Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Long Ago, a Farro Way

In the midst of some intense pressure-cooker, game-show-style writing on the nature of American and Brazilian poetry, the properties of propriety, the materiality of words, I have decided to take a break. That means watching The Princess Bride and thinking about farro. Fred Savage is so little. Andre the Giant so tender. The whole premise is inconceivable (with a lisp), yet so enchanting. On to farro...

Once upon a time, at the end of the Ice Age, humans in the Fertile Crescent began to tire of wandering the land hunting and gathering, so they settled down to cultivate edible plants. Farro, widely known as emmer wheat, was one of these grains. The gods of radiocarbon dating have identified emmer from Israel going back as far as 17,000 BC.

Fast forward to one year ago. Location: Cafe Rouge, a restaurant on 4th St. in Berkeley chosen by friends, specializing in "rustic Mediterranean fare as well as American dishes," as the website informs us. I scan the menu, slide an oyster into my mouth (ordered by aforementioned wise friends before I had arrived), and think to myself, what's farro?

Our server comes.
"What's farro?" I ask.
"An ancient grain," she says, with a far-away look in her eye.
"Ooooh. Let's get that," I say.

An ancient grain. It has a nice ring to it. Eat it and you are connected to Egyptian pharaohs, lonely goatherds on the grassy hills above Rome, enterprising Phoenician sailors scenting the wind for signs of land.

I was quite pleased with the farro's substantial texture and how it combined with dark leafy greens. At home when I cooked it, it seemed chewier than at the restaurant, but I don't know if cooking it for longer would have helped. I'm still experimenting. It could be that they used a higher quality, more refined version. This farro came from Rainbow Grocery. Other things to know: Farro is the Italian name for this wheat, cultivated mainly in Tuscany. It is not the same thing as spelt, a mistake that caused some trouble for Heidi Julavits, as she tells us in the NY Times. Buy it semi-pearled (semiperlato) if you don't want to get stuck having to soak the whole grains over night.

Above, I tried stewing it with tomatoes and topped the hearty mess with onion slivers fried to a crisp.

Cooking farro:
Rinse the farro and pick out any delinquent-looking grains. You can soak it in a bowl for awhile if you want the cooking to go faster, but you don't have to. Heat up some oil in a pot and throw in some sliced onions or scallions to sautée, maybe leeks, carrots, and/or pancetta. Add the farro, a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and water at a 1 : 3, farro : water, ratio. Here is where I added the stewed tomatoes as well. Bring it to a boil, take it to a simmer, keep it going for 30-40 minutes, and check it for cracked kernels and edible chewiness. It also makes nice soups, especially with white beans.

Here is Mario Batali's recipe for Farro Soup in the Style of Lucca: Minestra di Faro Lucchese. When I think of Mario, I remember when a friend told me of how he saw the Food Network chef in New York smoking a cigarette against the side of a building and wearing Crocs. This is funny if you know what he looks like or maybe just because Crocs are always kind of funny, though kind of sad too. Here's Mario's website if you want to check out his beard and ponytail.


Anonymous said...

An ancient grain? That's kind of farro out there.


kale daikon said...

The very thought that a pun could go too farro,
Leaves me in the utmost state of sorrow.

Never apologize for word play. That's just silly.

purplecook said...

Farro is delicious with chunky sauces-- think arugula walnut pesto or roasted pepper and feta. I usually cook it like pasta first (in lots of water) and then saute it with mushrooms or veggies or sauce.

It is endlessly impressive that you are still blogging... I should get back to it, now that I have very little excuse. Good luck on the rest of it!

kale daikon said...

Done with the writtens! Do not be impressed with my posting in this time of exams, for, as with Kafka's hunger artist, it has become a strange form of survival for me. Thinking about vegetables helps me escape the windmills of my mind...


Adam Ahmed said...

You should really do a feature on Quinua. There's a extra on the DVD of "Inland Empire" where David Lynch teaches you how to make quinua and while it's cooking he takes a break to tell you a dark and disturbing story from his adventures in Europe.

kale daikon said...

Whoah. You read my mind. I was just washing dishes and thinking of quinoa as a followup and how I would convey its pronunciation phonetically. Either you or fellow weird veg Erin (a devoted Lynchian) told me about that DVD extra some time ago...

Karla said...

Why not combine interests and make black quinoa? Though if you do, and you manage to achieve a texture more pliant than the black sand it looks like, do please let me know how. Done this week?

kale daikon said...

Mm, I currently have red quinoa, which I find to be pleasantly pliant on the tongue. Haven't tried black quinoa yet but will add it to my mental list of Foods that are Black. More formal vegetable thoughts on hold until after Friday!