Grains: Farro

I am a fan of grains, and not only for baking bread. I remember seeing “wheat berries” in a recipe years ago, and searched for them in stores just out of curiosity. Now I have so many types of grains in my pantry that I get confused as to what they are and how to cook them and what recipes to use them in. So I am putting that information here in one place, one grain at a time.

Introduction

We all know what a grain is, right? It’s the wheat that makes up our bread, the oats in our breakfast cereal, the corn in our corn bread, the rice in our risotto. A grain is usually the edible fruit of grasses, although grains can be harvested from other plant families, as we shall see.

A grain is made up of an endosperm, germ, and bran. “Whole grains” are the natural form of the grain, containing all three, and have carbohydrates, fats, oils, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Our food industry refines most of our grains, removing the bran and the germ, leaving products that are mostly carbohydrates. But that’s what we love! White flour combined with sugar (pure carbohydrate) and fats make our delicious cakes and pie crusts and muffins and cookies. I am as guilty in my love of these foods as most Americans.

But ever since my early twenties, I have tried to get myself trained to like whole grains. And this is a continuation of that training, and of a search for healthy grains.

One way to judge how “healthy” or “whole” a grain is by its glycemic index. (I say these words in “quotes” because various healthy food theories come and go.) Many of the grains or grain products in this section have a low glycemic index (GI), and low is good. I discussed glycemic index in my post on The Glucose Revolution Pocket Guide to Losing Weight, a 2000 book. Briefly, these are foods that take a long time to release their glucose into the bloodstream, keeping you feeling full longer, and decreasing glucose spikes and thus the risk of diabetes. The GI scale is from 1 to 100, with 100 being pure sugar, and any value under 55 considered good. Today, I find that I can usually google a food and glycemic index, e.g., “farro glycemic index”, and a value will pop up at the top of the search results. If I can’t find it by that method, I go to:

Now, let’s get to the first of the grains I studied: farro.

Farro

Farro is a type of wheat, or grass, but different from the common US cultivated species of wheat. It is called an “ancient grain”, or an “heirloom grain”. Ancient grains were first used thousands of years ago, and the seeds passed down over the generations. Are they all more nutritious than our current whole wheat? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But they are certainly different in flavor and texture. And it’s fun knowing the grain you are eating has been passed down carefully, generation to generation, as a tradition.

This is uncooked farro:

uncooked farroHere it is next to grains of medium brown rice, to show you the size:

farro and rice

According to Wikipedia, farro is the term for a species of wheat that includes spelt, einkorn, and emmer. These grains are called “hulled wheat”, or wheat that cannot be threshed (threshing removes a grain from the husks). “Farro” is often used to describe these three different grains, without specification. The Healthline website explains the confusion.

The farros that I bought locally did not specify whether they are spelt, einkorn, or emmer. So far, I have found Bob’s Red Mill farro in local whole food and regular markets, and Trader Joe’s carries a “10 minute farro”.  This grain project of mine is a work-in-progress, and I’ll update as I learn more about the specific make-up of available farro.

Ancient grains

Farro is what is called an “ancient grain”. This term even has its own Wikipedia entry. Bob’s Red Mills calls farro “the traditional grain of the Mediterranean” and “a hearty grain that was a mainstay of the daily diet in ancient Rome” and the “mother of all wheat”. It is still a favorite grain in Italian cooking – although I did not notice it in any of my Italian cookbooks.

Emiko Davies’ blog has a great entry on farro, including its use in certain regions of Italy, its nutritional benefits, and a recipe.

Farro, like all grains, can be milled into flour. I found “emmer flour” online but haven’t tried it (emmer is of the 3 species of wheat that are all called farro). King Arthur flour has an ancient grains flour, but it has no farro in it. King Arthur Flour sells an ancient grain blend, of amaranth, millet, and sorghum, but it has no farro in it.

Taste

What does farro taste like? Like a nutty and chewy wheat grain. It is similar to wheat berries, and chewier and tastier than bulgur. I’d say, it tastes great! I even got my hubby to like it. He is happy with it as a substitute for rice.

Nutrition

1/4 cup dry has 200 calories (value from the Bob’s Red Mill package). I cooked 1 cup dry farro – after cooking it had a volume of 2 3/4 cup. So, if I have a pile of cooked farro and want to eat 200 calories, that’s .69 cup or just under 3/4 cup cooked.

1/4 cup dry farro has 37 grams total carbohydrate and 7 grams protein and 7 grams dietary fiber. No vitamins A or C; 2% daily calcium and 10% daily iron.

The glycemic index is 40, called “medium” GI. As a comparison, whole wheat berries have a GI of 41. White flour has a GI of 85. Old-fashioned oatmeal has a GI of 58.

The Healthline website has a good discussion of the nutrition of farro.

Proponents of ancient grains (like farro) claim that they are high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and claim that they have more health benefits than modern grains. If you compare ancient grains with today’s grains, you would have to compare the whole grain. Perhaps they are more nutritious, but I’d have to see a study that compares “apples with apples”, or “whole grains with whole grains”.

Cooking

Put farro in cold water and bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer according to the recommended time in the table below. I like to add about 1/2 teaspoon salt for 1 cup of dry grain. The grain will use up most but not all of the water.

water time simmering time standing
1 cup regular farro 3 cups 30 minutes not given drain off any water
1 cup 10 min farro 2 cups 10 minutes 5 minutes drain off any water

I cooked regular farro about 25 minutes in already boiling water and drained it immediately, then covered until I was ready to use it. That worked great too.

Other notes:

  • You can toast the dry farro before cooking to bring out a nuttier flavor, and you can add seasonings to the cooking liquid or use stock instead of water.
  • One source suggested soaking 1 cup farro in the refrigerator overnight, draining, add back 3 cups water, simmer 10 minutes, then drain excess liquid.
  • Bob’s Red Mill suggests pre-rinsing.
  • Do not overcook farro, it’s good a little crunchy.
  • 1 cup cooks to 2 3/4 cups, so dish up 3/4 cup for 200 calories.

Here is my cooked farro:

cooked farro

Recipes

How do I use farro in my daily cooking? I use it instead of rice, under a saucy pork paprika or a stir fry. I add it to soup, like beef and vegetable soup. I like cooked farro the next day, in a cold salad mixed with olive oil, a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, a little sharp cheese, nuts, miscellaneous raw veggies, and any fresh herbs I have around.

I first tried making farro yeast bread: I added 1/2 cup cooked farro to My Daily Bread. It tasted really good, especially as toast, but it did not rise well and it was super moist and well, heavy. My second try was a success. First, I put 1/2 cup dry farro in a food processor and ran it until it was flour-like. This took about 10 minutes, and it still had a few grainy bits in it. It weighed 3 ounces, so for the rest of the My Daily Bread flour mixture I weighed out 9 ounces. I put the buttermilk in my breadmaker, then let it sit a couple hours, hoping to soften the farro bits. Then, I added the rest of the ingredients and turned the breadmaker on. It turned out perfect! More flavor than my usual “my daily bread”.

This if from a farro package: Saute chopped onions and garlic a couple minutes, then add uncooked farro and cook another couple minutes. The mixture should smell delightfully nutty and fragrant. Then add chicken or vegetable stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the farro is done but still chewy. You can add mushrooms and peas during last 15 minutes of the cooking time. Just before serving, stir in some butter and top with a little Parmesan cheese. (Recipe on the farro package.)

Online:

250 Cookbooks: Two Hundred Toasts

Cookbook #250: Two Hundred Toasts, Mlle. Mixer, New York City, Osborn Printing Co., Los Angeles, Ca, 1905.

Two Hundred Toasts cookbook

Let’s toast! To life, love, and the end of this “250 Cookbooks” blog! I began this section of my cooking blog back in October 2012 – here is my introduction. Now it’s June 2018. It’s been a long journey.

Two Hundred Toasts is the oldest of my “cookbooks”. It is actually a book of “toasts”, as in words said with the clinking of glasses. But I entered it in the database, and here we are.

1905. This book is 113 years old today. Is it worth a lot of money? A search revealed that I could purchase other publication years (1906 and 1917) for just $50. It is worth a lot more than that to me. It belonged to my grandmother – my mother’s mother – and I can remember many, many family dinners that began with a toast. And ended with one of Grandmother’s fantastic desserts. She always said “I only eat dinner to get dessert”, although she never gained weight, and she also enjoyed her cocktails. And her sherry, but that’s another story. My mother grew up on their large orange grove ranch in Southern California, where she ran free and loved her horse and went to school in Covina. Her older brother was friends with my father, they all went to school together, and that’s how my parents met and eventually fell in love and married and had the three of us.

I’m going to do something a little different with Two Hundred Toasts. There are no recipes in this book, so I have no recipe to cook. But the book is a delight, so I’ll scan in all the pages for us all to enjoy.

Here are the title and facing pages.

Next comes the first page of toasts, “Parisian Tosts”. Oops, a misspell. The first of many, I find. Mlle. Mixer is French (the front cover says “New York, Paris) so English must be her second language, or she was a bad typist. Google Books has digitized the 1906 version of this book. It’s different from my 1905 edition: all of the misspellings have been corrected. My edition is sort of endearing, typos and all. No spell checkers in 1905!

This size of scan makes it hard for us to read. I’ll leave the following one “as is” because I want to illustrate the facing page with the “Osborn Printing Co.” on it. But after these first two pages, I’ll scan them in as half-pages.

My favorite of the above toasts? The last, especially the line “Till your little shoes and my big boots are under the bed together”.

Here’s the next page. I like “When a man says he has a wife, he menas [sic] that a wife has him.”

“Since man is dust, it would appear, ‘Twere well to water him with beer.”

“Be good and you will be lonesome.”

Oh my! Such an attitude: “To Woman: the bitter half of man” and “Call no man unhappy till he’s married.”

“To our America: The best land in the world – let them that don’t like it, leave it.”

“Among the things that good wine brings, what is better than laughter that rings in a revery and makes better friends of you and me!” I like the one about champagne too.

“Good liquor, I stoutly maintain, gives learning a better discerning!”

“Tis easy enough to be pleasant, when life goes by with a song; but the man worth while is the man who will smile when everything goes dead wrong.”

“Here’s health to the girl who will drink when she can, and health to the girl who can dance the can-can.”“Here’s to champagne, the drink divine, that makes us forget our troubles; it’s made of a dollar’s worth of wine, and three dollars worth of bubbles.”

“Since she’s not here to drink her part, I’ll drink her share with all my heart.”“May Dame Fortune ever smile upon you but never her daughter, Miss fortune.” And also: “Here’s to the chaperone – may she learn from Cupid. Just enough blindness – to be sweetly stupid.”

“To Home: – The place we are treated best and grumble most.”

Number 88 is a racial slur, but I guess it wasn’t in 1905. We might not have come a long way here in America, but at least we have come a little ways.

“Here’s to the light that lies in a woman’s eyes; And lies! And lies! And lies!”

“Woman: The fairest work of the great Author. The edition is large and no man should be without a copy.” And “May the best days you have ever seen be worse than your worst to come.”“Drink beer and forget your sorrow; if the thought comes back, drink more to morrow.” I also like number 100, about the servant and her wages.

“While beer brings gladness, don’t forget that water only makes you wet.”

“The health of those we love best – ourselves.”

The classic: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have love at all.”

“Our absent friends, although out of sight, we recognize them with our glasses.”“Woman: Gentle, patient, self-denying. Without her man would be a savage and the earth a desert.”“Fill the bowl with flowing wine, and while your lips are wet, press their fragrance unto mine, and forget!!!!”“Here’s to our wives and sweethearts; may they never meet.”

“Let’s have wine, women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.”

“It is not rank, nor birth, nor state, it’s git-up-and-git that makes men great.”

May we live as long as we want to, and want to as long as we live.”“Don’t do nothing for nobody what don’t do nothing for you.”I like number 167, that ends: “We shall not pass this way again.”“You can fool all the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time!”“When going up the hill of prosperity, may you never meet any friend coming down.”“To the old, long life and treasure. To the young, all health and pleasure.”“Here’s to virtue as the world sees it: A constant struggle against human nature.” And “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine, unless I too have a sip of the wine.”“Honor, wealth, fame may desert us, but thirst is eternal.”“Here’s to you in water, here’s to you in wine, here’s to your sweetheart, not forgetting mine.”“Love is sweet, but oh! how bitter to love a girl, and then not git her.”And so we come to the end of Two Hundred Toasts by Mlle. Mixer. I hope you found a few toasts that you liked.

250 Cookbooks: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide

Cookbook #249: Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide, a Best Recipe Classic, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, Brookline, MA, 2005.

The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and BarbecueMy second-to-last cookbook in this 250 Cookbooks blog! Hard to believe this 5-year project is coming to an end.

Cook’s Illustrated guide cookbooks are always among my favorites. Besides Grilling and Barbecue, I also have Cover and Bake and Best International Recipe. I’ve discussed the style of Cook’s Illustrated recipes in my previous posts on those two books. Briefly, you don’t just get a recipe, you get pages of discussion about how that recipe was developed – what they tried that did and did not work. Further information about ingredients and techniques is presented in boxes or side notes. I find that a Cook’s Illustrated recipe might take a bit more concentration to follow than common recipes, but the recipes always work for me. These guide books are all big, heavy, hardback, white-covered tomes.

I have eight “grilling” cookbooks, but this is one of my two “go-to” books for barbecue – the other is Weber’s Real Grilling. Weber’s Real Grilling is specific to gas grills, while Cook’s Illustrated Grilling and Barbecue gives for each recipe methods for both charcoal grilling and gas grilling. We have a gas grill, and I have no desire to cook with charcoal. The gas grill is just too easy! I’ll just say “I’m sorry” to those purists who think charcoal is the only way to grill!

Grilling and Barbecue begins with introductory sections on “Outdoor Cooking 101″ and Equipment and Tools for Outdoor Cooking”. They are quite useful and complete.

The first chapter is “Beef”. Strip and rib steaks, porterhouse and T-bone steaks, filets mignons, steak tips, flank steaks, London broil, hamburgers, prime rib, beef tenderloin, veal chops, beef ribs, and beef brisket are each discussed in detail, describing how to get the most out of each cut of beef. Specific recipes, sauces, salsas, marinades, and rubs are suggested, some of which appear in later chapters in the book.

The section on in the Beef chapter on “Does Branding Matter?” catches my eye. It begins: “To guarantee quality, more and more people are looking beyond the confines of their local supermarket butcher case and buying their steaks through mail order sources. These outlets promise all-star beef with a price tag to match”. I read on with interest, since I have tried mail order steaks in the past. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated did a thorough study of both local supermarket and mail order steaks. The steak that won first place in their taste tests is a mail order brand that cost $68/pound (Lobel’s Wagyu, or Kobe-style steak from Oakleigh Ranch in Australia). “We found that money can buy you happiness, if happiness for you is the best steak you ever ate”. But the “good news” is that you don’t have to spend a small fortune “or pay for shipping” to get a great steak. Coleman Natural steak, available at some supermarkets, is only $14 a pound and came in second in their taste tests. (Note the publication date of this book: 2005. We know prices have changed since then.)

Pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and other birds, fish, shellfish, vegetables, and pizza and bruschetta chapters follow in the same detail and style as the beef chapter. Sides and salads, rubs and sauces round out the book.

I think a study “kebabs” would be a good illustration of “Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide“. Sure, I’ve made pork, beef, and chicken kebabs so often I rarely use a recipe, but the meat often comes out dry and chewy, or under-cooked, or unflavorful, and the onions and peppers and other vegetables burned or falling apart. I usually make kebabs the same way, no matter what type of meat I use. Just load up the skewers, brush with a sauce, and put them on the grill – that’s my method. But I decide to use this blog as an opportunity to study how to make really good kebabs. So I turn to the pages and lengthy kebab discussions in this tome – about 4 big pages on average for each type of kebab. Below is what I learn.

First, pork. The problem with pork kebabs is that the pork tastes bland and often dries out on the grill. Cook’s Illustrated tried different cuts of pork, and chose pork loin because it has a full flavor, is tender, and an “appealing resistance when you bite into it”. On their early tries, the pork loin dried out on the grill. To overcome this, they tried both brining and marinating, and chose the marinade method because it not only kept the meat “moist and juicy”, but it added “richness of flavor that was lacking in the lean pork loin”. Also, the oil in the marinade improved the pork’s texture and added other flavors to the meat. Not only that, but cutting the pork loin into 1 1/4 inch cubes and “butterflying” them improved the flavor of this rather neutral meat. To butterfly, each cube is cut almost through at the center before marinating, and then folded back together to skewer as a whole cube. On the gas grill, these cubes cooked best over a “more moderate level of heat” than beef, the grill is covered, and the kebabs are turned a quarter-turn every 2 1/2 minutes for about 9-10 minutes total. Cooking the pork to 145˚ was found to be ideal. A study of fruits and vegetables to accompany the pork on the skewers led them to recommend fresh pineapple in 1-inch chunks, bell poppers in 1-inch pieces, and red onion in 3/4-inch pieces.

Beef kebabs went through a similar study. Results: use top blade (flatiron) steaks or sirloin.  Butterfly 1 1/4-inch beef cubes and marinate in a non-acidic olive oil based herb mixture, use the same vegetable and fruits as in pork cubes, grill over direct high heat, cover down, turning one-quarter turn every 1 3/4 minutes, until meat is browned, about 7-8 minutes total.

Finally, chicken kebabs. Use chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks and marinate in a olive oil and salt, non-acidic marinade. Cook’s Illustrated found “early on” that it was clear that cooking chicken and vegetables together on kebabs “enhances the flavor of both”. After a lengthy study, they chose zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, bell peppers, small shallots, apples, peaches, pears, and fresh pineapple as appropriate for chicken kebabs. (Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t deem potatoes good for kebabs because they require pre-cooking.) They have a handy table that designates the size to cut each recommended fruit and vegetable and whether or not that fruit or vegetable should be marinated. For grilling, they recommend two skewers per kebab, to facilitate turning them without the chicken and vegetables spinning. Grilling should be done on medium high, uncovered, turning one-quarter turn every 2 minutes, until lightly browned, about 9 minutes total.

I am inspired! I’ll carefully follow their instructions and make all these different types of kebabs this summer. Then I can expand to their recipes for fish and shrimp kebabs.

Am I going to make kabobs for this blog? No! Instead, I want to cook a pork tenderloin for the two of us. This is a cut of pork that I use a lot – it’s tender, lean, often on sale, and a perfect portion for two people (with a little left over for the next day’s lunch). I usually simply sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over direct medium high heat, turning about four times. Grilling and Barbecue says to brine the pork tenderloin, use a wet rub, and cook over high heat 3 minutes per side.

For copyright protection, I am not scanning in this recipe. Below is my adaptation of the original in Grilling and Barbecue, Cook’s Illustrated Guide.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Orange, Sage, and Garlic
serves 2

Pork tenderloin and brine

  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • water

Wet spice rub

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • salt to taste

Remove the “silver skin” from the pork tenderloin: simply slide a sharp knife under this thin piece of tendon on the outside of the tenderloin.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in several cups of water in a shallow bowl. Add the tenderloin and refrigerate about 1 hour. While the pork brines, prepare the wet spice rub – simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

Remove the tenderloin from the brining solution, rinse, and dry with paper towels. Rub the wet spice rub into the tenderloin.

Heat a gas grill by turning all the burners to high and with the grill covered. Then, open the gas grill and scrape the cooking grate clean with a grill brush. With the burners still on high, lay the wet-rub-coated pork tenderloin carefully on the grill. Close the cover. Turn about every three minutes so that all four “sides” of the tenderloin are browned. Using a quick-read thermometer, check that the meat is at 145˚. If not, cook until it is.

Serve!

Grilled Pork TenderloinYum! This was perfect! Moist and flavorful with great grill marks. I served it with a green salad and corn on the cob for a light, healthy, tasty meal.

Thank you, Cook’s Illustrated, for another great recipe.