Long before it was trendy, the Italians were eating farro (wheat berries). This ancient grain with a nutty bite was documented to be a part of the Roman soldier's diet and has been a staple in Tuscan cuisine for centuries. It is most prevalently found in central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio). It is similar to barley or spelt but is not the same thing. It can be found not only in Italian specialty stores but even in the supermarket these days. In Italy, it is relatively inexpensive but here in the US, a small bag is between $5 and $7. If you have never had farro, I encourage you to give it a try. I use it instead of pasta for a summer salad or I toss it in an arugula salad for some added texture. In colder months, one of my favorite regional dishes is zuppa di farro from Lucca. This is a rich hearty soup with farro, beans, vegetables and of course, parmesan. There is a hole in the wall with five tables next to the rental car office near the church of Ognissanti (All Saints). It is a perfect stop for a farro salad before hitting the road for a Tuscan driving adventure (when departing Florence in a rental car, be prepared for obscene gestures and lots of yelling. Ignore it all and keep your eyes on the prize because once you manage to get outside the city limits, you are treated with serpentine roads and stunning landscapes as you make your way through the hills of Tuscany. Heaven! . Here are five fabulous recipes to try.
- Farro Caprese Salad - This is a perfect take on a classic summer salad. It has become a favorite in my house and is so easy. Farro (cooked per instructions on the package), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and little mozzarella balls cut in half (I get these at the olive bar at my grocery store). Toss everything together and refrigerate.
- Farro with Pistachios, Mixed Herbs and Golden Raisins - This is a great, Middle Eastern take on farro. The different textures in the dish make it a real winner.
- Zuppa di Farro I know it's a little warm for soup right now but tuck it away because the blustery days of October will be here before you know it and you will want this recipe. It is from the Food 52 website, contributed by Emiko Davies, my go to resource for all things Tuscan.
- Farro with Cucumbers - I am making this for the weekend. I love the freshness of the cucumbers. You can't go wrong with Mario Batali's recipes - they always feature only a few ingredients, always of the highest quality. This is a great salad to serve with grilled chicken.
This summer, ditch the pasta salad and try farro. Good and good for you!