Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I couldn’t definitively declare that I liked farro until I successfully prepared it in a context that didn’t involve mushrooms. When this recipe appeared at Smitten Kitchen, it seemed like the perfect opportunity: colorful, summery, bright with tomato and basil, and about as far from earthy brown mushrooms as you can get. As a bonus, it’s a nifty cooking method—just throw the ingredients into a pot and boil for 30 minutes, end of story. I had my doubts that something so easy and breezy could really result in deep and complex flavors, but I was happy to be proven wrong. The onions and tomatoes break down into a savory sauce that makes the farro sing.

The first time, I followed the Smitten Kitchen directions exactly and it was good. Then I spotted another spin on the same dish at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, mostly the same but with the quantities slightly increased (which appealed to me because the original recipe had yielded a slightly awkward three main-dish servings, and especially after discovering that the leftovers tasted even better the next day, I prefer to have at least four) and with arugula instead of basil (which appealed to me because I love arugula and because if I can cram enough vegetables into the main dish I don’t have to bother with making a side salad). I made a few tweaks, upping the garlic and adding back in the basil. Matters were slightly complicated by the fact that I’d accidentally bought Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro, which has already been parboiled and which I feared would become disgustingly mushy if subjected to the 30-minute boil needed to cook off all the liquid the recipe calls for. (Online opinions seem divided on the TJ’s farro, with many loving it but others finding it no match for the regular stuff.) I decided to make the best of it by skipping the presoak and forging ahead as written—and the farro turned out perfectly, just as chewy as ever, so I’m tempted to keep using the TJ’s version, especially since it comes in convenient 1½-cup bags, exactly the quantity needed for this recipe. I served it with a poached egg on top and it was even more heavenly.

This really is a miraculous recipe, a wholesome weeknight meal that coaxes big taste out of simple ingredients. And if you haven’t tried farro before, this may be the way to do it: easy, no fuss, with familiar elements that transform into something even better.

Note, August 2016: I value this as a hearty vegetarian entree, but in an effort to make it more appealing to A, I have tried it with Italian sausage (about 8 ounces, chicken or pork, crumbled and browned in a separate skillet, drained, and added to the farro with the arugula and Parmesan in Step 3) and I gotta say it’s a pretty delicious variation.

3 cups water
1½ cups semi-pearled farro
1 medium yellow onion, quartered and sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic, halved and sliced thinly
4 cups (2 pints) halved grape or cherry tomatoes
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra to taste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to taste
2 cups baby arugula
1 handful basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak for at least 5-10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. (Skip the soaking if using 10-minute farro.)

2. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the farro. Bring uncovered pan to a boil. Set a timer for 30 minutes and reduce heat to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked (tender but still a bit chewy) and the liquid should be mostly absorbed.

3. Add the arugula and Parmesan; stir to combine and to wilt the arugula.

4. Transfer to serving bowls, drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and sprinkle with basil and additional Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Great; tastes even better the next day.

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