FALL IS HERE! This year I have been clinging to summer more than usual – the ability to eat and otherwise socialize outdoors not low on my list of reasons – but I am finally ready to embrace the start of ‘cozy season.’ The arrival of autumn means cooler nights, shortening days, and the return of warm, comforting dinners. Few dishes fit this bill better than risotto, especially when made with one of my favorite fall vegetables – butternut squash.
Traditional Italian risotto is made by slowly cooking Arborio or Carnaroli rice, adding broth as the rice absorbs it, and stirring frequently. When the rice is stirred, the grains rub together, releasing their starch. The result is a sublimely creamy but labor-intensive dish, as it requires standing over the stove stirring nearly the entire time.
This rustic take on classic risotto, made with chewy, whole-grain farro, skips the constant stirring. Because farro does not cook the way rice does, it requires less vigilance. In fact, the whole first half of the cooking is sort of a “cheat” – the farro is partially cooked at a simmer, before switching to the one-ladle-at-a-time risotto method. While the finished dish doesn’t have quite the same texture as traditional risotto, I think it’s a little bit more interesting – simultaneously creamy and chewy, with deep toasted, nutty flavor that complements the butternut squash.
When roasted, butternut squash becomes caramelized and sweet. It’s delicious on its own, but do you ever notice that when it’s paired with rich ingredients as it is in risotto, it often ends up tasting a little flat? My solution to that problem is this Crispy Sage Gremolata. What is gremolata?? Glad you asked! It’s a fresh Italian condiment made with garlic, parsley and lemon zest. Typically, gremolata is paired with grilled or braised meat or fish (it’s a traditional accompaniment to the Milanese braised-veal dish, Osso Bucco) but it’s a great way to add some punchy flavor to roasted vegetables, pasta dishes, or… risotto!
This autumnal take on gremolata swaps out the parsley for fried sage and toasted walnuts, along with lemon zest and grated raw garlic. It’s equal parts bright, fragrant, and sharp and is the perfect balance to the sweet roasted squash. (Try it with other hearty fall dishes, like roast chicken or crispy potatoes.) If you are hesitant about the use of grated raw garlic here, feel free to reduce the amount you’re using. But don’t skip it altogether- that hint of raw garlic is what gives the gremolata its zing.
Finally, you’ll want to look for pearled or semi-pearled farro for this recipe. While whole-grain farro would work in a pinch, it will take longer to cook and may require adding more broth than this recipe calls for. The brand of pearled farro you use will affect the cooking time and the amount of broth you’ll need, so it’s important to taste as you go to make you don’t overcook the grains. Farro’s chewy, nutty texture is what makes this dish special.
Farro Risotto with Butternut Squash and Crispy Sage Gremolata
- 6 to 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth, as needed
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and ¾-inch diced (1½ to 2 pounds)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ½ cup fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
- ⅓ cup walnuts, chopped
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1 small garlic clove or ½ large clove
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
- 1½ cups pearled farro
- ⅔ cup + 1 tablespoon dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, divided
- ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan.
- Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once halfway through, until tender and lightly caramelized. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Heat a medium-sized Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and when the oil is hot (it should be almost shimmering on the surface), add the sage and walnuts. Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until the sage leaves are crisp and the walnuts are golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Using a Microplane grater, zest the lemon and grate the garlic clove over the sage and walnuts, add ¼ teaspoon salt, and mix well. Set aside to cool.
- Add the butter to theDutch oven and melt over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook over medium-low heat until tender but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the farro and cook for 2 minutes to toast the grains lightly, stirring often. Add the wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Add about 3 cups of the simmering broth to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated, about 15 minutes.
- Add about 1/2 cup broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is almost absorbed. Continue cooking, adding broth in ½ cup increments and stirring often, until the farro is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the roasted butternut squash, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook until heated through, smashing some of the squash with the side of a wooden spoon. Add a splash of broth if the risotto seems dry at this point.
- Off the heat, stir in the Pecorino and remaining tablespoon of wine. You may need to add additional broth at this point, too; the farro will continue to thicken as it sits. Taste for seasonings, then serve in shallow bowls, sprinkled with the gremolata.Note: Look for pearled farro for this recipe; whole-grain farro will take much longer to cook. Copyright 2020, Lidey Heuck, All Rights Reserved