For today´s recipe in my River Cottage Veg Everyday series, one of our children chose the colorful "Spelt salad with squash and fennel". Obviously, squash is abundantly available at this time of year and so is fresh fennel, so this lovely grain and vegetable salad was a good choice for the twelfth post in my series.
When you look at the picture in the book, you see a hearty salad that is loaded with vegetables and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall comments this recipe by saying that “this substantial grainy salad makes a lovely autumn/winter lunch or supper”.
For the grain you can use spelt or pearl barley. Since pearl barley is rather common around here, that is what I first used. We can choose between fine and coarse pearl barley – so I prepared the coarse one according to the package instructions but when I took a look at the cooked barley, I decided to use it for my beef and barley soup and prepared wheat berries instead. I much prefer the structure of cooked wheat berries in this salad. They are more rustic than the pearl barley and stand up much better to the chunky roasted vegetables.
For the squash I used a medium sized lovely butternut squash. We love the flavor and bright orange-colored flesh of that squash. I am rather grateful that this type of squash has become widely available around here in recent years. I made a butternut squash soup with smoked spicy Spanish paprika and butternut crisps last week and the family loved it. Oh, I so have to bake a butternut squash pie this week…but I digress…back to the salad recipe at hand. A fruity olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and some wonderful French sea salt set off the sweetness of the butternut squash in this recipe. Just let the oven work its magic.
After roasting the chunks of squash for 15 minutes, you add the wedges of fresh fennel to the roasting pan together with one clove of garlic and then roast them for another 20 to 30 minutes. Fennel is such an aromatic vegetable with a mild aniseed flavor that pairs amazingly well with the butternut squash. By the end of roasting time, the vegetables should be caramelized but still soft. There were also walnut halves to be added to the salad but my kids do not like nuts in their salad and since they are such unbelievably devoted vegetable taste testers, who am I to argue with them about a few walnuts?!
To finish the salad, you will need the juice of a lemon, grated Parmiggiano Reggiano or other well-flavored hard cheese, freshly chopped Italian parsley and some more freshly ground pepper and sea salt – I also added some more olive oil for a final touch. A picture perfect and wonderfully complex and hearty salad – just perfect for autumn. Who would have thought that fennel and butternut squash taste so wonderful together in a salad – do make sure to keep the fennel fronds for scattering on the finished salad just before serving!
If you own the English edition of this vegetable cookbook, you will find the recipe for the “Spelt salad with squash and fennel” on page 72 in the chapter on "Hearty Salads".