I’ll admit to being late to the farro party. Yes, it’s been a chefs’ favorite in the United States for several years and a staple in Italy long enough to feed the Roman legions, but because its regular appearance on grocery store shelves in my neighborhood is a fairly recent phenomenon, it’s a relatively new ingredient in my kitchen.
Farro, an ancient grain, rich in protein and high in fiber, is nutty, chewy and absolutely addictive. While I serve whole-grain dishes to my family on a regular basis, I don’t get a ton of requests for any particular one. I’m pretty sure my kids couldn’t pick barley out of a buckwheat lineup, but farro is a different story. Its mild flavor and satisfying chewiness have made it a family favorite, and, as such, I’ve been using it in all sorts of dishes for the past six months.
While the grain is easy to cook with, it has been the cause of some confusion over the years, probably because it’s not just one grain, but three. My friend and fellow cookbook author Maria Speck writes in “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” (Ten Speed Press, 2011) that the term farro is “commonly used when referring to three ancient wheat varieties first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent and still grown in Italy: farro piccolo (also known by the German einkorn), farro medio (also known as emmer, the Hebrew word for mother), and farro grande (also known as spelt).”
Emmer is the variety most commonly found in the United States, and it comes whole, which retains all the grain’s nutrients but needs to be soaked overnight before cooking; semi-pearled, in which part of the bran has been removed but still contains some fiber, or pearled, which takes the least time to cook but has no bran at all.
I usually opt for the semi-pearled, which is easy to find, but if pearled is what’s available, I’ll use that.
In my brief acquaintance with the grain, I’ve used it in anything from salads with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella to simple sautés with a touch of butter or olive oil.
One of my go-to dishes is a risotto of farro and mushrooms. It’s not an actual risotto, since there’s no rice, so there’s no need to stand over the pot and stir continuously, but its creaminess and earthy flavor will remind you of the classic version.
Now that you can find farro in most groceries stores, I recommend giving it a try. (I recently found it in bulk at Costco. Oh, happy day!) It’s a delicious way to introduce more whole grains into your family’s diet.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.