Farro has been a staple of Italian cuisine for centuries, and its mild nutty flavor, distinctive texture and endless versatility have boosted its popularity throughout Europe and North America as well. Rich in fiber, magnesium and B vitamins, farro is a healthy alternative to pasta and rice that can be combined with countless other ingredients to make everything from main dishes to desserts.
What Is Farro?
Often referred to as an ancient grain, the word farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) is actually a common term used for three ancient varieties of wheat. These varieties were originally cultivated in an area of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent which included the ancient region of Mesopotamia.
Much of the farro in today's markets however is grown in central and northern Italy, and because it thrives in a high-altitude, barren environment, it's usually free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
The three varieties of farro are:
- Farro piccolo or einkorn (German)
- Farro medio or emmer (Hebrew for mother)
- Farro grande or spelt
Shopping for Farro: Whole-Grain or Pearled
In addition to the different varieties of farro, there are also differences in how the grains are processed after harvesting.
Pearling is a common method of removing the grain's inedible hull, but some of the bran and germ is lost in the process. Farro can be either semi-pearled (semi-perlato) or pearled (perlato).
Whole-grain farro is hulled using a less abrasive process which leaves the bran and germ intact.
The labeling (particularly on imported farro) is somewhat inconsistent and it's easiest to determine which type of farro you're buying by checking the cooking time recommended on the package.
Semi-pearled and pearled farro cooks much more quickly than whole-grain and is the type most frequently found in U.S. markets.
Pearled farro will cook in 25 minutes or less, while semi-pearled might recommend a short soak (20 minutes or so) followed by 20 to 30 minutes cook time. Whole-grain farro often requires overnight soaking and about an hour of cooking time.
How to Cook Farro – Basic Farro Recipe
It's best to follow the cooking directions on the package, but we've had good luck cooking several different brands of semi-pearled farro using the following method:
- Measure the appropriate number of servings into a medium saucepan and add enough broth, water or a combination of the two to cover it by about 1-1/2 inches.
- Bring the mixture to a boil for one minute, stir, then reduce the heat to a moderate simmer.
- Cook until the farro is al dente, 20 to 30 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. Start testing for doneness and season to taste after about 15 minutes.
- Once the farro is cooked to your liking, drain any liquid that hasn't been absorbed and fluff with a fork.
Once opened, store semi-pearled and pearled farro in the freezer for up to six months. Whole-grain farro can be kept tightly sealed in the pantry for a year or more.
Cooked farro should be covered and refrigerated and will keep for three to five days, depending on what other ingredients might be included in your recipe.