Farro is the “it” grain of the moment. Its voluptuous, earthy flavor and beguiling toothy texture have seduced even world-weary menu paparazzi, who spot it tucked next to macho roasts with magazine-page good looks and gallivanting with like-minded autumnal veggies.
But farro really loves being at home. Welcome her into your kitchen and you’ll reap the rewards of a fast-cooking, nutritious and nearly-whole grain.
I say “nearly whole” because you can buy “pearled” (perlato in Italian) farro, which has the outermost husk removed. The loss of that husk is also a loss of some of the nutrients—and means you can cook farro in about 20 minutes. You don’t lose all nutrients when you buy pearled farro: it is still chockfull of fiber and a good source of iron. I consider the pearled version nutritionally virtuous, even if it isn’t a completely whole grain.
Farro is an ancient* wheat grain that you can find in the more up-to-date grocery stores and most specialty markets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. If you prefer to buy whole grain farro (it will be marked as such) plan on cooking it for about 45-60 minutes. Pearled and semi-pearled farro cook in 20-30 minutes.
Farro is great:
- in soup
- as a barley replacement in recipes
- in warm and room temperature salads
- as the foundation for stuffing
You can also buy cracked farro, which is similar to bulgur, and farro flour. But despite what you may read elsewhere, farro is NOT the same as spelt. It is, however, sometimes called emmer or emmer wheat.
Farro is especially useful to have and hold in your repertoire as the holidays approach, because it can be reheated without getting mushy. Not many grains can make that claim.
* How old is farro? So old that even Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) supposedly referred to it as an ancient grain.
Farro with Mushrooms and Fennel
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 3.5-ounce package mixed mushrooms (such as oyster, shiitake, etc)
10 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut in 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons Madeira
1 1/2 cups pearled farro
4 1/2 cups water
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium; add the fennel and cook, stirring, until slightly softened; 5 minutes. Add all the mushrooms, salt and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and deeply browned, about 20 minutes. Add the Madeira and cook, stirring, until the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- While the mushrooms cook, make the farro: rinse in a strainer under running cold water; drain and combine with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook 20 minutes. Remove lid from pot and check farro: it should be chewy but cooked through and tender.
- Combine farro with mushrooms; season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve immediately or to reheat, transfer to a baking dish coated with cooking spray, sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover loosely with foil and place in the oven until heated through.