Warm Butternut Squash Salad with Arugula
This hearty, flavorful, yet superfood packed warm butternut squash salad with arugula is a seasonal delight. It gives you a little bit of everything. The candied sweetness of the squash, the more bitter sweetness of the dried cranberries, the spicyness of the arugula, the salt and crunch from the nuts and the savory delight of the gorgonzola cheese. These components are all melded together and topped with a warm cider shallot vinaigrette lightly spooned on top. I haven’t ultimately decided it yet, but I think I may serve this at Thanksgiving after tweaking it just a little bit more. I feel like this salad could fill the “orange quotient” of the meal and allow me to get away without serving some sort of sweet potato thing, while also meeting my own need for some salad greens.
Of note, this is a recipe adapted from one I found from Ina Garten, who I find inspires me quite often.
And Yes. I am already thinking about what to cook for Thanksgiving. Maybe you are too if you find the only way to get through life is to plan nearly everything in advance. The realization that I am responsible for Thanksgiving dinner hit Saturday morning. I awoke and realized that fall was not just upon us, but full throttle. Somehow I missed the easy revving up to get there. But there I was walking out in the 38 degree weather without the proper coat on, on my way to the supermarket. Whole Foods clearly knew what time of year it was. Featured prominently at the entrance to the store were some large butternut squash. I picked one up and was on my way to making this seasonal treat. As well as on my way to thinking about Thanskgiving recipes and sharing them with all of you.
I will confess that I’ve already made this salad – or versions of it – twice. I’ll probably make it a third time before I serve it to guests at Thanksgiving. The first time was a bit of a disaster. I only had a few tears worth of maple syrup, so I put in some honey instead and clearly that didn’t work. The squash itself (I think) was a wee bit underripe so it needed some extra sugar on top of what was already recommended. And just so you know: Sprinkling sugar on your butternut squash AFTER you’ve already cooked it is not recommended. It does not solve the problem.
And to make matters worse, I didn’t cook the squash long enough. Ina’s recipe featured on the food network recommends cooking the squash for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I don’t know what magical oven she has in her wonderful test kitchen, but it bears no resemblance to mine. I’ve got an oven that cooks turkeys faster than most, but it wasn’t cooking that squash. I finally pulled it out after about 30 minutes, and as we were eating it realized that it still wasn’t as done as I would have liked. I should have left it in for 35-40 minutes. My husband complained that it was bland and tasted like an underdone potato. Lovely.
But I am not one to be give up. On the second round, I cut the squash in smaller pieces (1/3 to 1/2 inch dice as compared to a 3/4 inch recommended), added a sufficient amount of maple syrup and oil (I would add 1 1/12 to 2 tbsp of maple syrup not one as recommended) and cooked them at 400 degrees for about 30-32 minutes. It actually worked. The smaller little bites cut down on cooking time and were like salty candied treats. My recommendation to you is to cook them at 400 degrees and begin to check the squash every 4-5 minutes once you hit 25 minutes. Add the cranberries at 25 minutes, figuring you might need to leave them in for another 5-10 more minutes before they reach the desired end point. Better for it to be a little browned and mouth wateringly mushy (it still looks pretty) than to have that uncooked potato consistency.
So now that I’ve actually figured out how long it requires to cook the squash in my oven, let me talk about the components. The arugula works amazing. Ina’s warm shallot dressing (which you can also do at room temperature) is a stroke of brilliance. When I make it the next time, I will buy some local apple cider (as opposed to children’s apple juice) because I believe it will take it to that next level.
The choices for you and me really come in with the nuts/seeds and the cheese. I personally have recently developed a slight allergy to walnuts, which makes me sad. My mouth gets all itchy, and it ruins the meal for me. So I need a substitute. I’ve tried pistacchios (see above) and I also tried toasted pumpkin seeds. Both worked well. On my third try, I will go to my old standby toasted almonds to see if I like that best. My guess is that at thanksgiving, I will likely be serving it with either pumpkin seeds or almonds. So in the recipe below you’ll note that I leave open your possibilities. Please reply with a comment if you feel that one taste is best.
The first time I made the recipe, I made it with parmesan (and not the 3/4 cup that Ina recommended, more like 1/3). The second time, I made it with gorgonzola, which I liked better. But I think you need to consider whether your crowd will take it. I think my thanksgiving crowd will ask me to bring on the gorgonzola so that is what I am sticking with in this recipe.
Finally, a little bit about butternut squash, which is actually a fruit and a superfood. If you can find a way to convince your kids that these are candy (we tried last night, but the arugula gave us away), you should. This favorite of winter squash is packed with fiber, beta carotene, Vitamins A, B, C, E and potassium (more than a banana!). It fills you up, but it is fairly low in calories (82 calories per cup) and fat. So enjoy this salad with the understanding that you are getting alot of good stuff as your fall treat!
- 1 (1½-pound) butternut squash, peeled and ⅓ to ½ inch dice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ to 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
- ¾ cup apple cider
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp minced shallots
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 4 ounces baby arugula
- ½ cup toasted nuts/seeds (e.g., walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds)
- ⅓ cup gorgonzola
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a sheet pan, combine the olive oil, maple syrup, salt and pepper and toss.
- Roast the squash for 25 minutes, turning once until tender.
- Add the cranberries to the pan and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes.
- While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about ¼ cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, ½ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper.
- Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the nuts, and gorgonzola. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.