Meet Miss February: Farro. The second contender in my Year of Whole Grains series. While seemingly trendy for its relatively recent appearance on the American culinary scene, farro is actually quite ancient. Long beloved as a rustic staple in Italy, farro is prized for its nutty flavor, versatility, and appealing chew. It looks a little like brown rice with a texture, once cooked, reminiscent of barley.
The term “whole” applies to grains with both the bran and germ intact, which is where most of the nutrients and fiber lie. Therefore, I’m taking liberties using the term for farro, since the most common varieties — semi-pearled and pearled — have some or all of the bran removed. Still, farro remains a nourishing (and tasty) choice, particularly semi-pearled, the more nutritious of the two. It’s also worth noting that while not gluten-free, farro is notably lower in gluten than conventional wheat.
Like so many grains, farro is immensely versatile. If it’s new to your kitchen, I recommend you make up a batch to keep in the fridge for experimenting (you’ll find a “how to” in the headnote of the recipe below). As for what to do with farro, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Warm it with milk and top with nuts, seeds, and fresh or dried fruit along with a drizzle of maple syrup for a satisfying hot cereal.
- Scramble with eggs and greens for a hearty breakfast or lunch.
- Add to warming winter soups or stews much like you would rice or barley.
- Combine with your favorite beans for a vegetarian main course.
- Swap it out for arborio rice as in this Oven Farro Risotto with Asparagus.
- Toss into hearty vegetable or green salads to add texture and heft such as this Farro with Roasted Beets from Cooking Light.
Hot cereal and grain salads aside, if you are going to make anything with farro, make Zucchini Farro Cakes from the talented Megan Gordon. Megan is a master of whole grains, having started the Marge Granola company and authored the just-published cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, which features inspiring and inventive ideas, from Coconut Quinoa Porridge to Blueberry Breakfast Bars. Plus, the book generously shares the prized Marge granola recipe….practically worth the price tag alone.
In Whole Grain Mornings, Megan does up her farro cakes rather elegantly for a weekend brunch alongside slow roasted tomatoes and herbed goat cheese. I decided to simplify matters for a weeknight supper by pairing them with a Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce that takes all of five minutes to pull together.
So, now that I’ve got you hooked on farro, I urge you not to forget about millet, our Miss January, and to stay tuned next month when we will continue to dig deep into the wonderful world of whole grains.
These farro cakes can be made ahead of time, covered well, and stored in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Once made, they are terrific as a leftover, even suitable for a lunch box. You'll need two cups of cooked farro for this recipe. Simply follow the instructions on the package or use this basic method: In a medium pot, combine one cup semi-pearled farro with two cups water. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook until just tender, 25 to 35 minutes. Cooking times vary. Drain any excess water that remains.
- 3 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 pound or 3 medium)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
- 2 cups cooked and cooled farro
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 3 green onions, white and light green parts, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup whole grain bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour, whole wheat flour, or whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- In a bowl, toss the zucchini with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and set aside for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain by squeezing the zucchini in a cheesecloth or a fine-weave kitchen towel. When finished, you should be left with about 1 1/2 cups of relatively dry shredded zucchini.
- In a large bowl, combine the farro, eggs, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, green onions, parsley, thyme, bread crumbs, flour, garlic, and zucchini. Stir well and let stand for 5 minutes. Knead the mixture a few times in the bowl with your hands, then form 3-inch patties about 3/4-inch thick, and place them on a plate or baking sheet to await cooking.
- Line a large plate with paper towels. Pour the olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and almost shimmering, put 4 of the patties in the pan and cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook the second side for 3 to 4 minutes. Place the cooked cakes on the lined plate to drain off any excess oil. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding a little extra oil as needed between batches if the cakes begin to stick to the pan.
- To make the yogurt sauce, in a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt until creamy.
- Serve a spoonful of yogurt sauce alongside the warm farro cakes
Recipe adapted and printed with permission from Megan Gordon from Whole Grain Mornings (Ten Speed Press, 2014)