What is Farro + Best Farro Recipes
Let’s explore this Italian superfood ancient grain and find out what farro is, how to cook it, and snag the best farro recipes.
I first discovered this whole grain in Tuscany. Big bowls of farro salad with tomatoes and basil are common in cafes throughout Italy. One very special teeny tiny restaurant in the medieval town of Montefioralle called Alberto’s Home often has a pesto farro salad on the menu. Actually there is no menu here, Alberto cooks what’s in season and growing in his garden and the restaurant is on the patio of his home.
Farro is such a staple in this region that the local Coop grocery store in Greve in Chianti sells it pre-cooked in the refrigerated section next to the veggies.
I now rotate farro into our meals as I would other grains, seeds, and legumes such as quinoa, barley, millet, rice, chickpeas or lentils. This ingredient makes recipes like soups, stews, and salads heartier, nuttier, and more filling.
Below I’ll share more about what exactly farro is, how to cook it, and some favorite farro recipes. If you want more recipes from our time in Italy, check out these recipes for Pizza Dough, Authentic Pizza Sauce, Bruschetta, Affogato, and Aperol Spritz. I’d love to know your favorites, so let me know in the comments!
What is Farro?
Farro (pronounced Fahr-oh) is a small, light brown, whole grain that has been popular since ancient Roman times. It is a variety of wheat that’s been prized throughout Italy for its mild, nutty flavor and rich chewy texture. To me, it tastes most like a chewy barley.
It is sold dried, like rice and other grains, and cooked in water or broth until al dente. It can be eaten as a side dish with a drizzle of olive oil and salt, as part of a salad, or as main dish when made into farrotto.
Whole vs. Peraled or Semiperlato (Semi Pearled)
Farro is usually found in bags with the rice and grains. This is where things get confusing. Unlike rice or quinoa which have a standard cook time, cook times for farro vary from brand to brand. There are different types, but packages are often not clearly labeled, and pearling is not a standardized process, which can be confusing.
The brands I most often use are Bob’s Red Mill, Pereg, and generic grocery store brands like 365. I recommend using these as they have clear cook times listed on the back. Let’s look at the various types of farro you may find in the grocery store.
- Whole: The germ and bran are intact. If your package says it takes 30-60 minutes or more to cook, or needs to be soaked overnight, you likely have whole farro.
- Semiperlato (Semi-Pearled): The most common variety I’ve found in U.S. stores such as Whole Foods, World Market, Sprouts, and smaller Italian specialty shops. If your package says to simply rinse and then cook for 15-30 minutes, you likely have semiperlato. Here some of the bran and germ has been removed for quicker cooking.
- Perlato (Pearled): The whole bran has been removed for even quicker cooking.
- Quick-Cooking Farro: Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods currently sell a quick cooking variety, which can be cooked in 10 minutes.
Is Farro Gluten Free?
This ancient grain does contain gluten, but it’s at a much lower level than most wheat products. Farro is also typically grown in Italy without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. If you’re allergic to gluten, rice, quinoa, millet, or sorghum would be a safer choice. However, several packages of farro I’ve purchased have stated that farro is a “low gluten” grain. So, if you simply have a mild gluten intolerance to things like processed wheat breads, you may be able to tolerate it.
Farro is a relatively high protein grain, at around 7 grams per serving. It’s often combined with legumes in Mediterranean cooking, and that combination results in a complete protein. Farro is more nutrient dense than rice, and contains fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. As long as you’re not allergic to gluten, it may be a nutritious ancient grain to add to your diet.
Delicious Farro Recipes
Italian risottos, salads, and soups are the most popular and traditional farro recipes. With a little creativity, though, it can be used in many delicious ways. Use as a Buddha Bowl base, or simply saute up some seasonal veggies and add cooked farro in at the end for a hearty grain bowl. This grain can even be used as a breakfast cereal. Here are some traditional, and some new recipes.
How to Cook Farro
Farro is traditionally cooked over a low boil on the stove in water, or for more flavor, vegetable broth. Once it’s done, drain any extra water, and season with a pinch of salt. You can cook it even more quickly in the Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker.
Step 1: Rinse
Just like when cooking rice or quinoa, you’ll want to rinse farro well. The exception is when cooking farrotto (farro risotto) where you’ll want as much starch as you can get. I find the rinsing water to be quite murky, and rinse several times until the water is clear. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Step 2: Cook in Water or Broth
On the Stovetop
- Simmer 1 cup semiperlato (semi pearled) farro in 3 cups water or broth until al dente, about 15-20 minutes. Then drain any excess water.
In the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker
- Cook 1 cup semiperlato (semi pearled) farro in the Instant Pot with 2 1/2 cups water for 9 minutes at high pressure. Quick release and drain any excess water.
- 1 cup semi-pearled farro, rinsed (tested with Bob's Red Mill)
- 2 quarts water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Bring 2 quarts water and salt to a simmer in a large pot. Add the farro and simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered, until al dente, about 25 minutes, or according to package instructions.
- Drain any excess water and use in your favorite recipes such as the salad below.
Instant Pot Farro
- Combine the farro, 3 cups of water, and salt in the Instant Pot pressure cooker.
- Lock the lid, with valve set to sealing. Set to pressure cook (high) for 11 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Check the grains are cooked al dente. If not, lock the lid again and cook for another 2 minutes. Drain any excess water.
Slow Cooker Farro
- Combine the farro, 4 cups of water, and salt in the slow cooker.
- Cover and set to low for 2-2 1/2 hours or high for 1 1/2 hours, until al dente. Drain any excess water.
Exact cook times can vary from brand to brand, so be sure to check the packaging. If you are not sure if you have semi-pearled or whole farro, cook on the stovetop until soft but slightly chewy. Soaking of farro is not necessary.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Basil
To make my favorite farro salad, pictured here, let farro cool, then mix in 2 diced Roma tomatoes, 1 small minced garlic clove, 1/2 small diced red onion, and a handful of torn fresh basil. Season generously with salt and pepper and dress with olive oil and white balsamic or red wine vinegar to taste. I love to serve this over a bed of arugula with a little olive oil and lemon.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: about 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 84 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 537mg Carbohydrates: 18g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 2g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 4g