Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

Here we go again…

Butternut squash soup last week… butternut squash salad this week.  As we enter new seasons, I see that I might possibly get a bit obsessed with seasonal ingredients from time to time.  Corn, figs, and now butternut squash.  Oh well, there are worse things, I suppose.  This was the recipe that I was dreaming about as summer ended and the beginnings of fall were in the air, but have only, just now, gotten a chance to share with you.

I fell in love with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen last October and it’s memory stayed with me all year long.  It is hearty and fresh and perfectly fall.  It also makes me laugh every time I make it because we have a joke among a few of our friends about farro.  Each and every time it is spotted on a menu, all anyone ever has to say about it is, “oh, farro, that’s an ancient grain.”  What does that even mean anyways?  As it turns out, farro is a whole grain that hails from Italy, has a nutty flavor and a nice amount of tooth to it.  It is quite delicious.  If you are curious to know more about farro, click here, or simply try the recipe below.

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Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

Source: Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup semi-pearled farro 
1/3 cup toasted pepitas 
3 ounces ricotta salata or another salty cheese, crumbled or coarsely grated (I use french feta)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel squash, then halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut squash into approximately 3/4-inch chunks. Coat one large or two small baking sheets with 2 tablespoons oil total. Spread squash out in single layer on sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until pieces are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Set aside to cool slightly.

While squash is roasting, cook farro in a large pot of simmering salted water until the grains are tender but chewy, about 30 minutes. (Since there are so many varieties of farro, however, if your package suggests otherwise, it’s best to defer to its cooking suggestion.) Drain and cool slightly.

While squash is roasting and farro is simmering, in a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, water, 1/2 teaspoon table salt and granulated sugar until sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in onion; it will barely be covered by vinegar mixture but don’t worry. Cover and set in fridge until needed; 30 minutes is ideal but less time will still make a lovely, lightly pickled onion.

In a large bowl, mix together butternut squash, farro, red onion and its vinegar brine, the crumbled cheese and pepitas. Toss with 3 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil, use the 4th one only if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings. Eat now or later. Salad keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

I enjoy serving this salad over a bed of baby spinach.  I always know when I have found a fantastic new recipe – my particular “tell” is that I find myself sampling multiple spoonfuls out of the serving bowl, just to make sure I’ve gotten it just right… you may find yourself doing the same on this one!  In fact, it was eaten so quickly, I never got a great photo of it plated and beautiful… sorry about that, you’ll just have to take my word for it – Delicious!

Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday I figured out that I have been making this particular soup for 14 years.  This is by far my longest standing, go-to recipe.  The first time I made it was after graduating from college, right before I moved to San Francisco to start work and become an adult.  I love knowing that little fact – so much was about to happen in my life… There is a small tradition in my family of writing notes on actual recipes (when the dish was made, if any changes were made, how successful it was, and lastly, if there was an occasion).  These small bits of information are completely informal, with no rhyme or reason, but provide so much history!  This recipe, made by Marilyn Weissman, was originally published in our local newspaper in November 1993 as the winner of a community cooking competition.  My recipe (with notes) is a photocopy from that newspaper piece, but I see that Marilyn still lists this recipe on her website My Global Kitchens, another great place to poke around for recipes, I’m sure!

This comforting fall soup differentiates itself by bringing together some unique flavors.  Creamy butternut squash combined with the spicy and bright tastes of ginger and lime create a lovely fall soup you won’t soon forget.  I made this for our dinner last night, and I also ate it for lunch today and realize now that it really is better the next day.  The flavors have a chance to mellow and meld and is just oh, so comforting.

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Butternut Squash Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 lime, juiced (or to taste)

salt and white pepper (to taste)

Saute onion and ginger in butter, add garlic and cook until onion becomes translucent.  Add squash, broth, and water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer 25 minutes or until soft.  Put in food processor in batches (or use immersion blender to save time and dish washing), return to heat and stir in lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Can make two days ahead.  Garnish with thinly sliced lime and ginger strip.

I usually serve this recipe with homemade croutons and a simple green salad.  It can also be frozen for later use.  The pictures above show the recipe doubled.  You will also notice a few other time savers that I usually stock in my freezer, pre-minced garlic and ginger by the company, Dorot.  I know you can find an assortment of these frozen herbs at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, among other stores.  If you enjoy making soup, I highly recommend investing in an immersion blender (also pictured above), this tool simplifies the process of blending hot liquids and is relatively inexpensive.  I use mine all the time.

This soup is one of my personal markers that fall has arrived – I hope you love it too!

Enjoy!