Cultivated in western Tuscany, in the area known as the Garfagnana, and in the Abruzzo to the east, farro is an early variety of wheat. The grain is semipearled, which means that some of the outer coating still remains after a few abrasions. Lighter in mouth-feel than wheat berries, farro has a taste and texture that resembles barley more than wheat. The kernels from the Garfagnana cook a bit more quickly than those from the Abruzzo because they are more pearled, so that less of the outer hull remains. Although many farro recipes tell you to soak the grain, I find this unnecessary. The pearled farro from the Garfagnana cooks in about 20 minutes. The sturdier, browner farro from the Abruzzo takes about 30 minutes and may be soaked for 30 minutes if you want it to cook a bit more quickly.
Cooked farro reheats like a dream in a little broth or water and holds well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I must confess that I am addicted to it and could eat it every day for a week. I usually make enough farro for a few days as it keeps well. The following recipe for basic farro will yield enough for two meals. For an easy second meal, add the kernels from an ear of corn, a little broth, a pat of butter, and salt and pepper. Like risotto, farro can be enhanced with leftover cooked chicken and sautéed mushrooms, or sautéed mushrooms and toasted hazelnuts.
Yield: 1 serving
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup farro
½ cup vegetable or chicken stock, or a bit more for a soupier dish
2 tablespoons olive oil or 1 tablespoon each olive oil and unsalted butter
½ small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
½ cup cubed, peeled butternut squash (½-inch cubes), boiled until al dente
4 or 5 cooked chestnuts, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt and then the farro, stir, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the grains are soft but still have some firmness at the center. Start checking for doneness after 20 minutes. If not all of the water has been absorbed, simply drain the cooked farro in a sieve. Set aside 1 cup cooked farro, or a bit more for a heartier dish, and then cover and refrigerate the remainder for another dish such as soup or salad.
Pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a deep sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sage and sauté until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the farro, squash, chestnuts, and the hot stock. Stir gently and simmer over low heat until the farro, squash, and chestnuts are heated through and some of the stock has been absorbed, just a few minutes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons butter, season to taste with salt and pepper, and spoon into a warmed bowl.