It was a snow white color filled sky yesterday. The dry cold air hit my face as I walked to the store to pick up some last minute grocery items for Thanksgiving. Christmas lights lit the street poles and sounds of the Salvation Army’s bell rang in my ears. It felt like the holidays. With a grocery bag in one arm, I walked out of the store and standing right in front of me was the red bell. Ringing louder this time. Reminding me of what giving thanks means and how sometimes we need to look up and be grateful. Just be content. It’s a peaceful feeling really. I continued my walk home as a few snow flurries swirled around me thinking about the meal that most of us will be sharing tomorrow. A meal that we gather around the table for…hopefully with family, friends, and lots of smiles and laughter.
Some Thanksgiving traditions get lost over time. People get older. Get married. Have kids. Start new family traditions. Whatever it may be. B and I have celebrated turkey just the two of us for a handful of years now and sometimes with friends who don’t travel as well. It’s our holiday. Together we grab a coffee and walk over to Central Park and catch a glimpse of the gigantic floats that march on by in the Macy’s parade. We come home. Open a bottle of wine and munch on cheese and crackers and watch retarded brainless stuff on tv with an occasional late afternoon football game. We cook a turkey with the traditional sides and sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy the food and each other’s company. Then have leftovers for days.
Not this year. I just can’t do it. I can’t fix another fourteen pound turkey and a huge pan of stuffing to only feed a few. Instead, I bought cornish hens. I’m making kale mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with bacon, and this butternut farro dish. There will be plenty of stuffing, yams, and all of the fixings when we go to Tennessee for Christmas. Which leads us to butternut squash. Last weekend B and I went to the the big farmer’s market at Union Square. It’s a special place in the autumn. Warm apple cider. Homemade pumpkin pies. And of course butternut squash. I also picked up kale and a stalk of brussels sprouts. B picked up a mini pumpkin pie that he devoured already with a big scoop of coooooo whip. Yes, just like Stewie on the Family Guy says. This dish was born from a failed butternut and goat cheese pasta and a butternut chili. Sigh. And the fact I was craving roasted squash with cranberries. So here we are with a completely non-traditional Thanksgiving day side dish. It celebrates autumn, winter, the holidays in general in my book.
Butternut Squash with Fennel and Farro
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
kosher salt and black pepper
3/4 cup farro
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
5 large kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted (see note below)
Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Arrange the squash on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes until tender.
In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups of water and the farro to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until farro is tender. Drain.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel and shallots. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and slightly browned. Add the garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice. Add the kale and cranberries. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until wilted. Turn off the heat. Stir in the farro, squash, parmesan, and hazelnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Note: To toast hazelnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. The hazelnuts will brown slightly, and the skins will become flaky making it easier to remove them.