Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Walnuts

by Food Hound on March 16, 2013

in Main Dishes, Vegetarian

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The daffodils are blooming and I’m starting to have heart palpitations that my toes are going to be on display for public viewing in a few short weeks.  It’s almost spring!

That means it’s time to get a pedicure… AND make the last of all those squash recipes I’ve been drooling over since the farmers markets were teeming with beautiful, seasonal squash.  Soon they will be teeming with beautiful, seasonal strawberries, so let’s get to it!

You can make some pretty funkadelic grain salads… and you can make some seriously Plain Jane grain salads.  Boiled farro with fresh parsley underneath your broiled white fish?  Um, no.  Boiled farro mixed with roasted butternut, toasted walnuts, ricotta insalata cheese and pickled onions?  Oh, yes.  Let’s make that one.

This little gem is from Smitten Kitchen, and it’s totally of the funkadelic variety.  It’s really hearty, it has lots of textures, and all of the ingredients add a little je ne sais qois of awesome.  That’s partly because the ingredients, themselves, have great flavor, but also because each layer of this salad is seasoned appropriately with salt and pepper.  This. Is. Key!  That means each things tastes like the best version of itself.

I’m not going to say you dyed-in-the-wool carnivores won’t miss the meat because if you’re like the dyed-in-the-wool carnivores I know, you’ve already closed this window and moved on to the latest article in Carnivore Daily at the mere thought of eating something sans animal.  Although this is a meatless meal, it’s fun, delicious, lovely, AND quite substantial with all that squash, cheese, and nut action.  It got the Booze Hound stamp of approval and he can be a hard sell on meatless fare.  (Just don’t make it cheese-less.  Then he’s out.  I’m out, too.  Vegan fare makes me frown.)  The good news is that if you have to make this for one of those dyed-in-the-wool carnivores, just add cooked chicken, shrimp, or sausage.  *poof*  Problem solved.  Relationship saved.  Harmony restored.

Want to take a few more steps to make it your own?  Add some lemon zest, oregano, cherry tomatoes, and use cubed feta instead of ricotta salata for a Greek twist.  Add some cilantro, use chickpeas or roasted beets instead of butternut squash, and add harissa to the pickled onions for a Middle Eastern thing.  Add Peeps and Cadbury Eggs for Easter.  You get it the idea.

Never heard of farro before?  It’s known as an ‘ancient grain,’ which until recently only saw the light of day in the kitchens of ancient hippies and our grandparents who are now obsessed with fiber because farro has more protein and fiber than modern wheat.  Farro found its way into the hipster food movement, and now it’s the jeggings of the grain world.  You could use barley or quinoa or wheat berries in its place for this salad, but don’t you want to try the jeggings of the grain world?

Although this is totally a fall salad as far as ingredients are concerned, it’s totally perfect for warm weather because it’s great eaten cold or at room temperature.  I mean, I’m all for being seasonal, but when the weather gets chilly I’m all about some soup and hot (adult) beverages, not a grain salad.  THIS is the time of year for grain salads.  And if you tell the locavores that you obtained this homegrown squash out of the root cellar you dug by hand in your very own backyard when you actually bought it at Kroger in the total off-season, I’ll never tell.  It’s worth it!

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Walnuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves: 4-6
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and ¾" diced
  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 c farro (pearled, semi-pearled or regular)
  • ½ c chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 4 oz ricotta salata, crumbled (feta would also work)
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1 T water
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ small red onion, finely chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss squash with 2 T olive oil and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, stir, then 15 more minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. While squash is roasting, prepare pickled onions. In a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, water, and ½ tsp each of salt and sugar until salt and sugar dissolve. Stir in onion. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help pickle all of the onion equally. (It will be ready to go by the time you're ready to assemble the whole salad, but you could certainly make these earlier in the day and pop them in the fridge till you need them).
  4. Also while squash is roasting, cook farro in a large pot of simmering salted water according to package directions. (I use pearled farro from Trader Joe's, which took 10 minutes to cook). Drain and set aside to cool slightly.
  5. In a large bowl, mix together squash, faro, red onion and its brine, ricotta salata and walnuts. Toss with 2 T olive oil and season to taste with more salt and pepper (I added about ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper). Serve immediately, or let it sit for days in the fridge because it just gets better and better!


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