Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese

Farro, a soft and nutty grain, is my new favorite fall ingredient. Somewhat high maintenance at first, farro can be difficult to find and requires a four to five hour bath before it’s to ready warm up. But once it’s soaked and simmered, farro is effortlessly appealing and has “comforting” written all over it. The subtly chewy, hearty texture is somewhere between wheat berries and pearled barley. It’s great on its own but also makes fabulous, substantial salads.

I’ve made this farro salad with squash, kale and goat cheese a few times already this fall, and each time I’m delighted with the outcome and pleasantly surprised at how well it keeps for left-overs. I’ve actually brought this dish to three, separate potlucks, and each time it’s been a real crowd-pleaser. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and goes well with a range of flavors, making it a perfect potluck offering.

After soaking and draining the grains, I cover the farro with about two to three inches of water, and let the water simmer on very low heat for about 60-75 minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll peel the squash and cube (or if I’m in a time-crunch, use pre-cut squash), and dice a medium onion. I mix the squash and onion together in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on a baking sheet. The squash and onion cooks at 400 in the oven for about 30 minutes, and I make sure to push it around on the baking sheet every so often.

With the squash and onion mixture in the oven and the farro still on the stove, I’ll remove the stems from a bunch of kale, chop up the leaves, wash them and then blanch them for about one minute – just until the leaves turn bright green, so they’re tender but still retain some crunch. I’ve also been known to saute the kale with garlic in olive oil – and both methods turn out great. When the farro is soft but not too chewy, it’s as simple as mixing all the components together with roughly 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, more salt and pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Adding chopped walnuts is optional (as is the walnut oil if allergies are a a concern). The final touch is crumbling a generous amount of goat cheese on top of the salad, and I never skimp on this, because it’s everyone’s favorite part. And there it is: an easy but unique, loveable fall salad.

For the recipe and what to cook next

Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese
(serves 8-10)

3 cups of farro
4 cups squash, cubed
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
1 bunch (about 12 oz) of kale (any variety), chopped, stems removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons walnut oil (can substitute olive oil)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme
1/3 cup of crumbled goat cheese

– Soak farro 4-5 hours
– Drain farro, cover with 2-3 inches of water and simmer for 60-75 minutes, until soft but not overdone
– Heat oven to 400 degrees
– Cut up squash to 1/3 inch square pieces and dice onion
– Toss squash and onion in olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out on baking sheet
– Bake squash and onion 30 minutes, pushing around on sheet every 10 minutes
– Meanwhile, de-stem kale, chop and wash
– Blanch kale for 1-2 minutes, or sautee in olive oil, until leaves are bright green and soft but not overcooked
– When farro is cooked, toss with squash mixture and kale, walnuts and walnut oil, salt, pepper and thyme
– Sprinkle goat cheese over salad
– Serve warm or at room temperature

What to do with left over farro? Eat cold as a salad with any chopped vegetable. Here’s a great recipe from the New York Times for farro salad with tomatoes and Romano beans.