An ancient variety of wheat with a nutty flavor and creamy texture, farro makes a good substitute for rice in dishes such as risotto (called farrotto).
For the shortest cooking time and best results when working with whole farro, Maria Speck, author of “Simply Ancient Grains,” says to cover 1 cup of farro with 2 cups of boiling water, then let the grain soak, covered, overnight. When you are ready to cook, turn on the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the kernels just begin to pop. It also can be cooked in a large pot of boiling salted water, as you would pasta, then drained, but it still must be soaked overnight.
Semi-pearled farro — the variety you are most likely to find at most mainstream grocers — does not need to be soaked and can be cooked using the same two boiling methods, but with cooking time reduced to 20 to 25 minutes, Speck says. In all cases, let the fully cooked grain stand in the covered pot for 10 minutes before serving to absorb any remaining moisture.
PILAF: For mushroom farro pilaf, in a large skillet melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced small yellow onion, 1 diced small carrot and 2 diced celery stalks, along with 1 cup pearled farro. Stir for 2 minutes, then add 2 cups chicken broth and cover. Reduce heat to simmer, then cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the farro is tender. Season with salt and pepper, then top with toasted almonds.
FRITTERS: For farro and cheddar fritters, combine 1 beaten egg with 1/2 cup milk. Stir in 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and hefty pinches of salt and pepper. Mix in 1 cup cooked farro and 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a large skillet and drop the farro mixture by the tablespoonful, flattening the mounds with the back of the spoon. Fry until golden brown on the bottoms, then carefully turn over. Fry on the other side until golden and the fritters are cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel-lined rack. Repeat with remaining farro mixture. Serve warm with hot marinara sauce.
(Recipes by Alison Ladman)