Italians call it cucina povera, or “peasant cooking,” but in America today we call it fashionable eating. Fortunately, this time fashionable means satisfying and nutritious. More and more rustic grains are popping up on the hottest restaurant menus. One of my current favorites is farro, a wheat grain that’s also known as emmer (and is often confused with spelt). Farro was cultivated by the Romans thousands of years ago; Italians continue to use it in soups, salads, pilafs, and stuffings. I like to cook farro and cannellini bean soup, farro “risotto” with wild mushrooms, and farro salad with tomatoes and pesto.
Farro has a nutty flavor with a slightly crunchy texture. It resembles a grain of rice wrapped in a light reddish-brown hull, and cooking it is simple. Soak it in cold water for 3 to 4 hours and drain (a shorter soak will require longer cooking). Put it in a saucepan covered with plenty of water and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes, or cook it as you would risotto after soaking.
Farro is sold in gourmet stores for around $5 per pound. Manicaretti imports farro and can provide retail information. Check health-food stores or online at www.chefshop.com, but be sure you’re buying emmer wheat and not spelt.