Farro with Butternut Squash or Golden Beets
Source: Joyce Goldstein, cookbook author.
Squash and farro form a rich combination, ideal for a fall or winter supper. The flesh of the Italian pumpkin is a bit redder than that of butternut squash, but its texture-firm and meaty-is close to butternut or kabocha squash. To make this Tuscan dish more festive, you can add cooked chestnuts. You can also use golden beets in place of the squash. They make a lovely addition to farro and do not bleed color into the grain. I do not think they pair well with chestnuts, however, but you can add some toasted walnuts for contrasting texture and taste. Sage is harmonious both with squash and beets.
2 cups farro
6 cups water if making pilaf
7 to 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock if making farrotto
1 butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
or 1 bunch golden beets, about 1 1/4 pounds total weight
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup crumbled cooked chestnuts, if using squash (optional)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped, if using beets (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, or as needed, if making a pilaf
Freshly ground black pepper
Unsalted butter for finishing (optional)
To cook this as a pilaf, in a saucepan, combine the farro and the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender but still chewy at the center. Start checking for doneness after 20 minutes. A bit of water may remain unabsorbed, but that is fine, as you need to reheat the cooked vegetables with the grain. If the farro is too wet, drain it in a sieve. Set aside. If you are using the squash, bring a saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil. Salt lightly, add the squash, and cook until barely tender, 5 to 8 minutes. It will cook to final tenderness later on, so do not let it become too soft. Drain and set aside.
If you are using the beets, trim away the greens if they are still attached, leaving 1 inch of the stem intact. Combine the beets with water to cover in a saucepan, bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on size. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Alternatively, put the beets in a baking pan with 1/2 inch water, cover with aluminum foil, and bake in a 350°F oven until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool, then peel and cut as for boiled beets. You should have about 3 cups. Set aside.
In a sauté pan, melt the 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the squash or beets, the chestnuts or walnuts (if using), the sage, a little nutmeg, and the 1 cup stock and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Fold in the cooked farro, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes longer. All the ingredients should be tender and the flavors well married. Season with salt and pepper and add a little butter for richness, if you like. Add more stock if you want a soupier consistency. (You can even add lots of stock and turn this dish into a hearty soup.) Serve at once.
To cook this as a farrotto, pour the 7 to 8 cups stock into a saucepan, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and keep the water at a bare simmer. In a large, deep sauté pan, melt the 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sage and sauté until the onion is translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the farro and stir well to coat with the butter. Add 1 cup of the simmering stock and cook, stirring a few times, until the stock is almost absorbed. Then continue to add the stock 1 cup at a time, always allowing it to be almost fully absorbed before adding more. Add the cooked squash or beets when about half the stock has been added. Add the chestnuts or walnuts during the last 5 minutes of cooking. The farro is ready when it is tender but still chewy at the center. You may not need all of the stock. The whole process, beginning with sautéing the onion, should take about 40 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir in a little butter for richness, if desired. Serve at once.