Farro: An Ancient Grain in Modern Times
Whole grains seem to be a big topic of discussion these days in the two camps who tend to be the most boisterous in the foodie world. On one side are those who extol the nutritious benefits of eating a diet rich in whole grains and on the other side, a group who insists they don’t know what to do with whole grains and that grains take too much time to cook. All good points but at the end of the day it’s the whole grain proponents who have the winning argument because whole grains really are better for our bodies and the latter arguments can be overcome with education and careful planning. But, the most important reason to eat whole grains is the taste which can be nutty, buttery, slightly sweet, or earthy, depending on the grain.
Farro is a versatile super grain with a sweet nutty flavor that has been grown for thousands of years in Europe, is still cultivated in Italy, and is now being grown in the United States. Although there aren’t a lot of recipe books with a chapter on farro, this versatile grain can be used as a cereal, as a substitute for rice, and to make bread or pasta.
The first time I saw farro, I didn’t have a clue what it was or what to do with it. Physically, farro looks like a brown rice but nutritionally, this grain provides a bigger bang: 1/4 cup of dry farro provides 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, with no sugar or sodium whereas the same amount of brown rice provides about 3.5 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber with 2 grams of sugar. So, I just had to figure out what to do with it.
On the back of the bag of Bob’s Red Mill Farro was a recipe for Farrotto: a hearty dish (think comfort food) in which farro is cooked like risotto. Simple to make and delicious with mushrooms or asparagus, Farrotto is a chewier version of risotto and a dish worth making. Keep in mind that farro needs to be soaked overnight and that 1/2 cup of farro requires 5-6 cups of stock or water to make farrotto and 30-35 minutes of cooking time – compared to 23-25 minutes for regular risotto.
Farro is also a super grain to use as a breakfast porridge or in a soup or salad. To cook, follow the directions on the package because there are different varieties of farro, some of which require 3 cups of water for 1 cup of whole grain and 30 minutes of cooking time (Bob’s Red Mill) and others that require 5 cups of water for 1 cup of whole grain and 50-60 minutes of cooking time (Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer farro). When the grains are tender, drain off any excess liquid. Scoop into a bowl, add cinnamon, dried fruits and nuts and enjoy as a breakfast dish or use the cooked farro in soups, salads, or as a substitute for rice in a pilaf.
Farro can be purchased at most health food stores or on-line through most food retailers. I purchased Bob’s Organic Whole Grain Farro (24 ounces for about $6) through the company’s website: www.bobsredmill.com.
I also purchased organic whole grain farro (1.3 pounds for $6.95) , organic cracked farro (1.3 pounds for $6.95) – which makes a breakfast porridge in about 15 minutes, and organic fine Emmer (the type of farro) flour (2 pounds for $6.95) from Bluebird Grain Farms (www.bluebirdgrainfarms..com) of Winthrop, Washington (located in the northeast part of the state) which sells certified organic heirloom grains from the field to the plow to the package. Milled to order, the grains and flours are guaranteed fresh – from an American farmer, no less. Farro flour is a low gluten flour and can be used to make breads and homemade pasta. And, as an added bonus, Bluebird Grain Farms includes recipe cards in your order.
So, the answer isn’t to abandon whole grains but to embrace them, learn how to use them and enjoy them. To live well, whole grains need to be included in a healthy diet. Think back to your first days of skiing when your parents or instructor said “moguls are your friends.” Even if you were whispering a profanity under your breath, you knew the truth was being spoken. If you wanted to ski well, you had to learn how to maneuver moguls. It’s the same with life and whole grains. Living in a country where most grocery stores devote more space to processed foods than whole grains creates a dietary challenge but with patience and an open mind (and some time), whole grains can become a tastier part – and ultimately a healthier portion – of anyone’s diet.
Finally, for those seeking to learn more about cooking with whole grains, consider purchasing Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries and More by Maria Speck. Published in 2011, this 240 page hardcover cookbook is a well-organized, easy to understand guide to ancient grains and how to incorporate ancient grains in modern diets. I purchased the book from Amazon for about $22 and credit the author for opening my eyes to “the glamour of whole grains.”
For someone who started eating whole grains because of their nutritional value but continued to eat them because of their taste, it’s as if a new door has been opened, reminding me of what my Colorado friends tell me: they moved to Colorado for the skiing but ended up staying because of the summers. It’s the same analogy with whole grains: try them because they are nutritious but keep eating them because they are so delicious.