Get a New Grain: Farro

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Farro has become a bit of culinary darling, turning up on restaurant menus and even in health-food store bulk bins. But what is farro? It’s an ancient strain of emmer wheat (think of it as a wheat varietal, like a chardonnay or pinot noir is to wine) that was originally domesticated in the Near East millennia ago, but has recently become popular on American menus. Here’s how to use it:

farro-postWhat It Looks Like: Farro–specifically “semi-pearled” or “semi-perlato” farro, which has been lightly polished–looks a bit like barley with a dusty coating.

What It Tastes Like: Farro has a lovely, toasted nut flavor and a luscious, meaty chew that makes it one of my favorite whole grains in the kitchen.

How to Cook It: Cook farro in a 1:2 ratio of farro to water. Bring the water (or stock or tomato juice or whatever liquid you choose) to a boil, add the farro and cover. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, until kernels are plump and tender and liquid is absorbed.

How to Use It: I like to use farro as a replacement for pasta in cold salads, as a hearty side dish, or—my favorite—as a stand-in for Arborio rice in a farro risotto. It keeps extremely well with minimal clumping when cool, which makes it a great candidate for leftovers. Try it as a base for a salad or an addition to soup.

Additional Notes: While farro used to be peasant food—it was an official ration for Roman legions—nowadays it’s quite pricy. But its texture is so substantial that I find it needs little or no meat to round out a meal. Try thinking of the farro itself as the main focus of the dish, adding meat only for a hit of flavor–like a big mound of shallot-studded farro topped with thin slices of steak or chicken. Of course, you can always beef up the whole plate with tasty seasonal veggies, as with the eggplant stacks below. Combinations like these end up being both healthy and quite economical.

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Farro & Eggplant Stacks with Summer Pesto & Salsa Fresca

I know, I know; this recipe has a lot of layers to it. But think of it as four meals in one—farro, grilled eggplant, summer pesto and salsa fresca. Make a little extra of each one and you’ll have a week’s worth of meals . . . along with an impressive dish for dinner.

Farro & Eggplant Stacks with Summer Pesto & Salsa Fresca


Yield: Serves 4

Farro & Eggplant Stacks with Summer Pesto & Salsa Fresca


  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  2. 1 cup minced onion
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 cup diced tomato
  5. 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  6. 3/4 cup farro
  7. 1 cup water
  8. 1 pound eggplant, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch slices
  9. 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  10. Salsa Fresca
  11. 2 tomatoes, chopped
  12. 1/2 cup white onion, chopped
  13. 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  14. 2 tablespoons lime juice
  15. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  16. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  17. 1 jalapeno, minced
  18. Mix together all ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
  19. Makes 1-1/2 to 2 cups
  20. Summer Pesto
  21. 1 packed cup fresh basil, and other summer herbs
  22. 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  23. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  24. 2 cloves garlic
  25. 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  26. Sea salt, to taste
  27. In a food processor, pulse together basil through garlic. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Season to taste with salt.
  28. Makes ½ cup


Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic, and saute another 2 minutes. Add tomato to pan with 1/2 the salt and bring to a simmer. Add farro to the pan and toss to coat with onion/tomato mixture. Pour in water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover ,and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.

Heat grill to medium-high. Brush eggplant slices with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with remaining salt. Grill for 3-5 minutes per side, until browned and tender.

To assemble, lay an eggplant slice on a plate and spread with roughly 1 teaspoon pesto. Spread 1/4 cup of farro over the top and repeat once more. Top second layer with a final slice of eggplant and top with salsa fresca and crumbled feta cheese.