Farro, the Pharoah’s Grain
I first encountered farro in a trendy Los Angeles bistro several years ago. When I asked the waiter to identify the deliciously nutty rice in my soup, I was surprised by his answer. “It’s farro,” he replied, “the pharoah’s grain.” Originating in the Middle East, this ancient grain has long been a staple of dishes along the Mediterranean coast. Often used instead of arborio rice for risotto, its mild flavor and chewy texture provide an interesting addition to soups, salads, and side dishes. Dr. Josh Axe, naturopath, calls it “one of the most heart-healthy, immune-boosting grains on the planet.” Farro is a wheat but, according to Dr. Axe, its gluten levels are lower than today’s wheat, making it a tolerable choice for some people with gluten-sensitivity.
After tasting farro, I decided I must add the grain to my pantry but, upon my return to Charlottesville, I had difficulty finding it. A year or more passed before I stumbled upon a recipe for farro salad in The New York Times Magazine. By then, farro could be found on grocery shelves throughout Charlottesville. Chef Ryan Hardy’s dish quickly became my favorite summer salad. The recipe below is my fall version of the one from Chef Hardy’s restaurant, Charlie Bird’s in SoHo. Cooked in apple cider, I have substituted butternut squash, apples, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds for tomatoes, radishes, and pistachios. Make the bowl your own by adding whatever you like–avocado and beets are both tasty additions.
1 cup farro*
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 bay leaves
6 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups arugula leaves
1 cup parsley leaves, torn
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup roasted butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped apples
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
*Farro is sold in a variety of forms, from whole to semi-pearled to pearled. Any of these varieties may be used in this recipe. Whole farro takes the longest to cook, but retains the most nutrients. Pearled takes the shortest amount of time to cook, but has no bran. To reduce the cooking time, it is often recommended that you soak the farro in water overnight, but I have yet to plan that far in advance. My excuse is that I prefer grains al dente.
- In a medium saucepan, bring farro, apple cider, 2 cups water, salt and bay leaves to a simmer. Simmer until farro is tender and liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes.* If all liquid evaporates before the farro is done, add a little more water. Let farro cool; then discard bay leaves.
- In a salad bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Add farro to the dressing and mix well. Add arugula, herbs, squash, and fruit. Just before serving, add shaved Parmesan and pumpkin seeds. This is best eaten the same day, but will keep in the refrigerator overnight.
“Farro: An Ancient if Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out,” www.npr.org/2013
“6 Farro Nutrition Benefits That May Surprise You,” draxe.com/farro
“Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad,” cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/-charlie-birds-farro-salad