Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash

Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash Recipe

Balsamic roasted butternut squash, deeply toasted walnuts, and nutty farro come together in this salad inspired by the countless farro salads I enjoyed while on the Umbrian chapter of my recent Italian adventure. The Italians were using farro alongside cherry tomatoes and basil (with the occasional introduction of cheese or local olives), but the seasons changed while I was away, and after a survey of the farmer's market on Saturday, I knew a butternut squash recipe was in the cards.

Let me be honest, if we are talking winter squash, I'm going to advocate butternut squash for a few reasons. The root of my fondness for the butternut squash stems not only from enjoying their flavor and texture, it also comes from my ability to peel them relatively quickly* versus their other autumnal brethren. I love the color and flavor of acorn squash, and I use pumpkin here and there, but taking down a pumpkin can put me in a foul mood.

I thought long and hard about this recipe once I knew the general direction I was headed. I was taking the salad over to a friends house, for one of our regular "potlucks" and it's a group of discerning and vocal palettes - I've written a bit about these ladies before. The rainy weather was screaming roasted ingredients, so that ended up being a bit of a no-brainer, but I ran into some decision-making surrounding the final "dressing".

I knew I wanted to use a toasted walnut oil I had on hand as the dressing, or as a major component in the dressing. I thought about tossing the entire salad with a simple walnut-balsamic vinaigrette but when I tested it the balsamic totally overpowered the toasted walnut oil I was using. At the same time I was busy almost burning the walnuts. The salad actually became more about the walnuts at this point for me, I wanted to make sure that walnut flavor didn't get lost. It turned out that the deep deep flavor that came off the slightly over-toasted walnuts gave the walnut flavor in the oil and the nuts the muscle it needed to stand up to the rest of the dish.

Another possible direction: There were moments where I also considered a more Thai-inspired angle, maybe a spicy coconut milk dressing, limes, tomatoes, basil, pickled red onions - it ended up feeling too summery to me. Delicious, but off-season.

If you've never tried farro I encourage you to give it a shot. A recipe like this keeps really well in the refrigerator, can be made ahead of time, and is delicious warm or at room temperature. I know many of you have a Whole Foods Market or natural food store within your communities, check out the bin section for farro and let me know how it goes! It's great to be back in my own kitchen, thank you to all of you for the nice comments on my Italy posts.

butternut squash recipe

A few other seasonal recipes to consider:

- Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup
- Curried Apple Couscous
- Baked Carrot Oven Fries
- Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

*For a recipe like this I'll take a medium butternut squash, lob off the little stem end so it is flat, cut off the entire neck - so, now I am dealing with a cylinder shape. I stand that on end and run a knife top to bottom to peel it. Then I cut the 1/2-inch disks - it's easy to cube from there. With the big bulb part, I'll just halve it, clear out the seeds, drizzle some oil and a sprinkle some salt, roast, and use that as the basis for a simple soup. No waste, minimal fuss, all ten fingers intact in the end. If you are dealing with a particularly long "neck" try cutting it into two cylindrical shaped pieces.

Farro and Roasted Butternut Squash

If you are pressed for time, opt for a lightly or semi-pearled farro (actually easier to find in some places), which will cut the cooking time for the grains down to about 20 minutes. Barley, both hulled and pearled, would make a nice substitution if you are having trouble finding farro. Also, I found the beautiful red spring onions at the farmers' market but regular red onions will work well, and will be much easier to find.

2 cups farro, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
5 cups water (or stock)
3 cups butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large red onion cut into 1/8ths
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup walnuts, deeply toasted
3 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (or more olive oil)
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine the farro, salt, and water in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender, 45 minutes to an hour, or about half the time if you are using semi-pearled farro. Taste often as it is cooking, you want it to be toothsome and retain structure. Remove from heat, drain any excess water, and set aside.

While the farro is cooking toss the squash, onion, and thyme with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a couple big pinches of salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Arrange in a single layer and place in the oven for about 20 minutes. Toss the squash and onions every 5-7 minutes to get browning on multiple sides. Remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and mince just 1/2 of the red onions.

In a large bowl gently toss the everything (except the goat cheese) with the toasted walnut oil (or olive oil). Taste and add a bit of salt if necessary. Serve family-style in a simple bowl or on a platter garnished with the goat cheese.

Serves 6 - 8 as a side, less as a main.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • Like Ariel Diamond above, I am a fan of red kuri squash--no peeling makes it sooo easy to work with. It's also delicious and very pretty. If you're limited to the usual grocery store varieties, I tend to agree that butternut has the best reward-to-effort ratio. If I'm looking for smaller quantities or want something easier to peel and slice, I sometimes substitute sweet potatoes for winter squash. This recipe looks delicious. I have yet to try farro because the only stuff I've seen at my local Whole Foods is about 7 dollars for a tiny bag--way more expensive than other grains. They don't seem to carry it in the bulk section.

    mary
  • Wow... I kind of feel silly posting this... I always use a regular vegetable peeler for my butternut squash. No knives, to tough skin, the peeler takes it all right off. Maybe the butternuts I'm getting aren't as 'woody' as others?? I've never had any trouble this way. Even with an old, cheap peeler....

    Carrie
  • I live in NY and work right by a Whole Foods in White Plains. They do have pre-packaged (vacuum sealed) farro. It's hit or miss in catching it in stock and it is a little pricey, but worth it. I'd love to try this since I adore butternut squash, and any sort of salad is right up my alley!

    Nancy
  • I love the pairing of walnuts with the butternut squash! I wish we had more squash here in Italy...often they don't even have specific names for the 4-5 different types that exist here...just zucca!

    Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy
  • Farro is not spelt. They are both species of wheat but not the same species. Farro or emmer wheat is Triticum dicoccon. Spelt, a different species of wheat, is Triticum spelta.

    Ed
  • There's something particuarly autumnal about walnuts (compared with other nuts) - I bet they work really well with the squash and farro Heidi. I use pretty much the same technique for chopping and peeling my squash but I should also admit it to taking the easy route and getting my other half to do it when I can't be bothered (how lazy is that - I'll never make a proper feminist!)

    Sophie
  • OMG, I was just reading all the comments [very helpful ones], including my own ...I can't believe I wrote that farro looks like shallots, when I meant to write wheat. What was I thinking!! In my defense, I guess the lovely colours of the shallots were so overpowering, they muddled my already pregnant mind :):)

    Snehal
  • Beautiful photos. I must find farro!

    Ashley
  • Yes, farro is actually spelt, an ancient non-hybrid version of wheat. It is more easily digested than modern hybrid forms of wheat (more water soluble) and many people who have difficulty tolerating wheat are able to eat spelt without trouble. Note: it does contain gluten and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet. Farro is the Italian name for it. While I have never seen it "pearled" at Whole Foods, (they do carry many other spelt flours and products) I have found the pearlized version of Farro at Trader Joe's under their own brand. It's wonderful. As an alternative, I sometimes use Arborio rice.

    dana
  • Heidi-- Thank you for your tips on peeling butternut squash! I peeled three this weekend (bulbous part and all, without lopping off the neck) and it took *forever*. I vowed only to roast & never to peel squash again. But with your advice, I think it should go better next time...

    Ellen
  • I love Farro. My mother makes a delicious and thick Farro and chickpea soup. Your salad looks and sounds absolutely divine. Now that you've mentioned the peeling part of winter squashes...I don't know how I am going to deal with my acorn squash I bought a couple of days ago. I haven't thought about the peeling when I bought it...DAH!!

    Rose
  • Oh, but there are so many more kinds of squash to try than the traditional triumvirate of butternut, acorn and pumpkin! head to the farmers market for dozens of varieties -- more than I've even had time to try, and I am what you might call a squash enthusiast. Check out red kuri for a thin-skinned deep orange creamy squash that you don't have to peel, or delicata for a delightful light (yes, delicate) squash perfect with just butter and maple syrup. I have a new one that I have yet to chop open -- a 2-ft-long pink banana that the farmer told me would blow my mind.

    Ariel Diamond
  • Farro is actually spelt, not barley. Few clerks in any grocery store, however gourmet, don't know it and look at you crosseyed. Spelt you can get in most health oriented markets.

    Marilyn Mandel
  • I glanced at the picture and thought it was buckwheat. So now I am thinking that buckwheat could make a good substitute for those who can't find farro or do not like barley (ME) ;)

    Anna
  • So what is farro exactly? It looks like wheat but how would you describe it otherwise?

    Pieds Des Anges (Kyla)
  • I absolutely love me some butternut squash, but you've gotta be kidding about them being easy to peel! Maybe you've got sharper knives than me or something, cause last time I made squash soup (with apples, swiss chard and a hint of curry), I was hacking away at that squash's tough skin for literally an hour. If it weren't so delicious I'd stay away from the stuff. I suppose your solution of not peeling the bulb part at all would help, but it's still a real pain in the butt.

    Sarah B
  • I love butternut squash, too, but have not ever tried farro (I have to admit I have yet to taste quinoa either) but we are camping in the mountains this weekend and pass by a Whole Foods on the way and I will be looking for it!

    Deborah Dowd
  • My husband is on a health food kick right now, so I might try your farro salad. Thanks for posting!

    Nabeela
  • Looks great .. very rustic! I had never heard of Farro before and I believe I have never come across it at the markets [maybe coz I wasn't looking for it], kinda looks like shallots doesn't it? Anything else which is similar in taste and can be substituted?

    Snehal
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