For a meatless Monday meal, I often turn coarsely chopped greens (such as spinach, collard, chard or kale) into a delectable dish. How? I cook greens in just enough broth to make them tender-crisp, then toss in some cooked farro. The semi-pearled farro makes the concoction nutty and delectably chewy. It adds a subtle sweetness, turning a boring dish into a taste bud bonanza.
Somewhere between tough and soft, cooked farro adds pizzazz to salads and soups, side dishes and entrees. Risotto, too.
Farro is the ancient grain called “emmer wheat” that said to have sated the Roman troops in biblical times. According to Maria Speak, author of “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” (Ten Speed, $29), farro was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent almost 10,000 years ago.
Sold at Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Mother’s Markets, to name a few (yes, some supermarkets stock it), it’s generally sold semi-pearled (the package often says “semi-perlato”), signifying that it is processed to retain some but not all of the exterior bran.
Semi-pearled farro generally cooks in 15 to 20 minutes in gently boiling water or broth. If the package doesn’t designate it as “semi-pearled,” look at the cooking directions on the package; if it says that it cooks in less than 25 minutes, you can assume it is semi-pearled.
(Whole un-pearled farro has the entire husk and bran. It has the most nutrients and the strongest flavor and requires about 35-45 minutes to cook.
On the opposite side of the farro spectrum, Trader Joe’s “10 Minute Farro” is semi-pearled and partially pre-cooked; it requires only 10 to 12 minutes of cooking.
Try it with roasted sweet potatoes … Irresistible!
Farro with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 4 servings
1/3 cup red onion cut into narrow slivers
2 pounds light-skinned sweet potatoes (about 2 or 3, depending on size), see cook’s notes, scrubbed, dried, cut into unpeeled 1-inch pieces, see cook’s notes
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons, divided use
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups semi-pearled farro
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 3 tablespoons fresh juice
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
Cook’s notes: I prefer light-skinned sweet potatoes for this dish, those with tan skin the color of coffee stirred with a generous amount of cream. When cooked their yellow flesh is flakey and somewhat dry. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes can be substituted if you prefer; that have darker, red-brown skin. Because they have moister interiors, use two rimmed baking sheets to roast them. And they are generally smaller, so 3 or 4 will probably be needed.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Soak onions in a small bowl covered with ice and water. Set aside.
2. Place sweet potato chunks and unpeeled garlic on rimmed baking sheet. Toss with 3 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in preheated oven until tender and caramelized, about 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook farro. Bring a large, deep saucepan filled half full of salted water to a rapid boil on high heat. Add farro and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high or medium to maintain a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. Cook until chewy tender, 10 to 20 minutes, cooking times vary. Drain in colander; rinse with a little cold water. Add 2 tablespoons oil to farro, plus salt and pepper to taste; toss.
4. Remove garlic from sweet potatoes. Place zest and juice in food processor. Cut one end off each roasted garlic clove. When cool enough to handle, with the motor running, squeeze garlic from skins into the food processor; discard garlic skin. Place farro, sweet potato chunks and dill in large bowl; add lemon-garlic mixture, scraping down sides of processor work-bowl with silicone spatula. Toss. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Drain red onions and pat dry; scatter onion slivers over the top.