What is farro? Emmer Farro is an ancient or "heirloom" grain related to modern durum wheat that is believed to have sustained the Roman Legions as they marched across Europe. It was first cultivated as early as 10,000 BC in Ethiopia. Farro was especially valued in ancient Egypt, where it was the staple crop and has been found in the tombs of kings. References to the plant also appear in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin sources. Despite its rich history, farro became less favorable due to the development of modern wheat which did not have husks at all and required less processing while producing higher yields. Now, with the renewed attraction to whole grains in the U.S., we are seeing Farro make a comeback.
I’ve heard the term farro used to refer to various Italian grains. Why is this? In Italian farro refers to all hulled grains that have a tough husk that need to be pre-soaked or partially removed to be edible, primarily farro piccolo (Einkorn), farro medio (Emmer), and farro grande (Spelt). The Emmer grain is usually what farro refers to in the U.S. though. Also, emmer farro is sold both as "whole grain" which retains its outer husk and must be pre-soaked as well as "Farro Perlato" which refers to the removal of some of the tough, outside husk and results in a softer grain that does not need to be presoaked.
How does it compare to modern wheat and other grains? Farro grains test higher than wheat in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Depending on the producer, farro provides up to 20% of the recommended daily amount of niacin, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Also, its complex carbs break down slowly, keeping energy levels stable with a lower glycemic index (GI) score of 40. The grain also has cyanogenic glucosides, a type of carbohydrate that may boost the immune system. When combined with legumes, farro makes a complete protein alternative. Many claim that for the same amount of rice, couscous and other similar grains, you get more nutrition and longer lasting energy from farro.
What does farro taste like? How do I cook with it? Emmer farro has a slightly nutty flavor with hints of oat and barley. It has a nice slightly chewy texture that works well in a variety of dishes. It can be cooked risotto style, rolled into flakes for cookies, cooked into breakfast cereal, or even ground into flour that is great for pizza dough, pancakes, pasta, and more!
For pearled and semipearled farro, bring the grains to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 15 to 25 minutes. For the whole grain variety, soak overnight and simmer covered for 40-50 minutes. The gluten of Farro grains differs from wheat gluten and has been tolerated by some with simply wheat allergies, nevertheless it is NOT recommended that those with Celiac disease consume farro.
Beware: Some American cookbooks calling for farro recommend spelt or wheat berries as an alternative, however these grains can take much longer to cook and may not provide the same flavor and texture.
Pumpkin Farro Risotto 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 large shallots, minced 2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced 1 tablespoon dried thyme, or 2 tablespoons fresh 2 cups emmer farro 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree, or 1 3/4 cup homemade pumpkin puree 1/2 cup dry white wine salt & black pepper to taste 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped chives, sliced for garnish
Place the farro in a medium pot and cover with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the farro is just tender, about 30 minutes. You may need to add a little water to the pot from time to time. Drain and reserve the liquid.
In the same, now empty, pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring frequently, until they start to brown. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the farro and pumpkin, stir to incorporate. Let this cook for a few minutes, it will start to stick a little to the bottom of the pan. This is good. Add the wine and scrape up anything on the bottom of the pan. Take your reserved liquid and add enough water to it until it measures 4 cups. Add it to the pot. Let this simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the farro breaks down and very, very soft. Again, you might need to add some more water from time to time. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley, reserving a couple tablespoons for garnish. Taste for salt and pepper levels and adjust as necessary. Place in bowls and garnish with remaining parsley and chives. Try serving your risotto in a scraped out squash or gourd.