I think it’s safe to say that with the passing of Labor Day came the cool weather. I’ve got a scarf around my neck and a blanket on my lap. I expected more of a gradual change than a dramatic dip in the temperature, but you can’t mess with Mother Nature.
In celebration of fall, I bring to you an exciting side dish, spotlighting my favorite fall vegetable, butternut squash.
My affinity for butternut squash is most deeply connected to my olfactory sense. The smell of butternut squash cooking triggers sweet memories of fall, Thanksgiving, the likes of cinnamon and nutmeg, the gathering of family and friends. Warming up on a cool day. Last year, when I attended Taste of Decatur, I made something insane like five gallons of roasted butternut squash soup to share with the community. I could probably make that soup with my eyes closed now. In my sleep. It would be a dangerous undertaking, though, so I think I’ll refrain.
The other reason that butternut squash is so high up on my list of beloved fall foods lies in its diversity of application. This veggie can be transformed into a million different renderings of itself. Butternut squash works beautifully as a filling for ravioli or manicotti, or as a colorful component of any pasta dish. It can be morphed into fritters, sauces, mashes, risottos, puff pastry appetizers, and even desserts. I prefer the more savory side myself, but butternut squash can become a sweet treat with minimal coaxing.
This week, Adam and I pushed the boundaries of the familiar and incorporated our butternut squash into a lively salad. And my mouth sang.
Just a few ingredients are required to create this palate-pleaser. It doesn’t have a catchy name yet…just butternut squash salad. I really gotta work on that.
The trickiest part of this whole recipe is handling the squash. It’s hard! And it has a thick skin. So, be sure your knife is sharp, and grab your potato peeler.
The first step we took was to peel the squash. You want to remove all of the tan skin, plus any of the green layer that lies beneath.
We sliced one large shallot into thin rings, chopped our friggitello pepper (you can substitute a red bell pepper here), and cut several blades of chive into inch long-ish pieces.
Then, we carefully separated the squash into two halves long-ways and scooped out the seeds with a spoon. Just that act feels like fall- so akin to clearing out the cavity of a pumpkin.
While I was working the squash, Adam built the “dressing” for the salad. He placed the thinly sliced shallot, 2 cloves of pressed garlic, chives, and pepper in a bowl with the juice of a lemon (use 1 and a 1/2 if your lemon isn’t real juicy), 1 tablespoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Marinating the veggies allows them time to soften under the spell of the lemon juice and sugar, and takes them to a higher place- one that prepares them to magnificently complement the squash.
Next, I cut the butternut into cubes. Well, I wanted them to be cubes, but inherently, butternut squash does not play that game well. It’s just too bulbous. So, I reminded my perfectionism that it has no place in my kitchen, and I chopped the squash into like-sized chunks.
Different shapes make for a more interesting presentation anyway!
Now, roasting squash can take up to an hour. This salad speeds the cooking process up with a dunk in boiling water.
I salted the pot when it boiled, and then added my squash and just let it bubble away for five minutes.
Then, I removed the squash to a colander and let it drain for a few while I heated a large pan with a good drizzle of olive oil to medium heat.
It should still be crisp tender, so it will be able to hold its own in the salad.
Next, I added the squash to my hot pan, sprinkled it with freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper, and gave it a good scald.
It only took about 5 – 7 minutes to caramelize the squash, shaking the pan every couple of minutes. Brown parts = the good stuff.
Lastly, we tossed our squash in a large bowl with the marinated shallot, garlic, pepper, and chives.
Deeeeeeeeeeelightful! Exciting!!! The flavors were so lively and bright. The texture of the squash is lovely. Light and fresh tasting, but with the warmth of fall. I heart this salad. I think it’s one of our best inventions to date. My clients have had really positive reactions to this dish as well.
If you are anything like me, and you’re dragging your feet away from summer and into a cooler time frame, I hope that this dish will ease your transition. Embracing the butternut squash seems to remind my soul that there are many positives that coincide with the sullen task of replacing my drawer full of shorts and tank tops with long sleeved shirts, cardigans, and jeans. Though this ritual transpires year after year, it always feels like letting go of a good friend…not an easy thing to do.
Maybe you like it! Maybe this is a very happy time of year for you, and you are stoked about scarves and football (ugh) and socks and shoes. If so- Yay for you! As for me, I am going to focus on the food and festivities that come with fall and enjoy each day for the gift that it is. I count my lucky stars that I was able to have the most wonderful summer, full of tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, basil, sunshine and happiness. And I will carry all of that goodness with me as I move forward into the “harvest season”.
Happy cooking and eating to you,