Monday, February 18, 2013

Meatless Monday: Farro, Italy’s Ancient Grain

Farro (Triticum dicoccum) is a grain in the wheat family that has been cultivated in high altitude regions of Italy for centuries. This ancient grain made its appearance in ground-breaking restaurants on both coasts in the late 1990s. The New York Times Garden Section first wrote about farro in 1997. 

Traditional farro dishes include hearty soups, puddings, and “farrottos,” that are prepared like risotto. Farro also shines as lighter fare in a summer salad with tomatoes.

Highly resistant to disease, farro is typically grown without pesticides and fertilizers. It is rich in fiber (20% DV in one serving), magnesium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E, and is high in protein (6 grams per serving). Since farro is low in gluten and easily digested, it can be eaten by some who are gluten intolerant. 

According to information from the University of Florence cited in the Times article, “Farro is an ancient, unhybridized grain used for thousands of years in North Africa and the Middle East, where farro kernels have been found in Egyptian tombs. During the height of the Roman Empire, farro was used as a primary food and probably even as money.” 

The il Farro restaurant site, which promotes and sells farro products, provides extensive information on every topic concerning farro. According to il Farro, the grain requires special machinery for cultivation and milling, and the per acre yield is 1/3 that of wheat. Thus, fewer acres are devoted to farro, and farro’s price is relatively high. 

Most of the world’s farro comes from two regions in central Italy — Umbria and The Marches, from which many in New Haven’s Italian-American community are descended. 

However, Bluebird Grain Farms in the state of Washington has been growing organic emmer, another name for Triticum dicoccum, for over 30 years. Bluebird Grain’s emmer comes from Rwandan seed from the World Seed Bank.

Caveat emptor; there are “false farros” with which Triticum dicoccum is sometimes confused. Faricella is one; spelt is another. While less expensive, they lack true farro’s nutty taste, and take hours to prepare. Il Farro’s farro comes from the Monterosso Farm in The Marches which strictly adheres to the standards set by the prestigious "Suolo e Salute" Association. Prices from their online store are, well, pricey, but they are guaranteed to be the real thing. Ditto to purchases made on the Bluebird Grain site which offers you the opportunity to buy a 50 lb. bag of emmer ($155.00 + shipping).

Otherwise, follow this tip from an importer quoted in the Times: “look for light brown, cleft grains with subtle white stripes and a little white peeking out of some of the kernels.”

Happy Monday. Have a great week. Come back next Monday for my original farro recipe.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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