Have wholegrains become part of your life yet? I hope you have integrated them into your meals-and will continue to explore more of the varieties of healthy, hearty whole grain foods. For today, I’ve put together a Spring-y, tangy warm salad, based on chewy Farro and topped with asparagus. It will be asparagus season soon.
Farro is On the Move
In the public zeitgeist, whole grains all have an image. Brown rice is hippie food. Quinoa is kind of yuppie. Millet is birdseed (LOL!) Farro, for some reason, has much better PR. It came into the public consciousness when TV celeb chefs like Mario Batali and the other Italian food leaders started featuring it in risotto and other dishes. Unlike the very similar spelt or kamut berry, the farro grain is gourmet and sexy.
I’m just glad to see a whole grain getting some play in the gourmet sphere, rather than relegated to a boring high-fiber health food. Farro and all our whole grains have distinctive, unique flavors and yes, nutrition profiles that deserve to be celebrated.
What is Farro, Anyway?
The word “farro” just means “ancient wheat grain” in Italian. Farro actually refers to three different grains, Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt. All of them are ancient grains, related to wheat, originating in the Fertile Crescent. What you’ll find on the shelves of your grocery store will probably be “Farro Medio,” or Emmer labeled as Farro. Then you just have to figure out whether it’s whole grain or semi-pearled farro. If it’s evenly deep reddish-brown, it’s whole farro. If it’s got a beige cast and looks like it’s been lightly sanded, that is semi-pearled farro. The packaging should tell you, but sometimes it’s a little mysterious, especially if it’s in a bulk bin. If the package says it takes 20 minutes to cook, it’s definitely semi-pearled. Whole farro needs to be soaked overnight, and then takes an hour of simmering to become fully tender.
Before you call me out on it- yes, I’m cooking with semi-pearled farro, which is not a whole grain, but it’s pretty close. Semi-pearled is lightly scraped just to take off part of the (healthy) bran layer and makie it easier for water to penetrate. But there’s still bran left, and the germ is intact. So it’s a middle ground. It’s also the popular farro, and I see it on the shelves of conventional grocery stores, as well as in bulk at my Coop. If you can get whole farro, soak, and give yourself time to cook it until very tender.
Farro is an excellent source of protein, fiber and nutrients like zinc, magnesium and some B vitamins. History tells us it fed the Roman armies, and kept the gladiators in fighting shape. In today’s gluten-awareness, many people say that ancient grains like farro don’t trigger their symptoms. Farro does contain gluten, so celiacs should avoid it.
Charred Asparagus for Spring
Of course, my warm farro salad is completed with a scatter of tender, slightly smoky roasted asparagus. If you really want char, a hot grill may be fun for this, when it warms up outside. I just roasted the spears in a 425 F oven, so the edges got some smokiness. Sweet, nutty farro is a perfect foil for the vegetal asparagus and sweet shallots. A bright, lemony dressing brings it all together, for a dish that truly celebrates the arrival of Spring.
Warm Farro and Charred Asparagus Salad
- 1 cup farro semi-pearled or whole
- 2 medium shallots slivered
- 1 pound asparagus
- 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- red pepper flakes to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 F. Bring two cups of water to a boil in a small pot, then add the farro and return to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 25 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. (if using whole farro, bring 3 cups water to a boil and cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender, then drain.) Let sit, covered, while you prepare the asparagus.
- Sliver the shallots and place on a sheet pan, then cut 3-inch pieces of the asparagus tips, then slice the tender part of the stems in 3/4 inch pieces. Place on the pan with the shallots. Add the thyme and lemon zest, sprinkle with salt, and drizzle with a tablespoon of the olive oil.Roast for 15 minutes, until charred in spots.
- While the asparagus roasts, whisk the lemon juice and Dijon in a bowl, then whisk in salt and gradually whisk in the remaining olive oil. Spread the warm farro on a platter and drizzle with about half of the dressing.Take the asparagus out of the oven, arrange it on the Farro, and drizzle with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and serve.