Thanksgiving is right around the corner and everyone is thinking about main course and side dishes. Sometimes its hard to get your family to sway from the ubiquitous green bean casserole made with soup from a can and freeze dried onion (are they really?), or sweet potatoes with marshmallows, something I simply can not wrap my head around. (Marshmallows are for hot chocolate and s’mores, nothing else!) No, I am not a food snob, I chalk it up to questionable dishes I was served as a child. So it has been my mission to challenge myself by taking a traditional dish and giving it a twist. For example: my brussels sprouts with apple and cranberry is a great way to update the much maligned brussels sprout.
This year I came up with something new, using farro and butternut squash. The twist here is cooking your farro in apple cider vinegar. It’s sounds a little crazy, but I promise it totally works.
The farro and butternut squash will take about the same amount of time to cook. Once done have them both cool on the sheet tray.
I softened the onions in the dressing for about 10 minutes while it cooled. This step makes the onion a little more palatable and flavors the dressing.
The sheet tray is going to be your friend. It allows everything to lay flat and cool quicker than a bowl. Toss with your hands or a small spatula, but do it gently as to not break up the squash.
Add some parsley for color. Speaking of color, check out the pomegranate arils! Below the recipe I have a super simple and non-messy way to peel them.
Toss your salad greens with the reserved dressing.
The finished product topped with chopped hazelnuts. This is a wonderful salad dish to have on your buffet. The farro-squash part can be made a day or two ahead – all the better for flavor blending. Lightly toss your spinach greens just before plating, top with the farro and garnish with the hazelnuts.
Farro, Butternut Squash and Pomegranate Salad
2 lb. butternut squash, rinsed well to remove the dirt and peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
2 cups a good apple cider vinegar plus 2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 cup semi-pearled farro
¾ cup pomegranate arils, see note
1 small red onion, about 3 oz., thinly sliced
¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Roasted hazelnuts, crushed or garnish
1 – 5 oz. box of spinach greens
¼ cup apple cider
2 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup avocado or canola
¼ teaspoon each of kosher salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 425.
2. Cut the butternut into 1” cubes. Take care to get them all about the same size so they cook at the same rate. You should have about 4 cups. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes until slightly tender. You don’t want them to be really mushy, otherwise they will mash up into the mix. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet.
3. While you are prepping the butternut place the cider, water, 1 teaspoon of salt and bay leaf in a pot. Bring to a boil and add the farro. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes. The farro should be slightly chewy, al dente. Drain and let cool on a baking sheet with your squash.
4. While things are cooking make your vinaigrette. Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Taste for seasoning and add the onions. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
5. Scoop out the onions and add to the sheet pan with the farro and squash. Its ok if some of the vinaigrette is drizzled. Add the pomegranate seeds and parsley. Gently toss it all together. Taste for seasoning
6. Serve over spinach greens dressed with the reserved vinaigrette.
How to de-seed a pomegranate:
1. Take a large bowl and fill it with cool water and place in your sink. This helps contain the possible mess!
2. Cut the top off the pomegranate and then follow the white ribs. You should get about 4-5 sections. Place them in the bowl of water and using your fingers gently dislodge the arils, or seeds. The arils will fall to the bottom of the bowl and the white pith will float to the top.
3. Scoop out the white pith and drain. Pop off any remaining pith from the arils and rinse under cool water. Drain will and store in an airtight container. They will last in the fridge for about 5 days. Toss when they start to look sticky and smell a little vinegary.
Recipe created by Maria Reina of Bella Cucina Maria