Farro and roasted squash for salads and grain bowls

When you toss the squash with a bit of oil and roast it at high heat, the skin gets crisp, which is nice against the velvety flesh.
When you toss the squash with a bit of oil and roast it at high heat, the skin gets crisp, which is nice against the velvety flesh.PHOTO: ANDREW SCRIVANI/NYTIMES
PHOTO: ANDREW SCRIVANI/NYTIMES

(NYTimes) - How do you tell a grain bowl from a grain salad? The easiest way is to look at the serving vessel.

If the grain - in this case, farro - is divided into individual bowls, each topped with roasted squash, feta and a feathery green garnish, it's obviously a grain bowl.

But spread those same ingredients out on one large platter, and you've got yourself a salad.

  • Farro With Roasted Squash, Feta and Mint

  • Ingredients

    For the squash:
    3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tsp sugar
    ¾  tsp ground cinnamon
    ¾  tsp fine sea salt, more as needed
    ¼  tsp black pepper
    ⅛  tsp cayenne, or to taste
    1.36kg winter squash, such as kabocha, carnival or butternut, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (leave the peels on or remove as desired)

    For the farro:
    1½ cups apple cider
    2½ teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
    1½ cups farro
    2 Tbs apple cider vinegar, more to taste
    2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
    ½  tsp black pepper
    7 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
    85g feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
    Fresh mint or arugula leaves, or both

  • Method

    1. Heat oven to 230 deg C. Prepare the squash: In a large bowl, mix together olive oil, sugar, cinnamon, salt, pepper and cayenne. Add squash and toss well to coat with the spiced oil. Lay the squash pieces out flat on one or two rimmed baking sheets.
    2. Roast squash until the bottoms are golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully turn the pieces over and continue to roast until tender, another 10 to 20 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, make the farro: In a medium pot, bring the apple cider, 2 cups water and the salt to a simmer. Add farro and simmer until water is absorbed and the farro is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. If the liquid evaporates before the farro is done, add a little more water. Or, if there's still liquid in the pot when the farro is done, drain it.
    4. In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, garlic and pepper. Whisk in olive oil. Add farro and toss well, adding more oil or salt, or both, if needed.
    5. To serve, spoon the farro on a platter and top with the squash, feta, mint or arugula (or both), and a drizzle of olive oil.

    Yield: 4 to 6 servings Total time: 45 minutes

Which is to say, interpret this recipe however you would like. I'd serve it as a grain bowl if you're looking for a hearty, meatless main course. But if your plan is to bring it out next to simply roasted meat or fish as a side dish, please feel free to call it a salad.

In both cases, you will get a mound of farro, slightly chewy and very earthy, alongside sweet, roasted winter squash scented with cinnamon and cayenne. The feta cheese on top, soft and tangy, provides a salty contrast. And plenty of fresh greenery - mint, arugula or a mixture - adds a bright, crisp touch.

After finding out that squash skin is both edible and tasty, I've stopped peeling winter squash before roasting. When you toss the squash with a bit of oil and roast it at high heat (205 deg C), the skin gets crisp, which is nice against the velvety flesh.

If any of your guests object, or if you have a squash with a bitter or leathery skin, you can cut it off after roasting - which is a whole lot easier than trying to peel it before cooking, when the flesh of the squash is unforgivingly hard. One exception is butternut squash skin, which will slide right off with a few strokes of a vegetable peeler. Tread lightly if you decide to try that with a kabocha.

Although you could substitute other grains here (brown rice or quinoa, for example), the firm bite and nuttiness of farro add a lot of substance to the salad. Plus, ever since I learned to cook farro in a mix of apple cider and water (a trick I picked up from the restaurant Charlie Bird), I've been looking for other places to use it. It works wonderfully well here with the squash.

In a bowl or on a platter, the results will be satisfying.