Found in the tombs of Egyptian pharoahs, farro is a delicious, sustaining grain surely once intended to provide nutty, chewy goodness well into the afterlife. A staple in the Mediterranean diet, farro nourishes and informs many Italian dishes, where it is used like arborio rice, adds tooth to soups and crunch to desserts, or forms the basis for salads.
And it was while in Italy in 2009 to attend a Slow Food convivium that Canvas Ranch farmer Deborah Walton first tasted farro. Imagine her surprise upon returning home to Two Rock to discover that farro used to be a regular crop for her land near Tomales Bay.
Walton did what anyone would do: She planted it. As a cover crop.
But, as fava bean lovers will be quick to tell you, cover crops are often delicious in and of themselves. So Walton and her husband, the painter Tim Schaible, undertook the labor-intensive work of separating the grain into a new product for their farm.
Today, SHED purveys Canvas Ranch farro as well as other heritage grains that are enjoying a new vogue with North Coast farmers. "Grains are the logical next step," Walton told Food & Beverage International. "We're really moving totally local, from vegetables and meat to grain and breads and beer."
High in fiber, magnesium, and vitamins, farro is mercifully low in gluten, making it an acceptable choice for those with gluten-intolerance (though it is still not recommended for those with celiac disease). We're excited to be tucking a pound of Canvas Ranch's farro into our CSA this month.
While it was the norm 100 years ago, there aren't many grains now grown locally. Growing our own wheat, as just one example, makes the area foodshed more resilient. When Canvas Ranch started their program, we jumped aboard, and have sold it from our first day in business, glad to support this effort. We are also proud to work with Front Porch Farm, which grows much of the grains that we mill in-house. We buy wheat and rye from them as well as flint corn, which is an heirloom hard corn typically used for polenta.
We also act as the drop-off point for the Mendocino Grain Project's CSA. Founder Doug Mosel has been a real leader for the local grain and legume movement in Northern California. He's trying everything, from garbanzos to lentils to barley and rye as well as wheat.
Press Democrat columnist and cook book author Michele Anna Jordan has been following the grain story closely and well. She has a marvelous selection of recipes that showcase farro's versatility. As this month's CSA box also includes fresh feta cheese and a nice clutch of farm herbs, we offer a reprise of her farro salad suggestion.
Michele Anna Jordan's
Spring Salad with Farro, Lemon, Scallions, Feta, and Herbs
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 cups farro
—Juice of 2 lemons, plus more as needed
3 scallions, white and green parts, very thinly sliced
1 cup minced fresh herbs (any mix of Italian parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme and chives)
8 ounces Bulgarian or French feta, drained and crumbled
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
—Black pepper in a mill
Put the farro into a strainer, rinse under cool running water, and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add water to cover plus 3 inches, stir in 3 tablespoons kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that forms on top. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the farro is tender but toothsome, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Drain, transfer to a wide shallow serving bowl, drizzle with lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes. Cover with a tea towel for up to 2 hours.
To finish the salad, add the scallions, herbs and crumbled feta and toss gently. Drizzle with olive oil. Taste for acid balance, adding a bit more lemon if it is not tart enough or a bit more olive oil if it is too tart. Correct for salt and season with several generous turns of black pepper. Toss gently and serve at room temperature.