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Monday, January 7, 2013
Curiosity about new foods is a key aspect of how I operate in the kitchen. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to get around to trying something than I might like to admit, but I'll get there eventually. Sometimes I get a little prompt by being presented a food while eating out elsewhere, and that's usually never a bad thing. Take this grain, for instance. I first had it about three months ago at a catered event and immediately fell in love. What a wonderfully flavorful, easy to cook, chewy, tasty delight!
Farro is a grain within the wheat family, but is botanically different enough that some people who are allergic to the modern wheat variety found most commonly in the grocery can tolerate farro. Farro is also known as emmer wheat, and while it appears to have been cultivated in antiquity (i.e. thousands of years ago), its modern resurgence is fairly recent (as in the early 1900s). Most farro available for purchase today in the United States is grown in Italy.
While farro berries look very much like wheat berries, they cook very differently because most farro you'll find has been pearled (had the outer husk and much of the bran removed). Removing this bran casing allows the grain to cook much more quickly. You can visually judge how much of the bran has been removed by looking at the color of the grain; the more bran that has been removed, the lighter in color the grain will be.
So, how do you cook farro? Easily! I usually cook about one cup of the grain at a time. This will leave you with between 2 and 2 1/2 cups of cooked farro. You can round out the taste of the farro by dry toasting the grain in the pot first before adding the water. Simply turn the heat to medium, add the grain, and stir periodically until the grain gives off a nice toasty aroma. At that point, add water to cover, about 2 cups if you are cooking 1 cup of farro. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. I have had equal success with cooking my farro covered or uncovered. Simmer until the grain is tender, about 30 minutes. It will still be chewy, but pleasantly so. Drain off any excess water and let sit for a few minutes to absorb any remaining moisture after draining.
You can then use the farro in any number of ways. I like it very much as is and there are plenty of recipes for farro salads that are really excellent. My favorite way to serve it, however, is as a side dish with a slight flavor boost. After draining, I add salt and pepper to taste. I then drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny drizzle of fresh squeezed orange juice into the grain and stir. Be cautious not to overdo it with the oil and juice; you want to highlight the natural flavor of the grain, not mask it. Stir and serve! Farro is another great way to include more whole grains into your diet!