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Well and Good: Grain of the week – Farro

If you’ve been wanting to add more whole grains to your diet, but didn’t know where to start, here’s one: Farro.

It’s easy to cook, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s really delicious – you could say it’s almost like a whole-grain risotto. Even if you think you don’t really like whole grains, this chewy, nutty grain could win you over.

Farro is a great grain because it’s higher in protein than rice, rich in fiber, lower in gluten than regular wheat and easily digested.  A whole cup of cooked faro has 200 calories – but it’s very filling, and many people will find they won’t even eat a whole cup. And it’s inexpensive –about a dollar’s worth of farro would make enough for a hearty side dish for four to six diners.

Farro is still relatively unknown in the U.S. but it’s actually one of the first grains farmers ever cultivated. Sometimes confused with spelt, farro is made from emmer wheat, which was a staple food in Italy for centuries. Because emmer wheat was a low-yield crop, many farmers quit growing it when modern wheat was developed. However, farro remained a table staple in certain parts of Italy.

With renewed interest in traditional, regional and “slow foods”, farro has been rediscovered. You can find farro now in restaurants, especially Italian one; on TV cooking shows; and in food magazines, from Every Day with Rachael Ray to Food and Wine. And, of course, in the bulk department of FRESH!

It is easy to cook, requiring little hands-on attention and cooking in just 15-20 minutes. It can be used in place of barley and other grains in soups, salads, stuffing and pilafs. Or, you can use it as a whole-grain substitute for expensive imported Arborio rice, to make a kind of risotto. This version doesn’t have quite the creamy taste of a traditional Italian risotto, but it’s rich and hearty, and it’s way easier than making the traditional version, as you don’t have to constantly stir it.

Easy farro “risotto”

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

2.5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup farro
1 Tbs butter or olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup grated parmesan or grana padano cheese, plus more for serving

In saucepan, heat stock to boiling. Add farro and stir to combine. Lower heat to medium.

Meanwhile, sauté onions and garlic in butter or olive oil till translucent and just turning brown. Remove from heat.

Continue to cook farro until stock has mostly evaporated and farro is softened, about 20 minutes. (The proper texture is slightly chewy.) Add onions, garlic and cheese and stir to combine. To serve, top with additional grated cheese.