This was my contribution to our Christmas eve feast (which has always consisted of finger foods/appetizers and desserts). When we were children there was fruit, baby carrots and dip, bagel bites, cheese cubes and Ritz. While the tradition persists, in recent years our "dinner" has turned a bit more gourmet. Mom's peanut butter balls still make an appearance. But we've traded the cheddar for Boursin, frozen snacks for grilled meat and veggie kabobs, and healthier options such as this. I left most of the planning and preparation up to my younger sisters who are budding little chefs. But I wanted to try something new and thought this salad sounded fantastic. (If it comes from Smitten Kitchen, it's guaranteed to be good.) Most of my family members had never heard of farro or Manchego, couldn't tell you what a pepita was, and were wary of anything squash. But I think I converted them to all of the above. Or rather this recipe did.
I've made this salad twice now and learned something in the process. It's best served at room temperature, assembled after the individual ingredients have cooled. The second time around I was in a rush and threw them together hot, which resulted in still-delicious sticky glop. If you want fluffy farro and perfectly formed cubes of squash mingling with flecks of cheese and pepita bits, allow some time for them to cool off. This also tastes great after a fews hours (and possibly days- although why wait that long?) in the fridge.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Farro Salad
1 cup semi-pearled farro, cooked according to package directions
5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium-large butternut (or acorn) squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/3 cup toasted salted pepitas
3/4 cup Manchego (spanish sheep's milk cheese), grated (or Ricota salta, feta, etc.)
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray. Toss the butternut squash in 2 Tbsp. olive oil and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and arrange in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and tender. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, cook the farro according to package directions. Drain; fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
3. While the farro is cooking, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl. Whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Stir in the onion (it will barely be covered by the vinegar mixture.) Cover and refrigerate until needed. (30 minutes is ideal but less time will still provide a lightly pickled onion.)
4. To assemble the salad, in a large bowl mix together the cooled butternut squash and farro. Stir in the pickled onions and vinegar mixture, pepitas, and cheese. Toss with the 3 remaining Tbsp. olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or after refrigerating.
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)