Culinary Arts

Learn About Farro: History, Cookings Tips, and Easy Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Mar 15, 2019 • 5 min read

A staple food for millenia, farro—the hearty grain with a nutty flavor that’s packed with protein and fiber—first became popular in the U.S. via Italy, where it’s the star of Tuscan classics like farrotto (a farro risotto) and zuppa di farro (farro soup). These days, farro is prized for retaining its al-dente texture long after cooking, making it the perfect standalone side dish or base for all kinds of grain bowls or a hearty farro salad.

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What Is Farro?

Farro is an ancient grain (like quinoa, freekeh, and kamut) that has long been popular in Mediterranean cuisine. The Italian word farro actually refers to multiple types of ancient grains brought to Ancient Rome from the Fertile Crescent around 44 BCE. Cooked farro looks and tastes similar to barley, but with a more chewy texture and caramel notes. Whole-grain farro pops a little when chewed, like wild rice or wheat berries.

Is Farro Gluten Free?

Farro is actually a type of wheat—part of the genus Triticum—that predates common bread wheat. As a result, farro contains gluten, and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet.

6 Different Types of Farro

Farro can actually refer to a variety of different products. There are three major farro species:

  • Farro piccolo (Triticum monococcum), or small farro, is commonly known as einkorn—German for “one kernel.” It’s a popular food in northern Provence, and likely the first type of wheat to be cultivated by humans.
  • Farro medio (Triticum dicoccum), or medium farro, is the most common type of farro in the U.S. and Europe, and was first cultivated by ancient Babylonians about 17,000 years ago. Also known by its Hebrew name, emmer, it’s harder than farro piccolo and thrives in warmer climates, especially Italy.
  • Farro grande (Triticum spelta), or large farro, is also known as spelt. It has been grown in what is now southern Germany since 4,000 BCE.

Apart from size and species, farro is also divided into three types depending on its level of “pearling”—that is, how much of the grain’s outer husk has been removed from the bran.

  • Pearled farro is the most common type of farro sold in the U.S. Pearled farro has had its outer layer of bran is removed, which means it contains less fiber and nutrients, but cooks much more quickly.
  • Whole-grain farro, aka berry or whole-berry farro, contains the germ and the bran in addition to the inner endosperm. This high-protein farro requires overnight soaking before cooking.
  • Semi-pearled farro splits the difference: It cooks faster than whole-grain farro, but contains more nutrients than pearled farro.
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Raw farro grain in measuring cup

How to Cook Farro

There are two main ways to cook farro: the absorption method, and the pasta method.

  • Absorption Method: In this method, the farro is cooked until it fully absorbs the water, usually in a ratio of 1 cup farro to 2-3 cups water. The advantage of this method is that you’ll know exactly when the farro is done, and won’t have to deal with draining it. The absorption method is ideal if you’re using chicken or vegetable broth as your cooking liquid, since you won’t have to waste any down the drain. In a medium pot, combine 1 cup farro with 2-3 cups water or stock (check package directions, as different types of farro may require different amounts). Bring water to a boil, add farro, cover, and simmer. The farro is ready once its absorbed all the cooking liquid. You can also use the absorption method to cook farro in a rice cooker (use the brown rice setting).
  • Pasta Method: In this method, the faro is boiled like pasta in a large pot of salted water. The advantage of the pasta method is that you won’t over- or under-cook your grains, and the additional water absorbs some of the farro’s starch, preventing an overly gummy texture. When using the pasta method, drain your farro once the grains are tender but still chewy. (See approximate cook times below.)

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Cook Times for Farro

Cooking time for farro depends on the type of farro you’re using.

  • Pearled farro: 15-20 minutes. No pre-soaking needed.
  • Semi-pearled farro: 25-30 minutes. No pre-soaking needed.
  • Whole farro: 20-60 minutes, depending on how long it has been soaked. Ideally, whole farro should be soaked overnight.

3 Tips for Cooking Perfect Farro

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Here are a few techniques for getting better results putting a unique spin on your farro.

  1. Toast farro before cooking. Level up your farro game by toasting your the grains before cooking. Heat the oven to 350°F, spread uncooked farro on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, toast farro in a dry skillet until lightly browned and fragrant. Then cook using your preferred method.
  2. Crisp farro in the oven. For a crispy texture, cook farro using the pasta method, then drain and toss with olive oil and salt. Spread farro in a single layer on a baking sheet, then broil in the oven until it sizzles and pops, about 2 minutes. Stir and continue broiling, about 2 more minutes. Repeat until farro is crispy, but not burnt. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste.
  3. Dry farro in the refrigerator. After cooking, spread farro on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate. This will dry out the grains so they can better absorb sauces and seasonings.
Farro salad in bowl with utensil and bread

Quick and Easy Farro Recipe: Flavorful Pearled Farro

Makes
2
Prep Time
5 min
Total Time
20 min
Cook Time
15 min
  • 1 cup pearled farro
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
  • 2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When the oil just starts to simmer, about 1 minute, add the farro and stir to coat.
  2. Toast farro, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the farro.
  3. When the farro is browned, add the chicken broth. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until farro is tender but still chewy, about 10 to 15 more minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and let farro sit, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Drizzle with more olive oil to taste.

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