Inspiration comes in all forms. In this case, it is a squash from my CSA share that has been tempting my creativity for a few weeks. I’ll confess, until this squash (delivered by agricultural storks) arrived in my kitchen, I had no idea that a “red kuri squash” existed, let alone what it would taste like … or what to do with this ominously orange beauty.
The internet, however, is equally a beautiful thing. I learned quickly that this little known vine fruit is highly prized by those in the “know” (that list now includes you and I … whoo-hoo) and packs an intensely nutty and sweet flavour. A monarch among squash, I will say. So what to do with this fair creature …
I knew I wanted to do something that would be different and something that would let the flavours shine through, undisturbed. I hadn’t, after all, tasted this veggie before, so I wanted the taste to be forefront. Sure, I could have fallen back to a tried and trued soup or a beautiful purée, but that was not only too easy, I worried it wouldn’t let red kuri be just a red kuri. Thinking of what else was in my fridge and what I would pair this with in the meal, I landed on making my potato and leek quiche (recipe to follow in another post) which I knew would be heavy, so light for the squash made sense. The CSA’s bag of spinach then called to me and the rest is my imagination’s creation: squash salad.
Now I’ll be honest — I’m quite proud of this idea because nowhere in any of my research on the internet did I come across anything that suggested using the red kuri to make a salad and, in my whole life, no one has ever put a squash salad in front of me in any form (real, imagined, or menued). And I’m especially proud because it worked … it really worked (insert Sally Field voice here).
Keeping the theme of letting the squash sing (next stop: American Idol), I figured the spinach would be a light conveyance, but the dressing stumped me for a bit, before — once again — staring into my fridge for inspiration, and while the roasted squash cooled, inspiration came to me. I wanted something light that wouldn’t take away from the squash’s flavour, but something that would complement it and make up for any ‘drying’ of the squash that happening during the roasting. The onions and maple added to the sweetness of the squash, while the carmelization of the onions and the roasting of the walnuts, brought out the nuttiness and earthiness of it as well. The olive oil with the ‘water’ of the juice would penetrate the squash and add moisture. What follows is my creation. Enjoy …
1 red kuri squash (medium sized) cut into cubes
1 Tablespoon extra-virgen olive oil
6 cups of baby spinach, washed
1 medium red onion, sliced on the bias
½ Tablespoon extra-virgen olive oil
½ cup of walnuts, shelled
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup of mango juice
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
½ teaspoon salt (to taste)
- Preheat oven to 400-425 F. Prepare roasting pan and sheet by covering with parchment paper.
- Cut the squash in half (lengthwise) and scoop out the seeds etc. Turn over on its face and slice away the skin (i.e. “peel” it) with a sharp chef’s knife. Turn over again, and cut into 3/4″ strips and then cube the strips into pieces. Toss cubes in a stainless bowl with olive oil and salt and pepper.
→ Spread evenly onto parchment-lined pan and place in oven. Cook 30-40 minutes, or until squash is just cooked (i.e. tender to the fork).
→ When done, remove from oven and let cool.
- Meanwhile, while the squash is roasting, wash the spinach, drain, and set aside.
- Slice the onions. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive in a stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. Toss in onions, and reduce heat to medium-low, stirring regularly while onions caramelize (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from pan and let cool.
- Roast the walnuts pieces over medium-heat, until golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- To make the dressing, add all the ingredients, one at a time, to measuring cup. Mix well and taste for sweetness, tartness, and salt. You should yield just less than 1 cup of dressing.
- To prepare the salad, you have two choices: either
(a) build the salad on each plate (see picture above) and drizzle liberally with dressing, or,
(b) preferably, combine spinach and squash together in bowl, then very liberally dress with the vinegrette (reserve any extra — I will keep a few weeks in the fridge). Let stand 10 minutes, then mix again (this will ‘hydrate’ the roasted squash with the dressing). Serve onto plates, then top each serving with caramelized onions and roasted walnuts.