Wait…it’s really September 30th? That means that Whole Grains Month is almost over! Sad, but what an exciting month it’s been with our Chat ‘Em Up contest, the Boston Whole Grains Dine Out and more. But don’t worry, we’re going out with a bang and having our friend Basia from Mediterraneanista (see why we get along so well?) write about her new fondness for farro, one of my favorite whole grains. Want to learn more? Well, I’ll just let Basia take it from here. - Alison

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There’s a lot to love about farro. It’s rich in protein, fiber, magnesium, zinc, iron and niacin and full of antioxidants. But that wouldn’t mean bubkas without its wonderful nutty flavor and chewy bite. In fact, it’s one of my new favorite foods. Truth be told, though, the first time I came across farro in a recipe, the only thing I knew was that it was a whole grain—and not one found on my local grocers’ shelves. When I Googled it, I found lots of contradictory information. It’s spelt, it’s not spelt. It takes an hour to cook, it takes 20 minutes. I did some research and when I was deep in the weeds of scientific discussions about tetraploid wheats and taxonomy disputes I decided I’d learned enough. Farro scholars (I’m sure they’re out there) may split hairs but here’s what I, er, boil it down to (more on how to cook farro in a bit): Farro (triticum dicoccum or emmer wheat) is an ancient grain, an unhybridized wheat with an intact husk that is the ancestor of modern durum wheat. (Spelt is triticum spelt, a close relative, but not exactly the same in taste and texture. Still, confusion reigns, because Triticum dicoccum, farro, is often translated into English by its Italian producers as “spelt.”) Farro, I learn, was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent, known to archaeologists who explored ancient tombs and excavations. It was eaten by the Roman legions (it seems they were sometimes paid with a daily ration of farro). As I continue researching, farro’s backstory begins to read like a novel. In 1906 agronomist and botanist Aaron Aaronsohn found wild emmer growing in Upper Galilee and his discovery of the “mother” of wheat was said to have caused a sensation in the botanical world. Something about all this thrills me—call me a romantic, but part of the pleasure of Mediterranean eating, I am discovering, is this connection to peoples long gone and life in places far away. Emmer survives in mountainous regions as what’s called a relict crop, one left over from the days when it was widely cultivated. Today it is mostly cultivated in Italy—in Umbria, Marche and, most famously, in Tuscany, in the region of Garfagnana, where it has the equivalent of an appellation controlée. Over the last year, I’ve found semi-pearled farro in more and more local stores, and you can also find it online at sites such as Market Hall Foods. I’ve even seen domestic New York farro from my NYC farmers’ market. Farro costs about $5 to $8 a pound. How to Cook Farro: Basic Method Choose semi-pearled or pearled farro, since it only takes 20 minutes to cook and doesn’t require soaking. One cup dry makes 2½ cups of cooked farro. I often make double what I need so I have some handy for various recipes. It keeps in the fridge for 3 or 4 days and much longer in the freezer.
  • Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil.
  • Add 1 cup of semi-pearled farro. Boil uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, just until al dente. Drain.
  • If you’re going to use the farro in a salad, spread over a flat surface to cool.
Panzanella di Farro

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This is the recipe that started it all for me—a Tuscan-style tomato and farro salad. Something about the combination of textures and tastes is endlessly appealing—at least in our household. It’s adapted from Olives & Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. *Serves 4 to 6* Ingredients
  • 1 cup semi-pearled farro (dry)
  • 8 oz. wild arugula or purslane
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and then cut into thin half moons
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 5 radishes, thinly sliced (a mandoline makes this easy)
  • 1 generous cup basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
Preparation
  1. Prepare farro, as described above.
  2. Put the arugula, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes and scallions in a large salad bowl. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar and salt in a small bowl. Pour over salad and mix. Add the cooled farro and basil. Toss gently and serve.
Photos and text © 2010 Basia Hellwig. All rights reserved. Visit Mediterraneanista at http://www.mediterraneanista.com and or on Facebook Stay tuned next week for Part Two of Basia’s farro love letter! If you would like to be a guest-blogger on the Oldways Table, email me: aclancy@oldwayspt.org

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