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(MCT)—When Italian cookbook author Giuliano Bugialli led a class at my cooking school years ago, I learned about many Italian ingredients and techniques that I had never seen. One of his most memorable dishes was farro with tomatoes, roasted vegetables and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Happily, Americans are now exploring ways of cooking with this ancient grain of the Mediterranean, and farro can be found in supermarkets, specialty markets and online. Also known as emmer wheat, it is the mother grain that gave rise to modern wheat.

Farro looks like plump barley, and can be used in recipes calling for spelt, barley and quinoa, though cooking times will vary. It doesn’t require presoaking, but doing so shortens the cooking time.

Farro’s new-found popularity is due to the fact that it is both delicious and highly nutritious. This gluten-free grain is rich in protein, complex B vitamins and complex carbohydrates. It has a warm, nutlike flavor and a hint of sweetness.

I have come to love farro in many dishes — salads, pastas, soups, even fried crisp as a garnish.

Here are tips:

• Rinse farro in water to remove any loose pieces of hull.

• The basic ratio is 1 cup farro to 4 cups of cooking liquid. Simmer 35 to 40 minutes, until al dente (chewy on the outside, tender inside the grain).

• Serve farro hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil, a few torn leaves of herbs, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper as a first course or side dish.

• Cooked farro can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”

©2012 The Miami Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services