Farro has been starring on menus across America of late, but it's far from being a newbie on the scene. Considered an ancient grain, farro, or emmer wheat, has been around for, oh, about 9,000 years - I'd say it's earned its recent popularity. The 'ancient grain' designation inserts a bit more than just romance into these whole grain roots! Non-hybridized and un-manipulated, emmer wheat is one of the three original grains from which all modern wheat varieties sprouted. Now, evolved plant species are fine and dandy, but for a food lover and adventurous cook, primitive grains can be just as exciting - if not more so - than their cutting-edge brethren. I appreciate farro for its purity. It's sweeter, richer in flavor and fuller in nutrients that modern wheat varieties - it's been a cook's gem since antiquity.
For years, I cooked Italian farro at home. It was what was available and it's good. In recent years however, that's changed. A handful of American farms are planting farro and producing an equally great product. The major difference between Italian and American farro is the level of pearling, the removal of the outer bran. Italians opt for a finely pearled grain, whereas American farmers usually leave them whole, un-pearled, with the endosperm intact. Even though un-pearled farro takes longer to cook, I appreciate it for its fuller flavor and toothsome bite. It cooks up tender, yet chewy and retains this wonderful nutty taste. It also retains more nutrients.
My favorite source for farro comes from Bluebird Grain Farms, located in Washington state's upper Methow Valley. The Lucy family owns and operates their small, organic farm without an ounce of compromise on quality. It's really exceptional. Totally unique to the grain game, Bluebird Grain Farms sows, grows, harvests, cures and mills to order their open-polinated, organic, heirloom grains - wheh! I guarantee, you will not find grains fresher than this. Here are my favorites ways to cook their farro:
Similar to risotto, farrotto is really versatile. You can cook it year round, incorporating whatever ingredients are at their seasonal peak. One of my favorites is Crab Farrotto.
Buck tradition and replace farro for hominy in a classic farro pozole, or Fazole (sorry, couldn't help myself). This hearty, adapted one-pot meal is no less soul-satisfying than the original.
Pre-cook farro and keep it in the fridge. Add it to arugula salad with roasted squash, mushrooms and a light buttermilk sage dressing.
You can also soak farro overnight to shorten the cook time. Here's one of my favorite warm farro salads. The combination of nutty farro with fennel, olive oil, anchovies, pine nuts, golden raisins and saffron is sublime.
Add farro to soups like you would beans and pasta. Add leafy greens, some lamb or pork shoulder meat and finish with a dusting of Parmigiano.