When Italian cookbook author Giuliano Bugialli led a class at my cooking school years ago, I learned about many Italian ingredients and techniques that I had never seen. One of his most memorable dishes was farro with tomatoes, roasted vegetables and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Happily, Americans are now exploring ways of cooking with this ancient grain of the Mediterranean, and farro can be found in supermarkets, specialty markets and online. Also known as emmer wheat, it is the mother grain that gave rise to modern wheat.
Farro looks like plump barley and can be used in recipes calling for spelt, barley and quinoa, though cooking times will vary. It doesn't require presoaking, but doing so shortens the cooking time.
Farro's new-found popularity is due to the fact that it is delicious and highly nutritious. This gluten-free grain is rich in protein, complex B vitamins and complex carbohydrates. It has a warm, nutlike flavor and a hint of sweetness.
I have come to love farro in many dishes — salads, pastas, soups, even fried crisp as a garnish.
Here are tips:
■ Rinse farro in water to remove any loose pieces of hull.
■ The basic ratio is 1 cup farro to 4 cups cooking liquid. Simmer 35 to 40 minutes, until al dente (chewy on the outside, tender inside the grain).
■ Serve farro hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil, a few torn leaves of herbs, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper as a first course or side dish.
■ Cooked farro can be refrigerated up to three days.
This one-dish meal can be served warm or chilled. Farro has a rich, earthy flavor that pairs well with red wine such as a pinot noir.
2 cups whole-grain farro
3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 green onions, including 1 inch of green parts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deveined and diced
2 cups chicken homemade or low-sodium canned chicken broth, heated
1 cup drained and rinsed canned chickpeas
4 ounces spicy salami, diced
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Romaine lettuce leaves
Soak farro in enough water to cover for at least 1 hour.
In large, heavy saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté green onions, garlic, zucchini and bell pepper until softened, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to boil.
Drain farro and add to pan, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 30 to 40 minutes, until farro is tender and broth has been absorbed. Stir in chickpeas and salami. Cover and set aside.
In small bowl, whisk lemon zest, lemon juice and remaining ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fluff farro with fork. Stir in dressing. Serve on lettuce leaves.
Makes 6 servings.
Adapted from Cucina Povera by Pamela Sheldon John (Andrews McMeel, $21.99)