Using an ancient grain like farro, a long cooking time over low heat and the subtle flavors of prunes makes a hardy, satisfying beef stew that is perfect for colder weather.
Farro is a forgotten cereal grain related to spelt that has been eaten in the Western world for thousands of years. It is technically a hulled wheat grain, one of three species that are often confused or mislabeled in the marketplace. Most common is the emmer wheat variety (Triticum dicoccum), called “farro medio” in Italy and regarded as the true farro with the highest quality for cooking purposes. The taste is similar to pearl barley, nutty and chewy, and can be added to salads and soups for body.
Key to the deep flavors and luxurious texture of this stew is its extended cooking time, which can be done in the oven but is perfect for a commercial slow cooker. The prunes almost melt away and play well with the tomato paste, and the mild spices of nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon give it a rich, soothing flavor that is not quite sweet and not quite Middle Eastern but hints at both.
Fresh, frozen or canned, lima beans are used here but may be substituted with butter beans, fava beans or even soybeans. Almost any type of bean can be used but the stew is best for something with a creamy texture that will soften and not contrast greatly with the cooked grain.
The farro will bloom and thicken the stew considerably, so adjust the water to keep it loose and avoid a pasty consistency. Depending on your personal taste, this dish may take more salt than you realize for balance so adjust accordingly both before and after.
Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon, and serve with some crusty bread to use as a sop.
Beef and Farro Stew with Prunes
1 lb beef (chuck)
1 yellow onion
8 oz lima beans
8 pitted prunes
1 c farro
1 T tomato paste
5-6 c water
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
1 Chop the onion and roughly chop the prunes. Cut the beef into 1-inch pieces.
2 Sear the beef in oil for a few minutes to brown, then remove and set aside.
3 Sauté the onion in the rendered beef fat over medium heat until soft, about 10 min. Stir in the farro, tomato paste, spices and prunes until well combined. Season to taste.
4 Add beef, beans, cinnamon stick and water. Cover and cook over very low heat for about 4-8 hours.