What in the heck is farro?
When I first (mis)heard the term on the radio while driving, my distracted mind went in all sorts of wrong directions—a bitter Woody Allen misalliance, a dark Coen Brothers comedy that gave the Minnesota expression “you betcha” new meaning when used in conjunction with the operation of a wood chipper… It was that kind of day.
Then I got serious and discovered that farro is a grain. In fact, it is a pretty important grain in that it was one of the earliest forms of wheat to be cultivated and became the most important grain in the Mediterranean area until Roman times. Farro is also called Emmer Wheat.
So, why do you care? First, farro is good for you. It is a whole grain and has twice the fiber and protein of modern wheat. It is a true superfood. Secondly, it has a nutty and delicious flavor and, thirdly, and not unimportantly, you can buy it at Costco. Cooked in a soup, it retains it shape and gives a great chewey texture reminiscent of barley to meatless soups and other dishes. Since Costco is unforgiving for those of us who shop for one, I now own a four-pound bag of farro. You can expect to see other farro dishes on Blue Cayenne. From what I see on the Internet, farro can be used in salads, pilafs, stuffings, breakfast grains, desserts and more.
This recipe was adapted from one published recently in the NY Times.
Recipe: Farro and Bean Soup
1 1/2 C. dry red beans, kidney beans, pintos or borlottis, rinsed and picked over for stones (I used Rancho Gordo Rio Zape red beans)
1 C. farro, rinsed
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on soup
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bouquet garni with a few springs of fresh parsley, thyme, a bay leaf and a parmesan rind)
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 small stalk celery, diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into half lengthwise, cleaned and sliced thin
6 sage leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
1 T. tomato paste
1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
Freshly ground pepper
2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan (or Asagio) for serving
Combine dry beans and farro in a bowl with 1 1/2 quarts of water and let soak overnight.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pan and saute one half of chopped onions until soft (about 5 minutes). Add one-half the minced garlic to the pan and saute for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant. Then, add the soaked beans, farro, and your bouquet garni to the pan along with the water you used to soak the beans. Add an additional 1 1/2 quarts of water to the pan and bring the mixture to a slow boil. If foam forms, skim it off. Reduce the heat and cover the soup and simmer it for one hour.
While the soup is simmering, heat remaining one tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and add onion, carrots, leeks, celery and a teaspoon (or more) of salt to the pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender–about 5 minutes. When vegetables are soft(ish) add remaining garlic and the chopped sage to the pan. Stir and cook until garlic is fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add tomatoes and their juices. Salt to taste and continue to cook. Stir this mixture until tomatoes have cooked down slightly.
Add vegetable mixture to the farro and beans in the large soup pan. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and salt to taste. Simmer soup for 45 minutes to an hour until the soup thickens. Add pepper. Adjust salt. Remove bouquet garni.
Stir in the parsley and additional chopped sage (if desired), Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan over each bowl of soup. Enjoy.
Cook’s Note: I used Rancho Gordo heirloom beans for this soup. Rancho Gordo beans are available at some health food stores and online.