Farro: What it is and how to use it
AP Photo | Matthew Mead
The trouble with so-called "ancient grains" is that though they have tickled the fancy of restaurant chefs, most of them remain way under the home cook radar.
It's an experience thing. Or lack of. Most of us aren't even sure how to cook amaranth, quinoa and spelt, never mind know how to serve them.
Which is too bad. They can be delicious, creative and usually inexpensive ways of working whole grains into your cooking.
So let me help you over that first hurdle by introducing you to farro, what I consider the easiest to cook and most versatile of the ancient grains.
Also called emmer wheat, farro was one of the earliest cultivated grains and was grown widely in northern Africa and Europe.
But farro — the Italian name for this relative of modern wheat — can be fussy to grow and lost favor. Fast forward a few thousand years and it's trying for a comeback.
Why should you care? Farro has a robustly nutty flavor, a satisfyingly chewy texture, and it works well with numerous ingredients and cuisines.
Best yet, if you know how to boil pasta, you know how to cook farro. Boil 1 cup of farro in 3 to 4 cups of water (salted or not) for 15 minutes, then drain. Done.
In Italy, where most farro is grown, the grain often is added to soups. It also can be substituted for rice in risotto. Like arborio and other risotto rice varieties, farro is high in starch (needed to produce creamy risotto). Unlike rice, farro is forgiving. Overcooked rice results in mushy risotto. Farro holds its texture even when overcooked.
Most farro — which is high in protein and low in gluten — sold in the U.S. is pearled, which means it has been hulled. This helps it cook faster. Avoid farro that is not pearled, as this must be first soaked, then cooked for longer.
Like other varieties of wheat, farro can be ground into flour and used in baking and to make pasta. Raise your hand if you are never going to do that!
Instead, try it in this recipe for warm farro salad with grilled Italian sausage. And for more ideas for using farro, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/wajaFe
Warm Farro Salad with Grilled Italian Sausage
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 cup pearled farro
4 sweet Italian sausages
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Ground black pepper
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 plum tomatoes, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 scallions, diced (whites and greens)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
Bring 1 quart (4 cups) of salted water to a boil. Add the farro and cook for 15 minutes, or until the grains are plumped and chewy. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Add the sausages and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and pepper to taste. Mix in the feta cheese.
When the farro has cooked and been drained, add it to the bowl and mix well. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
Mix in the tomatoes, cucumber, scallions and oregano. Cut the sausages into 1-inch rounds, then add those to the salad. Sprinkle the salad with the almonds.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 560 calories; 280 calories from fat (50 percent of total calories); 31 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 46 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 7 g fiber; 910 mg sodium.