Sunday, February 20, 2011

Farro with Clams, Basil and Fresh Tomato Puree

Farro is a grain with ancient roots that seems to have been forgotten by modern day consumers. Seldom do we see it on restaurant menus or on our dinner tables. So, what is farro anyway? Well, that's kind of hard to explain. Searching around the internet, I could only find various ambiguous descriptions of it and by proper definition, its real name isn't even farro. Some call it emmer while others say it is similar to spelt; both are types of wheat. Confused yet? Known as farro in Italy, it is a species of wheat that has been cultivated for hundreds, if not close to a thousand years. It was thought to have fed ancient populations of the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East for centuries.

If you are looking for an alternative to pasta, risotto, polenta or rice, why not try farro for a change? Even when cooked, farro has a firm and slightly crunchy texture. I've seen farro utilized in salads but I prefer it as a pasta-like dish. It comes together very well when  paired with a fresh tomato sauce, basil and cheese. So I thought why not make a version of linguine and clams but with farro instead.

First, here's how to cook farro. Very much like risotto, farro should be cooked, simmering in some sort of stock. Here's what you need:

2 cups farro
1 quart mix of chicken stock and clam juice
1/2 onion (diced)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Basil (chiffonade)
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf (optional)
5 littleneck clams
2 tablespoons butter
White wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh tomato puree recipe

So let's cook the farro first. Start by getting a deep pan hot with some olive oil. Sweat the onions and then brown the garlic just enough so that it doesn't burn (typically less than a minute). Add the farro and stir it well to blend with the onions and garlic and cook for about a couple of minutes on medium heat. Add the thyme and bay leaf then add the chicken stock and clam juice mix, enough to cover the farro and turn the heat down to a simmer. Stir the farro every couple of minute or so and add more stock when it starts to evaporate. This process of cooking and adding stock should take about 15-20 minutes. Taste the farro and it should be done when it becomes soft and chewable (not the hard grain that we started with) but still has a little crunch to it. This is like cooking pasta to the al dante stage. Finally, season with salt and pepper. At this point, remove the farro from the pot and set it aside, discarding the wilted thyme and bay leaf.

In the same pan, melt the butter and cook some minced garlic. Add the tomato puree, a splash of white wine and a cup of clam juice. Add the littleneck clams, bring the heat down and cover the pot until the clams open. After that, add the farro back into the pot together with fresh cut basil, mix well and make sure everything is heated up thoroughly. Serve and garnish with shredded parmesan cheese and more fresh basil. And there you are, my version of linguine and clams with farro instead of pasta. Enjoy!

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