“Hey, look… we’ve finally got squash!” I say to Allie in early fall, when we’re circling through the Uptown Hoboken farmers’ market and butternut is back. And we make soups, salads, pasta, and so on into the next year. The end of winter comes. We hit a market or a grocery store. There’s a pyramid of squash. “Man,” I say, “if I have to eat another squash or root vegetable I’m going to go insane!” Even then, when we’re tired of the rest, we like to get one last butternut risotto or farotto in before winter ends.
Farotto is farro cooked like risotto. Allie doesn’t eat many grain-based foods, but loves farro, which is essentially whole heads of hard-wheat grain. Farro is nutritionally rich. It has better flavor than rice. It can, for me, provide a portal to another world. I spent a summer working on farms and vineyards in Italy. At the end, right before I left for home, I watched a colossal harvester sweep through a hillside wheat field on a farm high in the Apennine Mountains. That grain was of the ancient, hard-wheat variety that comes under the lexical umbrella of “farro.”
Standard risotto is dope. I don’t think I need to elaborate here. Farotto is much easier to cook than risotto, especially when you’re incorporating squash. The reason is that you don’t have to stir constantly, like you do to create the chemical changes in risotto rice that make the standard dish creamy. Here, we’re getting creaminess through olive oil, squash, and (when Allie isn’t looking!) a mountain of cheese.
Above is a picture of plain butternut squash farotto. I went two ways with this one. First (and first below), I added pancetta, fried sage, and a balsamic drizzle. Second, for the meat-averse, I went old-school with sage and Parmesan. Hope you enjoy this simple but good recipe. You can sub other squash in other seasons. Recipe below!
Actually, we’re going to try something new:
What you need:
16 sage leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, whole or minced
1.5 cups farro
1/4 cup white wine (I used Prosecco leftover from Sicilian 75 cocktails)
2 cups chicken stock, kept warm on medium-low in a saucepan
1/2 a butternut squash, roasted for 40 minutes at 350 until dark and soft–and then de-skinned and cubed. (Use the other half for squash pasta!)
1 cup Parmesan cheese
What to do: 1) This recipe is for the second version. If you want to make the first, start with pan-frying some cubed pancetta.
2) Sizzle 12 sage leaves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until crisp. Set aside.
3) Heat onions, 12 sage leaves, and remaining olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Cook for some 5 minutes, stirring now and then, until onions start to brown. Add garlic. Stir. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add farro. Stirring often, toast farro for 4-5 minutes.
4) Pour in the wine. Watch. Inhale. Add salt and pepper. Stirring once or twice, wait for wine to evaporate down–but not completely. We need some moisture going here at all times so the farro doesn’t burn. When wine is almost cooked away, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Stir once. Let cook down (as you let the wine cook down). When the stock is almost gone, add more. Stir. Repeat process for 10 minutes.
5) Add cubed squash. Stir. Smash the orange cubes with a wooden spoon until they become a mush-like substance that coats the farro.
6) When stock level is low again, continue with process of adding 1/4 cup, giving the farro a quick stir, cooking down the stock, and adding another 1/4 cup. Do this for a total of 15-20 minutes, or until the farro is cooked to your liking. (Use water if you run out of stock.)
7) Cut heat. Add cheese. Stir. Finish with the set-aside sage and, if you want, if you’re like me, a drizzle of good olive oil. Serve. Buon appetito!