I have become kind of a farro pusher. Not the kind of pusher that stands out on the street corner whispering “Farro? Farro?” while slyly avoiding eye contact. That would be weird. Instead I’m the person who tries to make everyone in my life try farro at least once because I’m convinced they will love it just as much as I do.
Raw farro (semi-pearled)
Farro, for those who may not be familiar with it, is an ancient Italian grain related to wheat. It’s high in both fiber and protein and has a chewy texture with a slightly nutty flavor. You can buy it in a few different forms — from whole grain (which is the best for you nutritionally) to semi-pearled to pearled. You can also buy it as a flour to make things like pasta or bread. It should be noted I am not ambitious enough for that. I mainly just buy it semi-pearled because it cooks quickly, usually within about 20 minutes. Whole grain farro can take up to about 60 minutes to cook, which is way too long for my busy life.
The nutritional values of semi-pearled farro are still pretty good. A half of a cup of uncooked farro, which will plump up to about a cup after cooking, contains around 170 calories, but also comes with five grams of fiber and six grams of protein. This makes it considerably better for you than white rice — no surprise there. But even brown rice has a bit more calories per serving (around 200) and falls short of farro in terms of fiber and protein. Plus since it is harvested with its husk intact, which is then removed when it gets hulled, it is grown without the need for pesticides. Healthy and delicious? Check and check!
Since I started buying farro regularly and cooking it at least once a week, I have discovered a ton of different ways to prepare it. And honestly, from farro risotto to farro Mexican “rice”, I haven’t made one variation that I thought sucked. I have to change my usages up often though because as much as he enjoys farro, my husband got a bit weary after eating it for dinner for a week straight. Luckily I am not one to suffer from farro burnout.
Cooked Farro (simmered with sliced onions)
To help combat any potential food boredom, a lovely thing about farro is its versatility. It can be served hot or cold in a salad or even cooked like porridge and topped with milk and cinnamon for breakfast.
It can also be used in any application where you would use rice. And since you can cook it by boiling it in salted water and draining it just like pasta, I think it’s even easier than cooking rice. No measuring necessary or keeping the pot covered, just let it simmer away and stir it every five minutes or so until it’s done. If you’re feeling frisky, you can throw some carrots or onions in while it cooks for extra flavor, but it’s not necessary.
Since I am clearly a huge farro advocate, it’s only right that I would to try to tempt you into giving it a try with some lovely pictures and recipe ideas. And subliminal messages, but I promise you won’t even notice those…
First up is my Farro (better than) Waldorf Salad:
This actually came about because I had been craving Waldorf salad but wanted to make it as an entrée for dinner. I took some leftover cooked farro, probably about a cup or so, and combined it with a chopped Honeycrisp apple, a handful of toasted walnuts and some diced celery. In lieu of a dressing or even a vinaigrette (I was really hungry), I just splashed in a little olive oil and lemon juice to make it moist. Then piled it on a bed of baby spinach and topped it with some chevre.
The finished product was delightful. There was every element you could want in a salad — crunchy from the fruit and nuts, tangy from the cheese and citrus and chewy from the farro. It was light and fresh and I had to restrain myself from eating the container I had set aside for the next day’s lunch. It was hard. I actually had to leave the house to resist its allure.
This was great as a vegetarian meal but the carnivore in me thinks that if I’d had some meat to put on top, it would have been even better. Maybe a grilled chicken breast or some pork medallions. Or some crumbled crispy bacon if you swing that way.
Next up is my Fried Rice-style Farro with Vegetables:
Now I will straight-up admit this was a “kitchen-sink” style of experiment. I had cooked farro and blanched kale leftover from the night before. I had eaten a ton of meat earlier in the day (a requisite of my job) so I was looking for something high in fiber for dinner. This seemed like the easiest way to eat the mixture of random vegetables I had in my produce drawer without just making a boring salad.
I started with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced carrots and minced garlic in a hot lightly oiled pan. Once everything was tender, I threw in some soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced scallions and a dash of rice wine vinegar to keep the flavors bright. Next came the farro, kale and frozen peas which were tossed around until all the ingredients were well combined. Last came the scrambled eggs — which I will admit because I am picky about my eggs, I softly scramble in a side pan and then add them into the rice…err farro…afterwards.
It turned out so good! I shouldn’t have been surprised but I kind of was. This is why it’s always good to try new things.
And finally (at least for this farro post) comes the easiest preparation and the one I use the most often: The catch-all throw-in-whatever side dish. It will go with anything. I promise you.
I started by roasting veggies, a mixture of just about anything will work…Think cauliflower, carrots, peppers, onions, brussels sprouts. Or blanch some kale. Or sauté some mushrooms or cherry tomatoes. Frozen peas or corn? Sure, why not? Basically take whatever veggies you like and cook them however you like them best. While the veggies are working, boil a big pot of salted water. Stir in semi-pearled farro and cook for 20-25 minutes until tender (though still chewy). Drain. You’re halfway there!
I use the same pot and just put it back on the heat — I am all about minimizing dirty dishes. Then sauté up some minced garlic with a dash of chili flakes. Add the already cooked veggies and farro, maybe some stock or even a little water to help things along. Season it well. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or some cheese (goat, pecorino or feta are all delicious) maybe some herbs, chopped nuts or baby spinach. The only rule is make it taste good, though trust me, this won’t be hard to do.
Here’s some examples pulled from just the past few months at my house…
Seared flounder and farro pilaf-style with pecans, green onions and parsley.
Stuffed rabbit saddles with farro, brussels sprouts, carrots and chives.
Quail breasts with farro, roasted cauliflower, grated Parmesan and spinach.
Or if you just want to get a feel for farro in a simple form, try it as a simple substitute for rice. You can use it in soups or as a bed for a curry or a stew. I love to use farro where it has a chance to soak up sauces, like when I used it to sop up some cherry tomato-scallion goodness in my procrastinators chicken. Or when I made April Bloomfield’s Lyon-style chicken…That sauce was phenomenal and the farro let me savor every drop of it.
Plain farro topped with vinegar-braised chicken and roasted garlic. Perfectly simple.
Really — you can’t go wrong with any of these preparations. So, do yourself a favor — buy some farro (usually you can find it at upscale grocery stores but if you strike out there, you can order it online) and give it a shot.
But be careful, you might find yourself pushing it on all of your friends too. At least you’ll be in good company!