We owe farro an apology. We’ve known for so long that it’s good for us — whole-grains and all. But to be honest we just haven’t understood one another. When we weren’t ignoring farro, we were cooking it poorly, using it blandly and not singing its praises at all. But that’s about to change. And we all know change is good.
Like many of the foods in the guide to cooking and eating series, farro is a nutritional powerhouse packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants and minerals. Farro has ancient roots — in fact, you may know it as spelt — and it’s been traced back to early Mesopotamia where it was a staple ingredient in simple cooking. Its nutty flavor and chewy texture make it a healthy, satisfying and filling addition to soups, stews and sautés, but it’s tasty enough to shine in risotto-style dishes, grain bowls and salads, too.
Farro has many delicious forms. Here’s how to pick the farro for you:
Pearled farro: This is what you’ll find in most grocery stores. Although it doesn’t have as much flavor as other varieties, it has the shortest cook time (which explains why most people love it).
Semi-pearled farro: This version is the best of both worlds with half of the grain intact and reduced cooking time.
Whole farro: Since the grain is still intact, this version has the most nutrients per serving and strongest flavor. Even after soaking the grains overnight, whole farro typically takes at least 30 minutes to cook.
COOKING FARRO: A SIMPLE FORMULA
Whether you cook farro on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker, all you need to achieve great grain success is this simple formula:
Toast: Toasting grains before you cook them is a great way to intensify flavors and elevate your final dishes. It may seem like an extra unnecessary step, but if your simple grain bowl doesn’t have any flavor, you won’t eat it. Simply spread your grains on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment, and toast in a 350°F (177°C) oven (or in a dry skillet) for 10–15 minutes, or until fragrant.
Soak soak soak: Before eating farro, it’s best to soak it (also called sprouting). Place 1 cup (or your desired amount) of toasted whole-grain farro in a 1-quart jar or a medium bowl with a lid. Cover with at least 3 inches of water and add a pinch of salt, and a splash of vinegar. Cover the jar or the bowl, and place it in the refrigerator for 8–24 hours. After the soaking time, rinse the grains completely and discard the soaking liquid. Your grains are now ready to use. Grains can be soaked up to three days before use — just be sure to drain them of their soaking liquid and store in fresh, clean water until you’re ready to cook them.
(Let’s paint a real-life picture to review: It’s 6 p.m. on Sunday, you ask yourself what to have for dinner tomorrow night? Farro says “Me!” You take 15 minutes while you’re drinking a glass of wine and making dinner to toast grains, then transfer them to soaking water. Then you forget all about farro until 6 p.m. on Monday, when you pull your farro out of the fridge, drain it and get cooking.)
Cook: Now that you’ve toasted and soaked your farro, it’s time to cook it. You’ll actually cook it just like you would pasta. Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add your pre-soaked, well-drained and rinsed grains to the pot. Be sure the grains are covered by a couple of inches of water. Add some aromatics — whole onions or shallots, garlic, bay leaves, thyme or rosemary so you can fish them out after the grains have cooked completely.— to make them interesting. Bring to a simmer and don’t forget to taste as you go. Your farro will take 20–25 minutes to cook to al dente. (To cook farro using a pressure cooker, follow the instructions for your specific machine.)
Drain, Fluff and Chill: Once your grains are cooked to al dente, drain them of their cooking water and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to chill out and dry. Dry grains will never be mushy, and absorb sauces better — a necessary step no matter what you’re going to do with them. If you’re not planning on using your grains right away, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you’re ready to use your dried grains, keep reading.
DELICIOUS DISHES AS FARRO AS THE EYE CAN SEE
As the greatest grain bowl: Put together 1 cup of farro, 1 cup of fresh arugula, 1/4 cup grilled zucchini, 2 tablespoons fresh goat cheese, 2 grilled scallops and a little lemon zest for a bright, light lunch. Squeeze with lemon and drizzle with olive oil and voila!
Make your salad super: Flip the script and make your vegetables more plentiful than your grains. Toss together cooked farro in with your favorite fresh or roasted vegetables and proteins, add fresh cheese and a favorite salad dressing and you have a satisfying, nutrient-rich lunch that’s more than empty greens.
Stir into soups: A scoop of cooked farro adds instant staying power and a flavor-and-texture punch to your favorite soup. I add it anywhere noodles might otherwise be found, as well as in creamy soups like tomato or butternut squash, where I want a little more oomph.
As a (gasp) risotto: Cooked farro makes the greatest real or faux risotto. You can substitute farro for rice in nearly all risotto recipes (but keep an eye on the cook time as your soaked farro will likely cook faster). If you’re in a pinch you can make a faux risotto fast. Simply warm a small saucepan with your desired amount of farro and a 1/4 cup of vegetable or bone broth. Warm to your desired texture, then stir in 1 ounce of fresh Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon yogurt and 1 tablespoon fresh chives. I like to dress mine up with mushrooms sautéed until golden.