Early fall is my favorite time of the year to cook. At the farmers market, eggplant and tomatoes sit side-by-side with the first sweet potatoes, squash, and Brussels sprouts of the season. Sticky days are giving way to crisp weather, and it’s finally cool enough to use the oven again. After making no-cook salads on repeat for much of the summer, I’m craving warmer dishes with a little more structure and heft.
This is precisely the time of year to start making farro gratin, which I like to think of as farro salad in sweater form. It’s cozy, comforting, and not too heavy. It’s cohesive, with ingredients knit together as opposed to vying for individual attention. And it doesn’t require much effort, either—a dish that’s as fitting for a harried Monday night as a relaxed weekend dinner with friends.
Rather than relying on cream, bechamel, or milk, this gratin takes a page from farro salad. The still-warm grains are tossed with a slick of olive oil and balsamic. The grains drink up some of the dressing and the rest puddles in the pan. This extra dressing not only flavors the rest of the gratin, but keeps it from drying out in the oven.
From there, sharp, nutty cheese (aged cheddar is my choice) binds the farro just enough without weighing it down, and tangles of raw, shredded Brussels sprouts (no pre-roasting, no pre-cooking) keep the dish light and earthy. Everything gets tossed together (just like salad!) and transferred to a baking dish. The whole thing is crowned with a mix of panko and pecorino, since crispy, cheesy crumbs are
arguably the best part of a gratin. That’s it. Simple.
Just like your favorite autumn sweater, this gratin’s look can be easily changed up. The basic formula is simple: cooked grains + dressing + vegetable (quick-cooking or cooked) + melty cheese + crumb topping. Using this formula, you can easily tailor the ingredients based on what you have on hand.
Feel free to use wheat berries, spelt, quinoa, and so on—or experiment with a mix. Toss the grains with the leftover vinaigrette in your fridge. Slip in some shredded rotisserie chicken for more substance. Change up the shredded Brussels sprouts with roasted broccoli or cauliflower. Substitute gruyere, mozzarella, or fontina for the aged cheddar. Even the topping offers possibilities: Don’t have panko in your pantry? Blitz fresh bread into crumbs in the food processor, then mix them with olive oil or brown butter.
Follow your fancy, but do use vegetables that are quick-cooking, such as shredded (raw) kale or Swiss chard in the fall, or cherry tomatoes and herbs in the summer. Leftover roasted root vegetables and squash are lovely in this gratin, especially cut into tidy pieces that cozy up to the farro. The point of baking the gratin is to melt the cheese, brown the crumb topping, and let the flavors mingle and meld; only 25 minutes is needed to get there.
If you’re like me, you’ll turn to this dish again and again this fall and holiday season. Since it’s essentially a salad in gratin form, you can assemble it in advance, then add the crumb topping and bake whenever you’re ready. You won’t break a sweat, and you’ll look and feel very put together when you bring the warm, golden gratin to the table.
- 1 cup uncooked farro
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus more for greasing)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or a few small pinches of red pepper flakes
- 5 ounces aged cheddar, shredded (yielding 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup pecorino, finely grated
- Freshly ground black pepper