On a recent trip to my local deli, I noticed a bit of a buzz developing as a bland-looking salad emerged from the depths of the kitchen. Three locals were hovering and immediately placed their orders for the grey looking grain. Luckily, experience tells me that the ladies of Richmond know more about food than your average Michelin inspector so, in the interests of gastro-research, I took some home to try. I’m not normally a salad type of guy, but this stuff was a revelation – packed full of flavour, with a gorgeous nutty texture.
Unfortunately, whilst it might have tasted great, that salad also left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. I have always been proud of my (nowhere) near-encyclopedic food knowledge, and like to think I know my quinoa from my buckwheat, but am ashamed to say that farro had completely passed me by. I have since found out that it is has been trending amongst foodies and super-chefs for ages, which didn't make me feel any better, and was a favourite of the ancient Romans more than 2,000 years ago.
The Italian word “farro” describes a group of grains from the wheat family. However, if you find it bagged up in your local deli it is most likely to be emmer, spelt's super nutritious cousin. It’s best served al dente and has a slightly nutty flavour that, whilst pretty dull on its own, is the perfect base for other flavours.
Cooking with farro is not exactly an arduous affair, requiring just a quick soak followed by a 20 minute simmer in water or flavoured stock. You can buy it whole or pearled (husks removed), but I would recommend the semi-pearled as there is less soaking, whilst retaining plenty of nutritional goodness.
This farro, mushroom and pancetta salad is my attempt to recreate the dish that excited the Richmond Hill locals, with the addition of some truffle oil for a bit of decadence. Alternatively, you could pair the farro with roasted vegetables, give it a lift with pomegranate seeds, or use as a base to stuff peppers or tomatoes instead of rice.