I love farro. Ever since living in Tuscany, farro is my preferred grain. In summer, we eat it cooked & cold with veggies and greens in salads. In winter, it is the base of warming stews and soups. And I love the earthy, hearty taste of farro cookies and cakes. Now, as days become shorter and the temperature drops (yes, even in Tuscany), there is nothing more scrumptious than the nutty-sweet taste of a farro cookie and a mug of hot coffee.
So I was flabbergasted just now, while doing research on farro for the introduction of Giovanna and Niccolina’s new Christmas cookie (which the Chicago Tribune rated “tasty to boot”, by the way), to find out that farro was considered a “health food” in the US. You do not know what you are missing!
Farro is spelt. Although there is a fair amount of debate out there if the Tuscan farro is really spelt or emmer (very close cousins), I can say to the best of my knowledge that farro is spelt. Farro is the mother of all wheat. It originated in Palestine in the bronze ages, it was found in the pyramids in Egypt and fed the Roman legions building their empire. And it has been a staple in Tuscan cooking and baking forever. I guess it is fair to say that farro is a very “stubborn” plant. It needs little and can thrive in harsh ecological conditions. Which is why it was so established as a staple crop in many areas of the world. It was even grown in the US, where it is said to have been introduced in the 1890s. But as agriculture advanced, high-yielding varieties were bred (also, high-volume commercial baking operations wanted varieties rich in gluten) and mankind learned to manipulate the land with a mix of fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and other gadgets of modern agriculture. Those new varieties spread like wildfire and farro was replaced. Some areas, such as Tuscany, would not let go of their farro and continued farming this grain, which is as Tuscan as Chianti wine.
Luckily with a growing interest in more natural farming and more wholesome eating, farro is now experiencing a renaissance also elsewhere. For one, given its nature, farro requires less fertilizer than other wheat varieties, and is hence a natural crop for organic farming, although it will yield less than bread wheat (which explains while it is more expensive).
But it also has more protein than wheat and thanks to its tough husk, freshness and nutrients are maintained better than in other grains. So, I guess these factors make farro a “health food”. Well, then so be it! Eat healthy, live happy, enjoy your farro, and try this recipe for farro & raspberry jam cookies recently posted on Lucullian Delights (a very inspiring Italian themed foodblog) http://www.luculliandelights.com/2009/11/farro-and-raspberry-jam-cookies.html
If you do not feel like baking yourself, enjoy Giovanna’s and Niccolina’s handmade Spelt & Figs Cantuccione. You can enjoy it slice by slice just like that, or toast the slices a second time to make the classic Tuscan “Cantuccini” – biscotti as they are usually called in the US. Available online at www.piazzaitalianmarket.com/store