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Originally published Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Ask the Splendid Table

Tips for cooking with farro, a grain with a nutlike flavor

Lynne Rossetto Kasper gives tips on how to cook farro, a grain with a nutlike flavor, and offers several recipes that highlight farro.

Syndicated Columnist

Dear Lynne: I recently read the new "thing" for foodies is farro. I haven't a clue what this is. Can you help me out and also tell me where to find it and how to cook it?

— A Reader

Dear Reader: Farro is a grain with a warm, nutlike flavor and a hint of sweetness. Because of its low gluten content it is often favored by people who cannot eat wheat. What cooks love is that farro takes to just about every seasoning and partner you can conjure.

If someone goes on about how "new" farro is: Farro has been domesticated for something like 10,000 years, and was a wild grain long before that.

Find farro in Mediterranean groceries and specialty-food shops. I like the Rusticella brand, which gives the grain's botanical name on its label, Triticum Dicoccum. Any dish calling for pasta, rice, barley or wheat is fair game. Here is a basic farro recipe with some ideas for how to fancy it up.

Always check package directions before cooking. Depending on their origins, some farros may need presoaking. Farro doubles in volume when it cooks and keeps in the refrigerator, covered, for three or four days. Make ahead for last-minute additions to soups, salads and stews.

Once boiled, farro should be tender but retain a pleasing firmness at its center. Eat farro hot or at room temperature, with a twirl of olive oil, a few torn leaves of herbs and grinds of black pepper, as a first course, a main dish, or a side dish. Then prepare any of the variations described below.

Simple Farro

Yield: Makes 4 to 5 cups.

Ingredients: 2 cups (12 ounces) whole-grain Italian farro (Triticum Dicoccum); 4 quarts of boiling salted water.

Directions: Rinse farro in a strainer under cold running water. Have the salted water boiling in a 6-quart pot. Drop in the farro, stir and get water to a steady, lively simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook 30 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain the farro in a sieve. Eat hot or at room temperature, seasoning to taste.

Turning simple farro into other dishes

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Antipasto of Farro: Toss farro with small amount of minced red onion, olive oil and wine vinegar to taste. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Just before serving, fold in coarsely chopped Italian parsley and fresh basil to taste. Diced tomato and peppers, steamed greens, and/or cold poached seafood could go into the antipasto as well.

Farro With Pasta: Any pasta sauce is delicious with heated-up farro. Especially good are the tomato-based sauces and anything based on vegetables, especially sauteed greens.

Turkish Style Farro Salad: Toss the farro with pomegranate molasses, fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive and salt and pepper to taste. Crumbled feta cheese is a good topping here.

Farro and Bean Salad: Add 2 cups rinsed and drained canned pinto beans to the Farro Salad or Antipasto of Farro above. I like chopped apples and toasted walnuts in this mix.

Farro "Risotto": Saute onion, sweet peppers and garlic with pinto beans and then add cooked farro. Pour in 2 cups of broth 1/2 cup at a time. Cook off each addition, stirring constantly and then another 1/2 cup. Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Farro With Sauteed Mushrooms: Brown together thick-cut Portobello or wild mushrooms and chopped onion in olive oil. Add a small amount of white wine and deglaze pan. Season to taste and toss with warm farro.

Sweet Farro Mountain Style: Toss room-temperature farro with fresh ricotta and honey to taste. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table,"American Public Media's weekly national show. The program airs Sundays at 2 p.m. on KUOW 94.9 FM. Contact Lynne at www.splendidtable.org.

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