Monday, October 19, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

Let me premise this post by saying, it might not be my best one yet. I had a tough time with this dish which translated into a tough time writing about it, but I'm committed to every recipe and every post so (deep breath) here it goes.

On Tuesday I finally made it out to the local farmer's market that Dan's been talking about for months now. It was smaller than I expected, but there were a good handful of vendors who had very good selections of local produce. I was anticipating making this butternut squash salad later in the week so I picked up a small butternut squash and some arugula along with a couple of other things that looked yummy (like the green beans you saw in the last post). Unfortunately, the market is only open until the end of this month so my selection of local produce will be limited, but with the discovery of the amazing Whole Foods, I'm a little less disappointed.

Ok, on to the salad. Now this salad has 2 things in common with the Cape Cod Chopped Salad:
1. I made it on a night when I had an interview in the afternoon
2. It didn't turn out very well.

Are we sensing a pattern here?

Alright, if you ask Dan, he'll tell you that #2 isn't true. I think based on his brutal honesty about the last salad, he's probably telling the truth and not just placating me to avoid the mess that would ensue after my inevitable frustrated tantrum. Needless to say, I didn't like this salad. And I didn't like making it either.

First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and cut the top and bottom off the butternut squash so it was stable on the cutting board:

Then it was time to peel the squash, which, if you've never attempted it, can be quite a feat. One way to do this is to cut it to separate the round section from the longer, straight section and then peel each section separately with a chef's knife. I, of course, chose the harder route.

I used a vegetable peeler and peeled the squash whole. The peel on this squash is very tough and with a very sharp vegetable peeler, maybe this would be no trouble at all. The one I was using, however, was a little dull, which is generally no problem for everyday use. On a butternut squash though, it's another story. I peeled the whole thing once, and then went back and peeled it again in order to remove all of the leftover peel.

Next, I cut the squash in half and hollowed out the round part of the squash, the inside of which greatly resemble the inside of a pumpkin:

I diced the squash (which smelled like cantaloupe, by the way, giving me a great sense of false hope) and spread it on a sheet pan. To the squash I added olive oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper and tossed to combine:

Into the oven this went. Now here's where things get a little hairy (not literally, although with the amount of hair Jager sheds, you never know). Up until this point everything was lovely and going smoothly. Granted, I hadn't done much, but I was still in my happy zen place thinking about how my interview had gone well. The squash roasts for 15-20 minutes, but I had gotten a smaller squash than the one the recipe called for since it was just Dan and me, so I knew the roasting time would be on the shorter side.

This is the point at which my poor prep work comes and bites me in the ass.

In addition to the salad, I was also making some chicken, which hadn't quite defrosted yet. So while I was trying to defrost the chicken, I was also preheating the pan for it, making the salad dressing, keeping an eye on the squash, which I had to toss around in the pan without any falling over the sides, and toasting walnuts on the stove:

You know that Electrolux commercial with Kelly Ripa as Supermom, doing the laundry, juggling pots and pans, pouring and stirring, serving fresh cookies, all with one hand tied behind her back? Yeah...that's not what this looked like.

I started on the salad dressing, combining apple juice, cider vinegar, and some shallot in a small saucepan on the stove. While I was waiting for this to boil, I added some dried cranberries to the pan with the squash and let this mixture continue to cook:

Please note the oven thermometer. Ina would be so proud.

It was now that I realized the squash was basically done, the chicken was only half-cooked, the dressing wasn't boiling, and I hadn't washed any lettuce or grated the cheese I needed.

I took a break from the stove and washed and dried the arugula, putting it into a big salad bowl with the walnuts. By now, the dressing was finally boiling and was starting to reduce:

I had taken the squash out of the oven and set it on the stove to keep it warm. Off the heat, I added Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper to the dressing and whisked in olive oil. Since I still wasn't ready to serve, I put the saucepan back on the stove over a very low flame. Next I grated Parmesan cheese on a box grater as per Ina's instructions:


I added the squash and cranberries to the salad bowl, followed by the Parmesan cheese, reserving some, and lastly, some of the dressing. I was very careful this time and added just enough dressing, since I think I dressed the last salad a little too heavily. I plated two portions and added a little extra cheese on top. Here's the final plating:

  Looks pretty good, right?

Yeah, I thought so too. And after such a rushed, stressful time making it, I was really looking forward to enjoying it. Dan and I sat down, I ate a big forkful of lettuce, cheese, and squash... and immediately decided that I hated this salad. 

The squash was way overcooked so it was on the verge of mushy, and was nowhere near as sweet as I thought it would be (remember the cantaloupe smell? It was misleading). Also, I mistakenly bought regular arugula as opposed to the baby arugula the recipe calls for. Baby arugula is much more tender and less bitter than regular arugula which is tough, even when slightly wilted by the warm squash and dressing. Also, even though the squash was overcooked, it had cooled to room temperature and really would have been better genuinely warm.

The dressing was very mild, almost as if it wasn't there, the exact opposite of the cape cod salad. And it wasn't that I hadn't used enough dressing, because any more and the salad would have been oily. Perhaps the problem is that I used apple juice instead of apple cider, although the recipe lists them as interchangeable. But since I already had apple juice in the fridge to go along with my morning english muffin, naturally, I chose the juice. Maybe apple cider would have more of an impact.

Surprisingly, my favorite part of this salad were the cranberries (Yes, me, Ms. Is this a grape in my salad?!?). I'm not sure if it was because they gave me the sweetness I was expecting or because they were so necessary against the bitterness of the lettuce. Oh, and of course the cheese. That was great too.

Now, I have no doubt that most of my dissatisfaction with this salad came from 1) operator error since I overcooked the squash, and 2) personal taste, since apparently, I don't like butternut squash. I're shocked.

Dan, however, really enjoyed this salad, which is saying a lot since he doesn't normally like salads with warm components. He, unlike myself, does like butternut squash, and didn't actually think it was overdone. 

Make this when: you're fully prepared and are sure your diners like butternut squash. The warmth of this salad makes it a great starter, rather than a lunch dish. Assuming the former conditions were met, this would actually be a good start to Thanksgiving dinner...just not mine. 

Next Course: Homemade Granola Bars


  1. It looks like a pretty salad!!!!

    I do not blame you nor am I surprised that you weren't a huge fan of the salad, I myself do not like butternut squash or any squash for that matter. I do appreciate you staying true to your mission of cooking everything in Ina's cookbook even if you don't necessarily love all the ingredients. And I think the post is very entertaining due to your honesty about possible "operator error."

    Even though it wasn't your fav thing to cook or eat I still really enjoyed reading about it! xoxo


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