I’ve been thinking a lot about ancient foods lately, partly because of all the chestnuts I have piled up around here, partly because I’m teaching Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma this week, and partly because of my friend Amy, who has been writing about related issues and featuring lovely photos of farro and pistachios over at The Roving Locavore.
Ancient foods are those foods that humans have been eating since we slithered out of the sea and eventually became the land-dwelling creatures with complex brains that we are (errr…some of us, anyway–Sarah Palin’s book is on the bestseller list, isn’t it?). Humans and our ancestors have been eating foods like farro, chestnuts, chick peas, lentils, beans, nuts, rice, quinoa, bulgur, fish, yogurt, and greens for many millenia. These are the foods that sustained us on our evolutionary journey, the foods that gave us our large brains, the foods around which many of the world’s culinary cultures revolve (R.I.P., Claude Lévi-Strauss).
But these foods don’t play major roles in the American diet in the year 2009, a fact that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, and others argue contributes to the high rates of obesity and chronic illnesses experienced by a large percentage of the American population. It should not surprise me as much as it does, since I can see it for myself, but the obesity rate in my home state is 34%, according to the most recent CDC figures. Of course, the sedentary lifestyles of my fellow citizens undoubtedly contribute to that figure, but popular local foods like chicken fingers, hot wings, and fried macaroni and cheese (I kid you not) are also likely culprits.
And while Alabama is one of the fattest states in the nation, it is by no means the exception. So many people have written about the poor American diet and the repercussions of our terrible eating habits that it seems unnecessary to do that now. Instead, my purpose here is to celebrate one these ancient wonders in the best way that I can think of: by cooking and eating it.
And, of course, by sharing the recipe for farro with roasted butternut squash. Farro may be one of the oldest foods that humans eat as well as one of the healthiest. It’s very easy to cook (just boil it until it softens, but still retains a nice, chewy texture) and also happens to taste quite good. Really very good, in fact. Although a bit expensive and difficult to find in these parts, it can be purchased on-line from Earthy Delights.
Farro with Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese
1 cup of farro
1 large or two small butternut squashes, peeled, deseeded, and cut up into 2 inch pieces
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. dried sage
1 small log of goat cheese (preferably Belle Chevre brand), crumbled
1 large handful of Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 large handful of fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Good quality balsamic vinegar, to drizzle over the top (optional)
Preheat over to 425 degrees. In a large sauce pan, completely cover the farro with water; bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat the low and simmer farro for 30 minutes or until slightly chewy, but cooked through.
Meanwhile, toss the squash with olive oil, sage, salt and pepper. Spread out squash in one layer on a large, rimmed cookie sheet. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until the squash cooks through and caramelized. Drain the farro and place on a large serving platter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the farro with the roasted squash, dot the squash with pieces of goat cheese, sprinkle with parsley and basil. Drizzle with a teaspoonful or so of good quality balsamic vinegar, if you’d like. Serve immediately. Yields 3-4 servings.