Farro With Butternut Squash

As I continue my love affair with grains, I’ve been wanting to add farro to the mix. Farro is often called the “first grain” as it’s the grain that all others descended from and has been around for thousands of years. My friend Anne is a big fan of its nutty, flavorful texture and cooks often with it, but when I went to buy some at Whole Foods, I was struck by how much more expensive it was then other grains. $10 for a small bag! (Farro is more difficult to grow then its sister grains which accounts for the higher price point.) So I backburnered the farro for a bit. Then, over the summer I was at Zinc in New Haven, CT (a “must eat at” if you are ever in the neighborhood) and I had their scallops with farro risotto. It was so tasty I was tempted to lick my plate clean. Maybe this farro was worth the extra pennies. I stopped into Russo’s last week for some fresh pasta and lo and behold I spotted a bag of farro on their shelves. I bought it (for $6.49) and began thinking about what I would make with it.

Yesterday, I took stock of what I had in the house. The butternut squash sitting on my table was crying out to be paired with the farro so I googled farro and butternut squash to get some inspiration. A recipe from 101 Cookbooks popped up that piqued my interest. She roasted her squash with red onion, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt which sounded fantastic to me. I omitted the goat cheese in her recipe in favor of ricotta salata and cooked my farro in a vat of homemade chicken stock I made last week. I toasted up some walnuts, and then dressed the “salad” with a few swirls of olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar. I also added grilled chicken for a bit more protein.

Oh my, this salad was freakin’ fantastic! Seriously. I couldn’t believe how incredibly flavorful the farro was. The nuttiness of the squash and the sweetness of the red onion only enhanced the grain and I understand now why people say good balsamic vinegar makes all the difference. It does. I used Lucini, aged 10 years. A little goes a long way.

If you can find farro (check the pasta aisle at your grocery store or try an Italian specialty store) pick some up and make it tonight. If not, barley would also work really well since they’re of a similar consistency. Opt for the semi-pearled variety which cooks a little faster. Also, a note about cubing butternut squash: I read recently that when buying squash you should look for ones that have a long neck, as they’re easier to cut and peel. I tried this and it’s true. As for the recipe, I am posting it below, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t measure out every ingredient exactly. These are estimations, so feel free to change the ratios up a bit to your personal taste.

Farro With Butternut Squash, Red Onion, Walnuts and Ricotta Salata (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

2 cups farro (look for the semi-pearled variety which cooks faster)

5 cups water or stock (I used about 4 cups stock, 1 cup water)

2 1/2 to 3 cups butternut squash, cubed

One medium red onion, cut into eighths

1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 cup ricotta salata

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Salt to taste

Rinse and strain the farro. In a large pot, combine the water and/or stock and farro. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the farro often as you want it to be a bit chewy and not too soft. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash and red onion on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, olive oil and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and roast for 20 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Then toast the walnuts until fragrant.

When the farro is done, strain in a colander and place in a large bowl. Add the squash, red onions, walnuts and ricotta salata. Dress with a swirl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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