Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Farro is an Italian form of wheat that I am seeing more often, like some other whole grains, and starches they come in and out of style as chefs all over the world look for different ways to present starches on plates in restaurants everywhere. Like quinoa, bulgar, buckwheat, grits, and barley- farro is trendy. A simple push to get away from the rice and potato dishes that accompany fish and meat dishes. The thought process is simple- as a chef I know you (as a customer) can make potatoes at least 4-5 different ways at home, and hopefully you can cook a few good rice dishes as well. When you make a decision to come to a restaurant there is an expectation that I will feed you something new, or different. Therefore I have only two options, I can make the best mashed or roasted potatoes, rice blend or pilaf that you have ever had, or I can feed you a starch that you have never heard of, or wouldn't have the guts to try at home, even if you could track it down. Again either way creates value for a customer, and a taste that they are prone to remembering. I remember thinking long ago that once I could identify, and then cook all of these oddball starches I would be a "great" chef. I while I am a better chef for knowing most of them, it is an evolving work in progress. Every rice has a different ideal water ratio, every starch has a way it wants to be cooked, and I cant necessarily stop what I am doing and Google the liquid to product ratio of things like farro in the middle of service.
Farro seems to create some issues as well, it can be called any number of things, and actually is a pretty ancient grain that may be familiar to you in different names. Spelt, wheatberries, emmer, or einkorn. There is even some argument that it is so similar to barley that it should just be called Italian barley. From a structural standpoint it is just the grains of certain types of wheat.
Like barley (if you don't cook barley at home you should) I find it best cooked risotto style. Toast it lightly in a pan, and add hot liquid a few cups at a time until it is done. Also like barley it will have a bit of toothsomeness to it, even when it is done. I like to do this with some mirepoix, and the whole process in my own kitchen will take me about an hour and half. It is hearty enough to stand up in a stew, or a soup as well.
This farro I bought from work and it was about $4.60/# which means as far as starches go, it was spendy. That being said it always amazes me that things like this will quadruple in size in the cooking process and so what started as a cup of raw farro, an onion, carrot, some celery, and some stock yielded me about 4-5 cups of cooked product. Look for farro in your local high-end grocery store, or online. As a chef things like this impress my customers, as a husband they impress my wife, and I always get a kick out of telling my boys that no one else they know is eating a farro risotto for dinner tonight.