Where Have You Been All My Life?

December 21, 2007

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Recently, the list of where-have-you-been-all-my-life foods has grown at an alarming rate. Many of the foods on the list were formerly banned because I’d never enjoyed them properly prepared: Brussels sprouts, beets. Some were holdovers from childhood: peas, the dark meat of a turkey or chicken. And some I was just plain unaware of: fennel, kale.

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One recent addition has me particularly regretting the portion of my life spent without it: butternut squash. I had no idea how gorgeous (that color!), flavorful (eating roasted nuggets of its sometimes feels like eating candy) and versatile it is.

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I was also thrilled to learn that it’s nowhere near as daunting to prepare as it may look. Its mere proximity to the rutabaga at the market had me fearful (I’ve got Thanksgiving horror stories of the woman-versus-rutabaga variety and, let’s just say, the woman never wins). Here, you simply lop off the neck of the butternut, peel it by running your knife along the sides to expose the flesh and chop. Handle the bulbous bottom the same way, except scoop out the seeds before dicing. Oh, and don’t even dream of throwing the seeds away. Roasted, they make a wonderful topping or an addictive snack.

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Ever since I stumbled on this recipe while in search of a really fallish appetizer (pictures like that definitely have contributed to the length of new-to-my-life-foods list), I’ve been on a constant lookout for other dishes in which butternut squash could star. Recent hits include this soup and the salad I’m sharing with you today, which we enjoyed for last week’s “salad Monday.”

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Roasted Butternut Squash & Blue Cheese Salad

For the Salad:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed (see above for instruction)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups of greens (I used a mix of baby spinach and arugula)
1/2 a medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon roasted butternut squash seeds (or pumpkin seeds)

For the Dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss the squash, oil, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper together, until the squash is coated. Roast the squash on the prepared baking sheet for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together in the bottom of a large bowl. On top of the dressing, pile the spinach, red onions and blue cheese. When the squash is done roasting, let it cool slightly and transfer it to the large bowl. Using salad tongs, toss the salad (be sure to get down to the bottom of the bowl, where the dressing is).

Split the salad between two plates and top with seeds.

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