large bowl. Meanwhile, blanch asparagus and peas in boiling water until crisp tender only, a couple of minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Can be done ahead. Add the asparagus and peas to the farro with tomatoes, onion and dill. Add dressing and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Add cheese and nuts and serve.
The reason we’re starting to hear more about farro is because it’s become the darling of the restaurant world when it comes to grains.
Farro was eaten on a daily basis by the ancient Egyptians. And think of of the name “Farro” – and think of the Pharaohs who most certainly ate this nutritious grain. In Rome it was ground into a paste and cooked just like polenta and eaten by the poor. Farro didn’t produce high yields and was hard to work with, so that’s how higher-yielding grains became more popular. Domesticated farro became what is known as a relic crop, not grown much, and wild emmer was actually a lost species of grain until it was discovered in 1906 growing wild in Israel near the Sea of Galilee.Today farro is a popular crop grown in Italy and elsewhere.
The different types of farro include whole farro, semi-pearled and pearled. Whole farro with only the husk removed, requires long cooking time, and it’s the most nutritious. I like to buy semi-pearled, which also removes a bit of the germ and bran and is quicker to cook. Pearled removes even more of the good things, so I don’t buy that. Farro is also sold cracked, like bulgur wheat, and can be ground into flour, and used for pasta, baked goods and thickening sauces.
I like to cook farro just like pasta, in boiling salted water. And there are several kinds, like pearled and semi-pearled. Some people cook it like rice. It’s also a fun grain to sprout.
Since farro is a whole wheat product, it’s nutritious.
Farro is rich in fiber, protein, magnesium and vitamins. It also contains calcium and iron, and it can become a complete protein source when combined with legumes, so this makes farro good for vegetarians. And it’s good for diabetics, since it has a lower glycemic index, meaning it’s a slow release carbohydrate.
How do you store farro?
It will keep in the pantry up to a year unopened, but once it’s opened, I store mine in the freezer because, as a whole grain, it will keep better.
Is there a substitute for farro in recipes? Yes, I would use barley.
Tip from Rita’s kitchen:
Try mixing farro (or other ancient grains) with tomatoes, onion, chives, garlic and parsley. For the dressing, make a simple balsamic vinegar blend of balsamic vinegar (either light or dark) and olive oil, two parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar.