One ancient grain that is making a new impression in today’s modern diet is farro. I discovered it a few years ago by accident when I bought it instead of fregola. My lapse in memory steered me off course because farro is a wheat and fregola is a pasta made with semolina flour. These items don’t belong in the same aisle at the grocery store. Fortunately, this mistake was well worth making and I have cooked farro ever since.
Farro is a whole grain with an ancient pedigree. This grain was a staple wheat that fed ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. According to The Spruce, farro might be the mother wheat from which all wheat comes from. Honestly, I am more confused now than before I stared researching farro. Apparently, some confusion exists about the name or I should say, names. I don’t know if it is made by combining three wheat varieties – einkorn, emmer and spelt. Or, identified as either of the three wheat varieties. Or, all of the above. After reading the two previously linked articles and this one from NPR, I think it is all of the above.
Ultimately, what is important to know is the variety of farro. The variety determines how you must prepare your farro and how long to cook it. The three varieties are, whole, semi-pearled, and pearled. Whole grain farro has the whole grain intact and needs overnight soaking before cooking. The semi-pearled and pearled varieties have the bran partially or completely removed. Without the bran, farro cooks faster and does not need soaking. My grocery store only carries pearled farro, so I do not have experience cooking with the other varieties. Because of the different varieties, I recommend reading the label and directions carefully. This way you know what type of farro you have and how long to cook it.
Despite the varieties and confusion, farro is a delicious grain and worth making. I like its nutty flavor and chewy texture. The complexity of flavor adds more depth and is a nice substitute for rice or potatoes. Usually, I make it for a side dish with roasted meats. This way, while the meat roasts, it is easy to focus my attention on making the farro.
Pair farro with Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs
Honey Mustard Spatchcock Chicken (without the roasted veggies)
Cooking with Farro
For this recipe, I craved something with the creaminess of a risotto, but not as rich and requiring less effort. Mushrooms add smooth and silky texture to grains and are in season now. They make the grains taste creamy without adding dairy. There is a pound of mushrooms sautéed with two types of onions in this meal for a super luxurious feel and earthy flavor. I combined cremini mushrooms and button mushrooms, yet any mushroom combination will work.
Additionally, I added some dried porcini mushroom powder for extra depth. This is optional but is an economical and effective way to add wild mushroom flavor. If only white button mushrooms are available, I recommend adding the dried mushroom powder to boost the mushroom flavor. To make it, grind dried mushrooms in a spice grinder until it turns into a fine powder. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid in your pantry. Just a small amount of the dried mushroom powder adds a lot of body to any meal.
Whenever I cook with grains, I like to make them easily adaptable to a vegetarian or vegan main dish. By itself, farro with mushrooms and rosemary is not a complete protein source. With the added cashews, this is a nutritionally dense side dish. Add cannellini beans or lentils, and this transforms into a protein-packed plant-based meal. Grains and legumes are complementary proteins, so when combined in one meal all the amino acids are available. Because semi-pearled or pearled farro has some or all the bran removed, these types of grains do not make a complete protein when combined with legumes. Yet, it is a great vegan option.
How to Cook Farro
Instead of following the directions on the back label of my farro, I followed the recommendation from Joshua McFadden in his Six Seasons Cookbook. First, I toasted the farro in a large skillet with smashed garlic and red pepper flakes. Once toasted, I added water and a bay leaf, covered the pan and let it simmer until done. I like making rice like this too. Toasting grains in a skillet brings out the nuttiness in the grain and the fragrance is delightful. It cooks faster too. Unfortunately, toasting farro and sautéing the mushrooms requires the use of two large skillets. If you only have one skillet, use a 4 or 5-quart Dutch Oven for the mushrooms, and a 10-inch skillet for the farro. Sautéing vegetables and toasting grains requires a wide surface area to prevent the food from steaming.
With the sautéed mushrooms and onions an ancient grain comes to life with rich flavors. I got the desired creaminess of risotto without all the stirring and extra cheese. Like chatting with a dear friend, farro with mushrooms and rosemary provide sustenance and comfort after a day’s work.
Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
For the Farro
- 1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1 cup 188 g pearled farro
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups 1 liter water
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
For the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
- 2 TB Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small sweet onion minced
- 1 medium shallot minced
- 2 stalks celery minced reserve leaves for later
- 8 oz (225 g) baby bella mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 8 oz (225 g) button mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 1 tsp dried porcini mushroom powder* optional
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 TB butter
- 1 TB sherry vinegar
- 2 oz (62 g) 62 g lightly salted cashews, rough chopped
- More rosemary and celery leaves for garnish
Make the Farro
Place a large skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Add the olive oil. Just when the olive oil begins to shimmer, add the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat and gently sauté until the garlic begins to brown and soften, about 3 minutes. Add the farro and bay leaf and stir to coat. Constantly stir the grains while toasting so they do not burn. Toast the farro until it begins to brown and become fragrant. Add the water and Kosher salt then bring to boil. Cover the skillet and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook the farro until tender but still has a bite. It should not be mushy or the grain split open. Start tasting the farro at 15 minutes for doneness and continue as needed. When the farro is just cooked, drain the water and remove the bay leaf.
Putting it all together
Meanwhile, heat up a large skillet and add 2 TB olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the celery onions and shallots. Stir to combine. Remove the rosemary leaves off its stem and add the stem to the onions and celery. Reserve the rosemary leaves for later. Sauté on medium heat until the vegetables get tender and the onions translucent. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt, about 1/4 tsp and stir.
Add all the mushrooms and stir to get them nicely coated with oil. Continue to cook and occasionally stir until all the juices from the mushrooms evaporate.
Scoop out a tablespoon of the farro cooking liquid and add it plus 1 teaspoon of the dried mushroom powder to the mushrooms. Stir until mixed in. Taste and correct the seasoning for salt. Remove the rosemary stems and stir in the butter.
When the farro is cooked al dente and drained from the water, add it to the skillet with the mushrooms. Stir. Add the minced rosemary and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. Add a few grinds of the fresh pepper and one tablespoon of sherry vinegar, turn off the heat and stir.
Garnish with chopped cashews, chopped celery leaves, and chopped rosemary. This dish can be made ahead and reheated later. Add the cashews and herb garnishes just before serving.
Serve hot as a side dish.
To make the dried mushroom powder. Add a small handful of dried mushrooms to a clean spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Continue until you used up all your dried mushrooms. Put the mushroom powder in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in your pantry for 3 months. This mushroom powder recipe is from My Master Recipes by Patricia Wells.
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