Grain Bowl with Spinach and Feta Pesto
A satisfying bowl filled with whole grain farro, roasted squash and a sprinkling of bright toppings like fresh spinach, sundried tomatoes and crumbled feta. The flavorful spinach and feta pesto is a unique and delicious twist on the classic - so addictive! <jump to recipe>
The transition between seasons is always magical, but especially at this time of year. There's lots of excitement for spring – particularly the warmer and sunnier days ahead – but at the same time, winter's breath is lingering like a bad hangover. That’s definitely true in Vancouver anyways. This week has been terribly rainy and cold. The skies have been the dreariest of grays, and the intermittent heavy downpours (a few bordering on hail) have kept us huddled inside as much as possible. So, this week's grain bowl recipe felt entirely appropriate. The warm farro and roasted squash are a nod to the end of winter; and the bright, zesty pesto paves the way for what's to come.
If I had to describe this bowl in one word, it would be satisfying. The farro and squash provide a substantive base for the meal. Which is only enhanced by a generous serving of pesto, and a sprinkling of fresh veggies and toppings. We like to assemble our bowls with extra fresh spinach, sliced radish, crumbled feta and a couple powerful flavors like sundried tomatoes and olives. They stand up perfectly to the zesty pesto. But as with most bowls, you can get creative with your toppings and use whatever you have on hand.
Our local farmers' market still has ample supply of delicata squash, so we've been trying to squeeze in as much of it as possible. It's one of our favorites. Delicata squash have a rich, slightly sweet flavor. And perhaps best of all, the skin is quite soft which means no peeling required! It makes the prepping process so much easier. However, since delicata squash is a winter variety, I don't suppose it'll be around too much longer. If you can't track the delicata squash down, feel free to substitute with another type instead.
We've been eating a lot of grains recently. It might have to do with recently re-organizing our cupboards (well, one cupboard actually…I didn't get to the rest yet…), and finding a bunch of bulk dried goods stashed away in its depths. I personally find it quite fun to pull out mystery bags of beans and grains. I found one particularly large bag of farro, which I was definitely pumped about because I absolutely love this stuff. You can read more about farro in this post, and if you're not familiar with the grain, I highly recommend reading it. In this recipe I use semi-pearled farro, because lately I haven't been able to get my hands on whole farro. If any Vancouverites know where I can find it again, please let me know! On a positive note, the semi-pearled variety cooks faster than whole and doesn't need an overnight soak (although, it wouldn't hurt to). And recently I've had enough trouble remembering garbage day, let alone remembering to soak farro on a weekday. For nutrition's sake, I'd recommend going with semi-pearled over pearled. The pearled variety has even more of the husk removed, which means less fiber and nutrients. If you can get a hold of whole farro, more power to you! You'll just need to adjust the cooking time accordingly (noted in the recipe).
When it came to the pesto, I wanted to go a non-traditional route. So, rather than using basil and parmesan, I instead opted for baby spinach and feta. The results were freakin' delicious. Feta adds a super creamy element - and it allows us to incorporate cheese made from goat and sheep milk. We find it easier on our digestion than cow's milk. If you haven't tried feta in your pesto, I highly recommend you give it a try! The substitution of spinach for basil was an easy one. At this time of year, local basil isn't exactly in season. And with the crazy weather recently, I wasn't exactly jumping at a reason to head out to the store. But we do have oodles of local spinach. So in it went. You can bet I'll be using it more often. This recipe makes a generous serving of pesto. If you have extras, simply store in the fridge for another time. It makes a great sauce for pasta, or a perfect spread for slathering onto bread.
To assemble, scoop cooked farro and squash into your bowl. Add fresh toppings, such as extra baby spinach, crumbled feta and thinly sliced radishes (we use a mandolin for those). If you'd like, add olives, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts on top. Serve with a big scoop of pesto on the side. Extras can be stored in the fridge for lunch / dinner the next day. The ingredients are pretty sturdy, so you can either store components separately or fully assembled.
GRAIN BOWL WITH SPINACH & FETA PESTO
1 cup farro (semi-pearled)*
2 cups vegetable stock
1 delicata squash**
1 teaspoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, coconut)
For serving: Baby spinach, Radishes, Feta, Olives, Sundried tomatoes, Pine nuts
Spinach feta pesto:
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup baby spinach, packed
1 oz/30 g feta
1 small clove of garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Rinse farro well under water, strain and then add to a medium sized pot. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the farro is al dente (30-40 minutes). If the pot boils dry at any point, add more stock. Once cooked, strain away any excess liquid.
Next, slice the ends off the delicata squash. Cut in half (lengthwise) and remove the seeds. Slice each half into slices ~3/4 inches/2 cm thick (they should now resemble a half moon shape). Add squash pieces to a baking sheet and toss with 1 teaspoon of oil. Arrange evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Flip squash half way through the baking time for even browning.
Put the pine nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven while the squash is cooking. Toast the pine nuts until golden brown, being careful not to burn (5-8 minutes). Once toasted, put the pine nuts into a food processor. Add olive oil, spinach, feta, garlic, lemon juice and salt. Process until the mixture becomes a fine paste.
To serve, plate up the cooked farro and roasted squash. Garnish with baby spinach, sliced radishes, olives, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts. Add a generous serving of pesto on the side.
*You could substitute for whole farro or pearled farro. However, their cooking times will vary (e.g. whole farro takes ~45-60 minutes), so be sure to refer to the recommended cooking times on the package. Whole farro should be soaked overnight.
**Can substitute with other squash varieties. Peel squash (as required) and adjust cooking time as needed.
-This recipe makes a generous serving of pesto. If you have extras, simply store in a sealed container in the fridge and save for other uses (e.g. pasta, sandwiches, etc.)