Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spinach Pesto Farro

Read the following and allow each word to be swallowed up your senses.  Emerald green spinach pesto blanketing chewy nutty farro morsels.  Sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and wilted sweet onions.  Slivers of shaved salty Pecorino Romano rests on the pile.  Are you with me?  It's a seriously delicious concoction.  I wish I could offer you a bite before we move forward.  My description and photos will have to suffice.  I hope I do it justice.  When I notice dwindling portions from the white bowl in my fridge, I anxiously check the pantry and take stock of my farro supply in preparation for the next batch.  

Farro makes me think of the word pharaoh, which isn't too far off.  Farro is one of our oldest grains, also known as emmer wheat.  Emmer wheat was cultivated in ancient Egypt and used in both bread and beer.  Today, farro is common in Italy and parts of Europe and is enjoying a surge here as well.  If you think it looks suspiciously like health food, you'd be right.  People are discovering it for that very reason.  Farro resembles little kernels that puff as they cook.  I typically reach for semi-pearled farro.  A portion of the bran has been removed and it cuts down on cooking time.  It's incredibly easy to prepare.  It retains a slightly chewy and firm texture after cooking.  With a nutty sweet flavor, it's more distinct I think than some of the other grains I cook with.  If you can't find farro you could substitute wheat berries or barley in its place.

This recipe is a great example of how easily you can swap out pasta for a whole grain.  Having said that, I don't want to mislead you into thinking this is a quick weeknight dinner, because it's not.  There are a few steps involved, but I assure you it's worth the effort, as each component works so well together.  I'll often make this on a Sunday when I have more time and heat it up during the week for lunch.  You could make the pesto ahead of time too.

I take this in a few different directions using seasonal ingredients.  In the spring, I'll add fresh asparagus to the mix with a little goat cheese.  Come summer I'll chop fresh juicy tomatoes in lieu of sun-dried and chiffonade some basil over top.  You could even swap out pine nuts.  Toasted hazelnuts might be nice.  However, I'm partial to the pine nuts, being similar in shape and size to farro.  But feel free to experiment.  It's open for all kinds of interpretation.  I hope I've convinced you to give farro a try.  Just remember to ask for farro (FAHR-oh), not pharaoh, or you might get some confused looks in the grocery store.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

~Spinach Pesto Farro Recipe~

2 cups Italian semi-pearled farro
5 cups water
4 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (1/4 cup reserved)
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 onion, sliced and 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped*
shaved Pecorino Romano to garnish

Cook farro:
In a saucepan, combine water and farro and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  The cooking time can vary by brands, some requiring 30 minutes.  Check the instructions on the bag you've purchased.  I tend to taste a few morsels as I move along.  You want it to be 'al dente,' but don't let it go too far.  Also, keep in mind, if you've purchased whole farro, not semi-pearled farro, you should soak the grains overnight.  Your cooking time will take 45 minutes to an hour.

Toast pine nuts and cook onion:
While the farro is cooking, heat a cast iron or skillet pan over medium heat.  Let the pine nuts go for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Keep your eye on them.  Your nose will tell you when they're done.  Reserve half the pine nuts as a topping.  The other 1/4 cup will be used in the pesto.  Wipe out pan and add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Cook sliced onion for a few minutes over medium heat until it wilts down and put it aside.

Make spinach pesto:
In a food processor, combine spinach leaves, garlic, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, Pecorino Romano, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.  Pulse for a few seconds.  Scrape down the sides and give it another whirl until combined.  

Pull it all together:
Drain any excess water from the farro.  In a large bowl fold the spinach pesto into the warm farro.  Transfer to a serving platter from here, or simply assemble right in the same bowl.  Top with wilted onion, sun-dried tomatoes, reserved pine nuts, and shavings of Pecorino Romano.  Serves 4.

*A word about the sun-dried tomatoes.  I recently caught on to those packed in small bags for a great bargain.  Simply rehydrate them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you could use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.  Just make note of the flavor it will bring to the dish if they are packed with additional herbs or seasoning. 


Adrienne said...

Yum! Sounds like the perfect comforting dish on a winter's night.

Clair said...

Yumyumyum! Great tip about the tomatoes...I had no idea. I usually buy the oil packed ones as a treat, so I'll have to keep an eye out for the dried!

Amy said...

Oh wow, you really sold me. Honest! I'm kicking myself now for my lack of branching out into difference types of grains--seems all I can manage to ever eat is rice, quinoa or sometimes, sometimes, barley. I need to branch out! This looks truly incredible, I love the flavors you put together. And I've yet to try spinach pesto... I can't even imagine how it tastes? I'm curious now.

Zoe said...

I have not tried or cook Farro before and good to know all these information from you.

Sue/the view from great island said...

This is obviously a winter dish, but it has such a brightness about it, you are really inspiring me to try new grains.

Stephanie said...

Thanks everyone! Glad I've inspired some of you to give farro a try. I chose to pair it with pesto since it's such a familiar flavor for people, and in this case I like it even better with farro than pasta!

Inside a British Mum's Kitchen said...

This farro looks SO good - i love this grain and use it often - i will absolutely make this - sounds delicious. Hope you received the book and again i'm sorry it took so long!
mary x

kale @ tastes good to me! said...

I love these flavor combos! And the green is so vibrant. I love sun dried tomatoes. Great recipe!

Anonymous said...

This looks so good! I usually buy the vacuum-packed sun-dried tomatoes because, as you say, they cost less than those packed in oil. Another thing I might do on a budget is substitute walnuts for some or all of the pine nuts. I do love the pine nut flavor but those babies can be expensive! :)

Sarah (Snippets of Thyme) said...

OH! that does look, read, and sound so delicious. I adore anything wrapped in pesto with chunks of shaved cheese on top. I know my family would love this dish and it would be a first time cooking with farro. Thanks!

Em (Wine and Butter) said...

I've never actually had farro - it sounds something I need to try....???

Stephanie said...

Mary, I did get the book and your sweet note. Thanks so much and no worries!

Margarita said...

Delicious! I've never had faro before and this recipe seems like a perfect one to start.