I was not, in fact, looking for a new farro dish. It rarely occurs to me over the summer, when there’s more eggplant/zucchini/tomatoes/peaches/plums/berries than anyone could fathom going through in the scant weeks they’re available, to wish I had more whole grains in my diet. And since we’re being honest, only occasionally in times that it probably should, such as in February, when refined flours and pasta are used to fill the endless gap in growing seasons. But, as it happens, because I’m terrible at timely meal-planning, I was attempting to make this chicken for dinner a couple weeks ago and it wasn’t ready on time, or even close to it, and I remembered a one-pan linguine dish I’d read about in Martha Stewart Living last month that sounded fascinating. Realizing I had almost all the ingredients on hand, I rustled it up instead and felt like such a domestic diva, I nearly took a bow when I brought it out, but resisted, as I prefer to only drop one dish a season. In the dish, pasta, only enough water to cook it, an onion, garlic cloves, some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, basil, salt and red pepper flakes are combined cold, brought up to a boil and cooked until the pasta is al dente and everything else becomes the dish’s saucy servant, all in a single saucepan, all at once. I realize you’re all leaving me right now to make it this very moment, and I don’t blame you. At the very least, you need to bookmark the recipe for when you’re in a pinch, and really, when is anyone not?
The thing is, it totally fit the dinner bill when we needed it to but I wasn’t as crazy about it as I should have been. It was… soft. The sauce seemed a little gummy. I had barely finished my second bite when I became obsessed, yes, actually preoccupied to the point of sickness, with making the dish with farro instead. Farro, a variety of wheat grain (here’s a fantastic guide I found to more) that that has a meaty chew I find appealing in salads, soups, faux-risottos and more, isn’t bad the way it is usually cooked — in water, maybe with a pinch of salt — but it’s hard to argue it wouldn’t benefit from a more complex flavor base. To wit, you rarely see farro dishes or salads that don’t include at least one sweet thing (dried fruit or roasted-until-sweet vegetables), one bright thing (vinegar, lemon juice or a bit of pickled onion), one salty thing (crumbled feta, ricotta salata or anchovies), one crunchy thing (usually toasted nuts) and a good helping of a fat, usually olive oil, and if you’re lucky, all of the above. But imagine if farro arrived from its saucepan already perfectly balanced and ready to eat?
It would be something of a weeknight miracle. This is the kind of rare dream of a dish that we made once and immediately added to our permanent, laminated, framed, forever and ever repertoires. In a single week, we had it three times — three! — and not a single person at the table (yes, picky 3.5-year old included) tired of it. This is a dream-come-true of a grain preparation — it requires little work, little forethought (I mean, isn’t there always an onion and some freakishly ne’er-rotting tomatoes around?) and it makes an almost complete meal. One night, we had it with roasted sausages. Another night, I had it with a poached egg on top. I can’t wait to hear what you do with it next.
One year ago: Peach Pie
Two years ago: Charred Corn Tacos with Zucchini-Radish Slaw
Three years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Legs and Peach Blueberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Drop Biscuits
Four years ago: Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza and Best Birthday Cake
Five years ago: Chocolate Sorbet
Six years ago: Red Bean Chili
One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
Inspired by Martha Stewart Living
In case I have not gasped about my new favorite dish enough, here, let me continue: It cooks in one pot and tastes like you worked all day on it. When you put the ingredients in, you will surely think, “This is too much onion!” because it looks that way. Trust me that in 30 minutes simmering time, that onion becomes the foundation of a dreamy loose tomato sauce whose flavors root deeply into each farro bite. Finished with a swirl of olive oil, scattering of basil and sprinkling of parmesan, if you’re like us, you’ll barely be into your second bite before plotting to make it again tomorrow.
On a Farro 101 note, the trickiest thing in writing this recipe was considering the different types of farro (from an Italian wheat strain known as emmer) available — as well as misconceptions, such as the notion that it can be used interchangeably with spelt. (It cannot, as spelt can take hours.). Farro comes whole/unpearled, semi-pearled (semi-perlato) and pearled (perlato); pearling describes how much of the exterior bran is removed, but packages are not always labeled. If your package says it will cook in less than 15 minutes, it’s probably pearled; if it takes around 30 minutes, it’s probably semi-pearled. And if it takes 60 to 80 minutes, it is whole or unpearled. [To make it even more confusing, I’ve been using the Rustichella d’Abruzzo brand, which labels it as “whole farro” but it is indeed semi-pearled, which is why cooking times are the best way to decipher which kind you have.] This recipe will work for all three versions (there are multiple comments below noting results for each, as well as quinoa, couscous, and even rice, just do a word search [Cntrl + f] to find the grain you’re looking to swap) but I’ve defaulted to semi-pearled below, which I find most frequently in stores. In all cases, if your package gives you a different cooking time than the 30 minutes suggested below, default to it instead. Questions? Ask away and I will, as always, heh, do my best to feign expertise.
Serves: 4 as a side, 2 as a hearty main
2 cups water
1 cup (updated) semi-pearled farro (see Note above for farro types)
1/2 large onion (I usually use a white one, for mildness)
2 cloves garlic
9 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Few basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak (I find just 5 to 10 minutes sufficient) while you prepare the other ingredients. Adding each ingredient to the pot as you finish preparing it, cut onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Thinly slice garlic cloves as well. Halve or quarter tomatoes. Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring uncovered pan (no lid necessary) up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked (tender but with a meaty chew), seasoned and the cooking water should be almost completely absorbed. If needed, though I’ve never found it necessary, cook it for 5 additional minutes, until farro is more tender.
Transfer to a wide serving bowl. If there’s enough leftover cooking liquid to be bothersome, simply use a slotted spoon to leave the amount you wish to behind. Drizzle farro lightly with additional olive oil, scatter with basil and parmesan. Eat immediately. Repeat tomorrow.