Maple roasted pumpkin with farro

There is something very satisfying about autumnal food and this maple roasted pumpkin with farro has a richness and depth that is just right for cooler nights and warm days –  the essence of my favourite season. Summer has had a very long tail this year, and I am very much enjoying the cooler weather we have recently been experiencing. My vegetable patch is still producing late summer vegetables and herbs (there will be a Japanese eggplant recipe in the near future!), and salads are still firmly on the menu, but this dish is a foretaste of the pilafs, casseroles, tagines and soups I will be making in the coming months.

There’s a dissertation in the waiting regarding farro, freekeh and spelt, and how these ancient grains, which were commonly eaten in the past, lost popularity, and then, in the beginning of this century, rose again in the popular consciousness as healthy, delicious, and worthy of eating. Richard Cornish, from Good Food gives a condensed version of this story better than I ever could.

He says: “Centuries ago, Western civilisation had a midlife crisis and dumped a whole lot of wholesome and dependable grains for a newer, more glamorous species from the same genus – namely, wheat. We mostly stopped growing grains such as einkorn (Triticum monococcum), spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta) and farro (Triticum turgidum dicoccum) in favour of modern wheat varieties such as durum (Triticum durum). Freekeh is made from modern wheat varieties that are harvested green then roasted. Einkorn is still grown in parts of Europe on poor soils. In France, it is called petit epeautre, or ”little spelt”, and in Italy, it is called farro piccolo or ”little farro”. It can be cooked in a chewy pilaf or tossed through a salad with beans and tomatoes. Farro, sometimes called emmer, can be cooked as one would steam brown rice and added to salads, but is delicious made into farrotto, similar to risotto, or simmered in chicken stock with sauteed carrots and celery to make soup. Spelt is high in protein and quite commonly ground into flour and used in baking. Depending on how the grains are processed, they may require soaking before cooking.

I love the flavour and the texture of farro and really like cooking with it. I can usually buy farro from a good deli or some health food stores. If you can’t buy it, you could easily use brown rice as an alternative. Also, if you have a coeliac in your home it’s important to know that farro is not gluten free, so brown rice would be an excellent subsitute in this case.

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Serves 4
1 kg pumpkin, de-seeded and cut into 8 wedges. I recommend Kent or jap pumpkin, but butternut pumpkin will also work.
2 red onions, cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup farro
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1/3 cup currants
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and/or chives
100 g baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a flat baking tray with silicon paper. Lay the pumpkin wedges, onion wedges and garlic cloves in a single layer on the baking tray. Drizzle over 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the maple syrup and return to the oven for 5 – 8 minutes, or until the pumpkin is well cooked and is a bit crispy and caramelised from the maple syrup. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile bring 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock to the boil and add the farro to the pot. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the farro soft, but with some bite still remaining, about 20 minutes. Tip the farro into a medium sized bowl and pour over the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Stir gently but well to combine. Add the pistachios, currants and herbs and mix well. To serve, place two wedges of pumpkin on 4 plates. Divide the onion and garlic among the plates. Toss the spinach with the farro and place to one side of the pumpkin. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Serve as a vegetarian meal, or as a heart accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken.

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