Over the past holiday week, it’s been chilly here in San Diego and the cool weather made me long for a hardy winter dish. Looking through my cookbooks, I came upon a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy for a pork ragù with farro Potenza style. The combination of pork shoulder simmered low and slow in a spicy tomato sauce and then combined with nutty farro sounded most appealing.
Fortunately, our local grocery store was having a great half-price sale on fresh bone-in pork shoulder roasts, which added even more appeal to the recipe. Even though I only needed two pounds of meat, I picked up a six-pound roast that would allow me to practice my butchering skills and provide me enough meat for a couple of meals.
Late fall, an unusually cold day, and farro in the cupboard. This was the setting that set me off looking for a recipe for a comforting weekday-night dish. My search uncovered several appealing recipes for farro “risottos,” but, wanting to do a little less work, I eventually settled on a recipe from Ina Garten’s Make It Aheadcookbook that bakes farro with onion, butternut squash, thyme, bacon, and Parmigiano Reggiano. The previously browned bacon and grated cheese top the casserole for the last 20 minutes of baking, and the aroma makes waiting for this dish torture.
The nutty flavors of the farro combined with the sweetness from the squash and the savoriness of the bacon and cheese made for a perfect fall or winter main course or even a side.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed this dish the first night, it was too much for two to finish. A few night later, I decided to reheat what was left over by putting it in a sealed freezer bag, which I then simmered in hot water for about 20 minutes. While the texture may have suffered some from reheating, the flavors were still exquisite.
Baked Farro and Butternut Squash from Make It Ahead by Ina Garten Serves 6 to 8
6 thick-cut slices applewood-smoked bacon
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups pearled farro
3 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
3 cups (¾ -to 1-inch-diced) butternut squash
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the bacon on a baking rack set on a sheet pan and bake it for 20 to 30 minutes, until browned (it won’t be crisp). Cut the bacon in very large dice.
Meanwhile, in a small (9-inch) Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until tender and starting to brown. Add the thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook for one minute.
Add the farro and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Place the squash on top of the farro mixture, cover, and bake in the same oven with the bacon for 30 minutes, until the squash and farro are tender. Check once during cooking and add a little chicken stock if it’s dry.
Sprinkle the bacon and Parmesan on the squash and faro and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, the farro and butternut squash are tender, and the cheese has melted. Serve hot directly from the pot.
Note: Peel butternut squash and cut it in half so it doesn’t wobble while you dice it.
MAKE IT AHEAD: Assemble the dish, including the bacon and Parmesan, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bake before serving..
In New York City, fall has definitely arrived and so has my appetite for heartier as well as comforting dishes like braises and stews. Perhaps this is why a recipe for farro with pork ragu looked so appealing. The fact that I had almost everything on hand except for the pork shoulder and a fresh bay leaf also increased the recipe’s appeal and thus it found its way to our table last night.
The recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italyis yet another example of the simplicity of Italian cooking: a minimum of ingredients prepared with a modicum of technique.
The finished dish was exquisite: succulent pork cooked slowly in a subtly spicy tomato sauce, which is then combined with earthy farro. Paired with a rich, plummy Aglianico, it met all my requirements for comforting fall fare.
Since I was cooking only for two, I prepared only 8 ounces of the farro and combined it with only half of the ragu. I also found that the pork required a longer cooking time than the one and half hours specified in the recipe. I cooked it for a full two hours, after which the meat was perfectly tender. Finally, for maximum flavor, be sure to scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan after adding the wine and again after adding the tomatoes.
Farro with Pork Ragù Potenza Style from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
Makes about 4 cups, serving 6 with farro
For the ragù
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (about 5 cloves)
1/2 tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
For the farro and serving
1 pound farro
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more for passing (I used pecorino.)
Recommended equipment: A heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron French oven, 5-quart capacity, with a cover; a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan.
For the ragù: Trim the fat from the exterior of the pork. Cut it into bite-sized morsels, about 3/4-inch cubes, trimming more fat and bits of cartilage as you divide the meat. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels.
Pour the olive oil into the big pan, set it over medium heat and toss in the pork. Spread the pieces in the pan and season with the salt. Cook the pork slowly for 15 minutes or so, turning and moving the pieces occasionally as the meat releases its juices and they cook away.
When the pan is dry and the pork starts to sizzle and crackle, clear a hot spot on the bottom and drop in the chopped garlic and peperoncino. Stir and toast them for a minute or so in the hot spot until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, then stir and toss with the meat cubes. Raise the heat a bit, pour in the white wine, stir and bring to a boil. Let the wine bubble until it is nearly evaporated and the pork is sizzling again.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a cup of water that has been sloshed around to rinse out the tomato can, grate on the fresh nutmeg and stir.
Cover the pan and heat the tomatoes to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle perking. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the pork is tender all the way through and falls apart under gentle pressure, and the sauce has thickened. If the liquid is still thin toward the end of the cooking time, set the cover ajar and raise the heat a bit to reduce it rapidly.
Meanwhile, prepare the farro, first rinsing it well and draining it in a sieve. Put it in the smaller saucepan with 6 cups cold water, the bay leaf, salt and olive oil.
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then set the cover ajar and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains are cooked through but still al dente. Turn off the heat, pour off excess liquid and keep the farro warm until the ragù is done.
To finish the dish: Have the ragù simmering and stir in the farro thoroughly. Cook together for a minute, so the grain is very hot. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and stir in.
Spoon the dressed farro into warm bowls, and serve immediately with more grated cheese at the table.