Recipe: Farro with Butternut Squash, Onion, Chicken, and Spinach

It seems like a busy work schedule, frustratingly tiny kitchen, and, to be honest, sheer laziness, has kept me from posting for the past six months or so. In that time, I’ve been all over the map with my dinners…sometimes I make something so simple, it doesn’t seem worth it to post about it. Other times, I loosely follow recipes printed from Pinterest and elsewhere across the web, but, by the time I finish eating and cleaning up, I’m in no mood to type about the process. Still other times, I come up with something totally off the top of my head, but, yet again, I don’t get around to posting about it and forget about it after a week or two. In this case, this meal was the last of those three—something I came up with just looking at what I had in the fridge—and it was just too good not to share, so I really wanted to make sure I posted about it.

I bought cubed butternut squash on a whim last weekend—it was bright orange (and thus very visible in the produce section) and it was on sale, so I grabbed it, with not a clue what to make with it. I gave it some thought after I returned home…I knew I didn’t want to use it in pasta, but something nutty, like farro, seemed like something that would pair well with it. Chicken was easy enough to throw in, plus a little onion and garlic for flavor, and a little paprika and cinnamon for heat and sweet. Add in a few heaping handfuls of spinach and some freshly grated Gruyere and I had a wonderful, hearty, winter dinner.

Farro with Winter Vegetable Medley

Serves: 2

Prep. time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: Approx. 30-40 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • Approx. 1/2 cup farro, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1 chicken breast, cubed and seasoned
  • Approx. 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-5 handfuls of baby spinach
  • Shredded/grated Gruyere cheese
  • Seasoning: garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon (just a pinch, to bring out the sweetness of the squash), pepper, salt, paprika
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken stock and/or sweet cooking wine (sherry or marsala), for deglazing

Directions

Cook farro according to package instructions (the brand I used cooked for approx. 30 minutes, so I was able to cook everything else up while it was cooking). Heat a little butter and olive oil in a large, deep pan over medium-high heat, add the chicken and cook until just done, then set aside and cover. Add a little more butter to the skillet, and a splash of chicken stock and/or wine to deglaze the pan, then add the onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the butternut squash and spinach, cover, and cook for 8-10 minutes, lifting lid occasionally to stir and add seasoning. As the farro is in its last minutes of cooking, add the minced garlic to the vegetable medley and toss the chicken back in to reheat. The onion and butternut squash should be tender when done. Serve the mixture on top of the farro and top with Gruyere cheese.

Farro with Winter Vegetable Medley

Cook’s Comments

This dish is the perfect dish for the cold autumn and winter months: it’s hearty, warm, peppery, cheesy, and nutty. The butternut squash is the real star—it’s tender, like cooked zucchini, and has a buttery savory-sweet flavor that adds a twist to this dish. Adding a pinch of cinnamon adds warmth and depth of flavor to the dish, while pepper, paprika, and garlic add a little heat. Farro has this wonderful honeyed, nutty flavor with a unique chewy texture, somewhere in between rice and pasta, and it makes the perfect base.

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Blog Updates & Maintenance, Sept. 2013

Hello readers!

This afternoon, I finally utilized the “Import” tool and imported all of my old posts from my previous blog, Reading, Writing, and Ravioli. I had tons of recipe posts over there and I didn’t want to lose those just because I’m writing on a new blog now. So, as of right now, they are all imported and able to be viewed. I am currently working on editing tags and categories, as well as checking formatting on each post, to make sure they all look good and work properly here on WordPress. I have deleted any old posts (imported here) from the old blog that didn’t include recipes (I’m keeping the old blog up for now, so they can be found there). Please bear with me while I make some changes and please, go check out the old recipe posts. They’ve got a bit of a different feel than what I’m posting now (especially the earliest posts, where I’m still trying to figure out how to post and format), but they’re all quite good, if I do say so myself.

Making a Fresh Start

Hopefully, you’ve taken the chance to read the “About the Blog” page, where I give a little back story for this blog. If not, I’ll get you caught up here and expand upon what I’ve already explained…

After graduating from college a few years back, I moved back home with my parents and took some time to figure out what to do next. After a few months of lazing about, cooking a bit, and struggling to come up with any clear life plan, I started a small food blog, got a job at Macy’s, and started taking some culinary arts classes at my local community college. I really got into cooking that summer (though I had dabbled in it in the years prior) and contemplated going to culinary school or finding some sort of food writing job. I tried countless new recipes and made up my own, and each one went up on the blog, called Reading, Writing, and Ravioli. I got started working on the job hunt after about six months at home and trudged through that process for over a year, dealing with rejections, countless applications that went unanswered, and a handful of interviews. I was focusing on finding publishing and writing/editing-focused jobs in the South and not getting anywhere in the search (being an English major with internship experience at small companies did not make me a prime candidate, evidently). This spring, while visiting my boyfriend of 5-and-a-half-plus years here in Memphis, I found out about a job at a local museum and after a whirlwind interview (I interviewed mere hours before my flight home, just a day after finding out about the position) and a few weeks of waiting, I received a call saying the job was mine if I wanted it. After some trips to see family, a mother-daughter vacation, a trip to Memphis to find an apartment, and lots of packing, I moved to Tennessee and started my life out on my own in the real world.

My job is wonderful and I work great hours there—I get off of work around 4:00pm each day and live about 15 minutes away, so I’m home with plenty of time (and energy) to prep and cook dinner. I live in a nice, one bedroom apartment with a wide, galley kitchen (really, it’s quite wide and two people can easily and comfortably work together in the space), and the kitchen is a big change from my family’s kitchen back home (which had extra deep sinks, two ovens, a large island and tons of prep space, and plenty of storage). I’ve been here for two months now and I’m still getting used to cooking on electric burners (they burn much hotter than gas stoves, in my opinion), washing dishes in a sink that’s about as deep as your standard cereal bowl, and finding room for all of my appliances and ingredients (it’s a bit tight, but I’m making it work). I’ve been cooking about three days a week, and the other days are either reserved for dining out, eating leftovers, or scrounging for whatever’s left in the apartment, but I’m working on cooking more, even if I end up just cooking simple dishes.

I’ve been cooking a lot of dishes I’ve made before, because it’s my boyfriend’s first time eating most of them, but I’ve been trying out new recipes too and I’ve been itching to share them. My old blog hasn’t really been working for me for a while. My camera has been on the fritz, I’ve been busy these first few weeks with getting everything set up in my apartment, and I’ve been adjusting to my new schedule. Most importantly, I’ve realized over the past few months (or even year) that I never measure when I cook and this made blogging a chore. When I bake, I measure everything, because baking is a science, but cooking…I just go with the flow. I add a pinch of this and a dash of that. I tweak recipes and add my own spin on things. I substitute ingredients and often play the “what can I make with what I have left in the fridge” game (or, as I like to call it, Chopped-light), and I’ve realized that I need to have a blog that lets me do that. So, rather than revamp my old blog, I want to start fresh. I’m making the switch from Blogger to WordPress.com, I’m cooking in a different kitchen, and I’m not getting caught up in the nitty-gritty details of recipes. I will share cooking tips and basics to help keep my readers on track, and I’ll certainly use some measurements (I won’t be posting anything as vague as “Add chicken, pasta, basil, cheese, and tomatoes to a pot; cook; and serve,” I promise), but I want to encourage people—whether beginner cooks or those with more experience—to trust their gut and trust their senses. I want readers to learn what flavors pair well and what flavors they enjoy and how to tell when there’s not enough or there’s too much of something. I don’t want you to measure out a tsp. each of salt and pepper and panic if you add just a little too much—I want you to put as much as you like because you’ll know, upon tasting, if it’s the right amount. I want you to feel free to change things to suit yourself and your dining companions.

So, here I go, making a fresh start, cooking beyond measure(ments)…

Listen to Your Gut

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through my cooking adventures is to trust my gut. The more I cook and the more I experiment in the kitchen, the more I learn and the more comfortable I get with ingredients and equipment. I’m learning what flavors work well together and what flavors don’t blend well. I’m learning that recipes aren’t always perfect and most can use a little tweaking. I’m learning what ingredients can be used as substitutes for other ingredients and when substitutions just won’t work. I think anyone who really works at cooking can learn the basics and be able to put a meal on the table (Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America has helped two TV seasons worth of terrible cooks—people who can’t even boil water—learn to cook delicious meals). However, I think it takes a real passion for food, a love of learning, and trust in oneself (and one’s taste buds) to be a really good cook. If you can take criticism well and pick yourself back up after you make a crappy meal, then that’s all the better.

It’s exciting to feel confident in my growing cooking skills and my knowledge of food, but it’s definitely an ongoing process and there are certainly bumps in the road along the way. Tonight was one of those bumps in the road: by ignoring my gut instinct about the recipe I was following, the resulting dish really didn’t work. I’d found a fantastic-looking recipe for fettuccine with zucchini ribbons and walnuts and I was excited to try it out. It’s a sauce-less dish, but for flavor, a paste-like mixture of anchovies, fresh garlic, and crushed red pepper is added to the dish. Now, I’m in a bit of an awkward position when it comes to following recipes because most serve 4 people or 6-8 people, but I’m only cooking for 3. This means I can’t simply halve a recipe, because there wouldn’t be enough for my family, but I don’t want to make a full recipe (especially one that serves 6-8) because that’s just more temptation to eat bigger servings (and when you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, that’s no good) and we don’t need leftovers cluttering the fridge. So, I have to go with my gut and decide how much of each ingredient I’ll need. Unfortunately tonight, I didn’t listen to my gut when it told me “the two anchovies called for in this recipe seems like a bit much because they have such a strong flavor,” and I used the call-for amount. The result was a pasta dish with a fairly overpowering anchovy flavor and some light-hearted criticism from my parents. While eating, I thought over how I could change the dish to make it better and I’m confident that, if I made it again, I’d trust my gut and it would work out well.

Looks lovely, but the anchovies in this dish were far too overpowering and it almost ruined the meal

So, now I know what to try next time, but the recipe is tucked away inside my recipe binder for now, because there are countless more recipes in books, on TV and the Internet, and in my head waiting for me to try them out. I just have to be sure to listen to my gut when I make them. Lesson learned.