It may not be a coincidence that as I embark on a foodie journey, the majority of the foods I’ve yet to try are pretty healthy. I have eaten like trash for most of my life, after all.
One surprising fact about my eating habits, though, is that white rice has always freaked me out, but I have no problem eating brown rice. It’s one of the few times that my pickiness has worked in my waistline’s favor.
It was because of this quirk that I decided to try adding a new healthy grain to my repertoire: farro. That and because even though most of the world easily cooks rice every single day without a problem, I am laughably bad at it—it is always either burnt or straight-up mush.
But here’s the thing about cooking a grain I’ve never eaten before: I have no idea if I actually cooked it correctly. From what I’ve read, properly cooked farro is meant to be a little chewy and can withstand a little over-cooking without a problem. Excellent. By those standards, I did swimmingly.
I decided to concoct something based off of a couple recipes I found online and my own whims (ballsy move for someone who can’t cook rice). The inspiration came from NYT Cooking’s Baked Orzo With Tomatoes, Roasted Peppers and Zucchini, but you can find the exact recipe I used below for my final product: farro casserole with Italian sausage and summer produce.
The vegetables used could definitely be switched out (I bet eggplant, asparagus, and winter squash would all work well), but I wouldn’t skip the tomatoes since the juice helps keep the whole casserole moist. And if you don’t like the idea of biting into chunks of tomatoes (like a certain someone I cook for—I’m not the only picky eater in the house), you can mash or rice them a bit before adding them to the baking dish.
The bottom line: I loved this meal! I’ll admit, I had my doubts after parboiling the farro because 1) it wasn’t fully cooked, so that’s a tough sell and 2) it has a particularly nutty scent and flavor on its own. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was surprised by its strength (I’m used to bland brown rice!) and it, naturally, made me nervous for the meal to come. Our backup plan for dinner was scrambled eggs, so I’m glad that Plan A worked out.
Once the farro was mixed with the produce and sausage and baked in the oven, it finished cooking and pretty much took on the flavor of the other casserole ingredients. Some people might’ve lamented the farro’s natural flavor being obscured by ever-pungent garlic and sausage, but given my misgivings and this being my first try, I was pleased with this turn of fate.
Now that we’ve gotten to know each other, though, I wouldn’t mind trying another recipe that was a bit more farro-forward. I appreciate any food that doesn’t come on too strong on the first dinner date.
What I liked most about this meal was that it was packed with fiber, protein, and perfectly chewy farro that filled me up without that lethargic feeling that so often comes from hearty casseroles. In fact, in a casserole filled with some of my favorite flavors, I think the farro was actually my favorite part (hi, carbs)!.
The leftovers also made for a delicious lunch the next day, which I eagerly inhaled without even heating up the dish.
OK, so let’s get to the recipe:
Farro, sausage, and summer produce casserole
Yield: 4 servings | Prep time: ~40 min | Cook time: 30-40 min
1 cup dried pearled farro*
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced (instructions here)
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into coins
1 lb roma tomatoes, diced, or 1 can diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup(ish) feta cheese**
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)***
- Parboil the farro. Rinse the farro thoroughly, and add it to a small sauce pot with the chicken stock, water, and salt. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid, and cook for 15-20 minutes (mine cooked for about 18). Drain the excess liquid, and add the farro to your casserole dish, along with the roasted red pepper and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Note: If you’re cooking your farro well before the rest of the casserole components, leave it out on a sheet pan to cool off and then keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. Add it to the casserole dish when the other components are closer to being ready.
- Cook the other casserole components. Preheat the oven to 375o. Remove the sausage from its casing and brown in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Once cooked, add the sausage to your casserole dish. In the same pan, cook the zucchini until soft and lightly browned (about 5 minutes), and add it to the casserole dish. In the same pan, yet again, cook the tomatoes and garlic with the final tablespoon of olive oil. If using red pepper flakes, add those here (I also added a little more salt here). Once the tomatoes have started to break down, pour the contents of the pan (juices included) in the casserole dish.
- Bake the casserole. Add in the feta cheese, mix everything in the casserole dish, and bake for about 30 minutes.
*Pearled farro isn’t quite as nutrient-rich as other farro varieties with more of the bran intact, but it still has plenty of health benefits and is widely available in most grocery stores. If using semi-pearled or whole-grain farro, it will just need more time to cook.
**Guys, you think I’m going to give you a limit of how much cheese to add? Come on now, you know better.
***I actually didn’t use red pepper flakes tonight, but I probably will next time. Either that, or hot Italian sausage.
Look, I know I’m not be the first person to discover farro, but I also know I’m not the only person who’s never had it. So, if you’re like I was just one short day ago, work farro into your dinner rotation! It’s filling, healthy, and pairs well with all your favorite Mediterranean flavors!
And if you’re not like me and think it’s comical that I had this much to say about a humble grain, stop laughing at me and let me know new ways to try it in the comments below or on Instagram @thepickyeaterchronicles. In the meantime, I’ll be coping with my adjustment to the healthy eater life with some pizza and chocolate chips. See you next time! 🙂