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Farro of the Unknown

Farro is one of those grains that has always caused me pause – what exactly is it? how do you cook it? will it be mushy? I was plagued with doubt and avoided cooking it for quite some time. The other day I swallowed my fear and decided to do some research and cook farro for the first time. You know what? It was easy and delicious! After poking around on the Interwebs, here’s what I learned about farro:

A) Farro is an ancient grain that has been eaten in Italy for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.

B) People disagree on what to call it. To some it is known as emmer, others say it’s a kind of spelt, and then there’s another group that insists farro is its own unique species of wheat.

C) There’s an Italian institute for “underutilized species” that has compiled everything you’d ever want to know about farro in a short paper (that’s right, get your geek on).

Here’s how I learned to cook farro: soak it overnight (like you would for dried beans), then simmer it for 7-10 minutes, finally drain it and then let it steam. The result was a fluffy, slightly nutty grain with a gentle toothsomeness that is familiar yet unique.

I prepared this first batch of farro as a warm salad and the recipe that follows is similar to an Italian-style fried rice – it’s quite versatile and very satisfying.

Warm Farro Salad

Preparing the farro:

6-8 hours prior to the meal:
1) Rinse 1½ cups of farro in a couple of changes of water until little residue remains.
2) Soak farro in 3-4 cups of room temperature water for 6-8 hours.

At meal-time:
3) Drain farro from soaking water.
4) Simmer farro in 3-4 cups of lightly salted water for 7-10 minutes, until just al dente.
5) Remove from heat, drain farro and then return to pot. Farro should be covered and left to steam for another 5-7 minutes,

Warm Farro Salad
- serves 2-3 as a main course, 4-5 as a side -

3 cups farro prepared as outlined above
4 strips of bacon – thick cut is best
1 large leek, chopped, rinsed and dried
2 small carrots, chopped
4-6 ounces of button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 TBS of chopped fresh herbs – I used oregano
2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil

Cut bacon into small pieces and cook in large skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and set aside. Remove skillet from heat and pour off all but 1 TBS of bacon fat. Return pan to heat and add leek, cooking until translucent (4-5 min). Add carrots and cook for 3 more minutes until just tender. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, another 2-3 min. Make a well in center of skillet, add 1 tsp of oil and fry garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add farro and toss to combine with all ingredients in skillet and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add remaining olive oil, tossing to coat. Serve in bowls and garnish with herbs and bacon bits.

Suggested variations:
1) Can easily be made vegetarian (vegan, actually) by omitting the bacon and beginning by adding 1 TBS of olive oil to skillet instead of bacon fat. Garnish with toasted pine nuts for crunch and protein.
2) Easily accommodates any complementary group of veggies such as sundried tomatoes and spinach or roasted red peppers and onions.

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