Grains are made up of three parts: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the high-fiber outer coating. The germ is the protein and nutrient dense portion. The endosperm is a source of carbohydrate, along with some protein. A grain is “whole” if these three parts have been left intact. If it’s processed (e.g., cracked, rolled), it’s still considered a whole grain, if it retains its original balance of nutrients. When grains are refined, the bran and germ are removed (taking many nutrients with them), leaving just the endosperm. An example of a refined whole grain is white rice (though usually white rice is enriched to replace some of the nutrients stripped during processing).
The terms “hard” and “soft” refer to the protein and gluten content of wheat. Hard wheat is made into pasta and bread flour, while soft wheat (lower in protein and gluten) is milled into pastry flour. Wheat berries can be cooked whole for a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Once cooked (simmered in boiling water for up to an hour), they are a great addition to soups, stews, salads and desserts.
Polenta is made from ground corn, as is cornmeal. They differ in how they’re ground (in both the method and the fineness of the grind). Polenta makes a delicious base for sauces (ragu, mushroom, gorgonzola) and sausages; it’s also good grilled or layered in casserole dishes.
Short Grain Brown Rice
Short Grain Brown Rice has fat kernels that are plump and round. They have a high starch content, which helps keep it moist and sticky. Short grain rice can be used for risotto if soaked overnight or parboiled before making the risotto.
Farro is the Italian name for emmer wheat, an ancient strain of hard wheat from the Fertile Crescent in western Asia. Often confused with spelt due to their similar taste and texture, farro comes in perlato (pearled) and semi-perlato (semi-pearled); opt for semi-perlato as it has more of the fiber-and nutrient-rich bran intact (or buy whole farro if you can find it). It comes in three grades: long, medium or cracked. If you purchase long or medium farro, you will need to crack it yourself in a coffee grinder or blender for maximum freshness.
Farro is beloved in Italy – and more recently in North America and other European countries as well – for its roasted, nutty flavor and distinctive chewy texture. Because farro contains a starch similar to that found in Arborio rice, it behaves much like risotto, releasing a creamy, binding liquid when cooked. But unlike risotto, farro doesn’t become gummy; instead, it retains its tender, distinct bite, even if it sits awhile after cooking.
Farro’s tough husk makes it more difficult to process than other commercially produced grains, but that husk also helps protect the grain’s vital nutrients. With a higher fiber and protein content than common wheat, farro is also rich in magnesium and B vitamins. As a type of wheat, farro is unsuitable for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or a wheat sensitivity or allergy.
Note: as with all grains, pearled farro will take less time to cook than semi-pearled, which will take less time to cook than whole.
Cooking time: 25-40 minutes. Liquid per cup of grain: 2 cups
How to cook farro: Combine with water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for up to 40 minutes, or until grains are tender and have absorbed all of the liquid.
Farro and Chicken Stew
- 1 cup semi pearled farro
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups chopped onions (2 large)
- 2 cups chopped zucchini (2 small)
- 1 cup chopped carrots (2 medium)
- 2 chopped celery stalks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- Parmesan cheese (4 ounces), grated
Rinse farro. In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups water to boiling. Stir in the farro. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain.
In a large skillet bring the 3 cups of chicken broth to boiling. Add the chicken breasts, salt and pepper. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until no longer pink (165 degrees F). Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a cutting board. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop or shred chicken. Set aside. Reserve broth.
In a 4-quart Dutch oven heat the olive oil and add the onions, zucchini, celery and carrots. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in oregano and crushed red pepper. Stir in reserved broth, tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in cooked farro and chopped or shredded chicken. Cook and stir until heated through. Top with grated cheese.
Breakfast Polenta Casserole
- 1/4 cup red onion (1 small), diced small
- 1 1/4 cups unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes (1 large), diced small
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 ounces Italian pork sausage, casings removed
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup coarse polenta
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 5 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
The night before serving:
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet and sauté the onions over medium-low heat until golden brown. While the onions are cooking, steam the potatoes in a small amount of water in a covered pot until they are tender.
Add the steamed potatoes to the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook the potato/onion mixture until the potatoes are browned. Set aside in a covered bowl.
Cook the sausage, breaking it up as it cooks, until it is no longer pink. Drain and cool. Refrigerate the onion-potato mixture and the sausage separately overnight.
The next morning:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To prepare the polenta,
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in the polenta, Italian seasoning and a ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and smooth (approximately 7 minutes).
Pour the polenta into an ungreased 9×13-inch baking dish. It will firm up as you scramble the eggs.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pour in the eggs and scramble them until slightly firm but still wet. Remove from the heat. (The eggs will finish cooking in the oven.)
Spread the potato mixture, sausage, Parmesan and cheddar over the polenta. Pour the eggs on top of the entire dish. Bake until heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Cool slightly and serve.
- 1 (14 ½) ounce can vegetable broth
- 1 cup farro
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ cups corn
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions
- 1 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 1/2 cup snipped fresh basil
- 4 large red sweet peppers
In a medium saucepan combine broth, farro and water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes or until farro is tender. Drain farro, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid; set both the farro and cooking liquid aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the Italian seasoning. Add corn and green onions. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in reserved farro, salt and black pepper; cool slightly. Stir in 1/2 of the cheese and 1/2 of the basil.
Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds and membranes from the peppers. Fill pepper halves with the farro mixture. Place stuffed peppers in a 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Pour the reserved cooking liquid into the dish around the peppers. Cover dish with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 15 minutes more or untilthe peppers are crisp-tender and cheese is melted. Sprinkle with remaining basil.
Brown Rice Risotto
Add your favorite ingredients, if you wish.
- 1 cup short-grain brown rice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion or large shallot, chopped
- Black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups any chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
Bring medium pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste. Stir in brown rice, adjust heat so that water bubbles steadily, and cook without stirring, until rice is swollen and half-tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. (Alternate, soak rice in water to cover overnight. Drain)
Put oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion or shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; add the wine. Stir and let liquid come to a boil. Reduce heat slightly.
Begin to add the stock, about ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.
When rice is just about tender and mixture is creamy, add the Parmesan, then taste and add more salt or pepper (or both) if necessary. Garnish with basil or parsley and serve.
Italian Pastiera (Wheat Berry Pie)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
- 3 or 4 tablespoons icy water as needed
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to mix the dry ingredients.
Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and drop them in through the feed tube along with the lemon zest and pulse the machine in short bursts, about 10 times. The mixture should be crumbly.
Put in the eggs and pulse a few times to mix the eggs into the dry ingredients.
Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of the dough. Pulse 6 times for just a second or two. The dough should resemble cottage cheese. Pick up some dough and press it together. If it doesn’t hold together, add another teaspoon of water until the dough holds together.
Scrape the dough onto a floured board and knead to form a smooth, tight dough.
Press into a flat disc and wrap the dough in plastic. Refrigerate for a few hours before using.
- 32 oz. ricotta, drained
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water (or orange flower oil)
- 1/2 cup minced candied citron, lemon peel and orange peel
- 1/3 cup hulled wheat berries soaked overnight and boiled in lightly salted water for about 30 minutes or until tender. (Use pearl barley or cooked rice if you can’t get the wheat berries.)
Put the ricotta, eggs, sugar and orange flower water in a large bowl and mix the ingredients well.
Mix in the candied fruit and wheat berries.
To Assemble the Pastiera
Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.
Cut off about 1/3 of dough and set aside.
With a rolling-pin, roll out the remaining pastry dough to about 15 inches in diameter. It should be about 1/8 inch thick. Flour the board and top of the dough to avoid the dough sticking to either the board or the rolling-pin.
Place the dough in the pan to fully cover the bottom and sides.
Cut off any excess dough from the pan rim. If the dough breaks just patch it.
Pour in the ricotta mixture.
Tap the pan on the board to ensure the filling is well settled.
Roll out the reserved dough into a 9×12 inch rectangle (the pastry should be about an 1/8 inch thick) and cut 1/2 inch lattice strips on a diagonal.
Loosely place the lattice on top of the ricotta mixture. (You can brush a beaten egg wash on the lattice and rim crust to get a more golden color.)
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the ricotta filling is well set and a skewer place in the center comes out dry. Rotate the pastiera once to ensure even baking.
Dust the top with confectioners sugar. Serve at room temperature.