Farro is an ancient variety of wheat and is widely cultivated across the Mediterranean. Recently it has caught the attention of cooks in the United States.
Farro has a high protein and fiber content and a nutty, chewy texture (similar to barley) that makes it great for grain salads, soups, stuffings, and pilafs.
Farro is often confused with spelt, but they're two different species of wheat.
Farro is sold whole, semi-pearled, or pearled, all of which can be used in salads and pilafs. Semi-pearled and pearled farro cook faster than whole-grain farro (30 minutes vs. 60 minutes) but the trade-off is decreased nutritional content. Pearling removes the inedible hull that surrounds the grain, but the process also scours off part (semi-pearled) or all (pearled) of the nutritious germ and bran. Whole-grain farro is hulled using a gentler process that leaves the germ and bran intact.
Compared to whole farro, pearled farro (or semipearled farro, in which some, but not all, of the bran was removed) cooks in much less time without the need for soaking (semipearled can be used interchangeably with pearled but may need a few more minutes to cook). The tricky part comes when choosing which farro to buy as not all packages are labeled clearly. Ideally, the label will include some version of the word pearled. If not, check how long it takes to cook. If it’s 30 minutes or less, with no soaking required, it’s likely pearled.
Farro is also sold cracked (like bulgur), and ground into a flour, which can be used to make pasta, baked goods, and even roux.
Simmer 1 part whole-grain or pearled farro in about 5 parts salted water until it's pleasantly toothy and chewy but no longer hard (about 60 minutes for whole-grain, 30 minutes for pearled) and then drain any excess water.
Store pearled farro in the freezer for up to six months after opening; whole-grain farro will keep in a cupboard almost indefinitely. Cooked farro will keep in the refrigerator for five days; reheat it in broth or water.