Delicious farro with butternut squash.

My earlier post this week established my love for and interest in cooking with whole grains: farro, quinoa, bulgur, wild rice and the like. Winter seems like the perfect time to experiment with these hearty, protein-packed grains, with all their nutty flavor and satisfying texture.

  • Whole grains are perfectly comfortable taking a supporting role; they make a fantastic base for any non-lettuce-y kinds of salads.
  • They play well with fresh and roasted seasonal vegetables: think tabbouleh, with parsley and tomato in summer or farro with mushrooms or squash in winter (see below).
  • Whole grains love getting tossed around with olive oil and acids like balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
  • What’s more, they have history: Grains like farro and quinoa and amaranth have been cultivated as food crops for centuries, and they have international roots that cooks can take full advantage of (quinoa, for example, is a staple in some Latin American cuisines, so it pairs well with vegetables like corn and tomatoes).
  • They’re simple to cook, much as you’d cook white rice or pasta: Simply bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the grain and simmer until done (cooking times can vary by grain, from about 15 minutes to 45 or so).
  • And yes, these grains are healthful, as their whole nature (meaning, they retain the germ and the bran) provides protein and other valuable nutrients.

But mostly, these babies are just yummy. Here’s a whole grain recipe using farro (but wheatberries, brown rice or barley would work, as well). It’s great as a side for roast pork or grilled chicken, and makes a fantastic take-to-work lunch.

farro salad with squash

(makes 4 side dish or lunchtime salad servings)

1 cup of farro (use pearled or regular)
2 generous cups of butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted in the oven or in a dry skillet
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
Pecorino Romano, goat cheese, feta or other salty cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss onion, butternut squash and zucchini with 1 Tbsp. olive oil to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until lightly caramelized and tender, about 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer roasted vegetables to a large bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the farro in a pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; pearled farro will take about 15 minutes, while regular farro will take more like 40 to 50 minutes.  Drain and let cool slightly.

Toss together farro, roasted vegetables and walnuts with additional 1 Tbsp. olive oil and balsamic vinegar (2 Tbsp. or to taste). Season with salt and pepper. Top with ribbons of Pecorino or crumbles of goat cheese or feta and serve.