Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette & Croutons

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, my partner, Dylan, is a nurse in the ICU at Children's Hospital. On this rainy Saturday she happens to be working and I was wondering what I could make her for dinner. She loves salad but on this cold evening that didn't really seem fitting. I went thumbing through some cooking magazines and various cook books for inspiration and came up with this combination. Her response? "Wow, I feel like I'm at a restaurant!" We probably won't get to make this again until next fall, but if you hurry you can squeeze it in before squash goes by the wayside. This salad has some wonderful surprise flavors...raisins soaked in port, sweet maple syrup and spicy Dijon mustard in the vinaigrette oo la la.

Menu: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette, Homemade Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking Fresh, Fall 2007

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup port
1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. real maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head frisee, trimmed, leaves torn into bite size pieces
4-6 cups mixed fresh organic salad greens, rinsed clean and spun dry

Cover the raisins with port and let sit for at least 3 hours. I used a 1997 Zinfandel Port from the Napa Valley. I felt kind of guilty opening it for some raisins of all things, but truth be told I don't drink port (obviously, since it's been in my liquor cabinet for, oh, 11 years now).

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and then (and oh how I hate this part) peel the squash and cut it into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes. Feel free to cheat and use the pre-cut squash you can find in stores these days. You can really use any kind of squash that you have on hand as long as it is flavorful. I cut open an acorn squash and it was pale, pithy and bland -- yuck! That went into the compost pile.

In a medium sized bowl toss the
squash and onion with the olive oil and maple syrup. I use a grade B organic maple syrup, which has a nice flavor without being overpowering. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet (good idea to put some parchment paper down first) into a single layer and sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the squash is just cooked through and it and the onions are browned -- approximately 20 minutes. You can do this step in advance if you'd like and then just microwave it before adding it to the salad.

Toss the greens and frisee together in a large bowl with about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette (recipe follows). Plate individual salads and add some of the still warm (not hot) squash and onion mixture. Drain the raisins and sprinkle some on each salad. Serve with garlic-parmesan croutons (recipe follows).

Sherry Maple Vinaigrette

1/3 cups sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. real maple syrup (I use Grade B - very mellow)
1 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 cup grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and shallots in a bowl and whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream. Season with s & p to taste.

Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

These croutons are easy to make, hard to mess up and they taste really good. These can be made using the bread of your choice. Tonight I used 5 slices of some ciabatta we had on hand and a few slices of sour dough bread stolen from the loaf we had in the freezer. The garlic is subtle so as not to overpower your salad or dressing.

6 cups bread, cut into bite size pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed, chopped up
sea salt
parmesan, finely grated

Put your oven to 400F and get out a 9x13 baking sheet with edges

Pour olive oil into a bowl and stir in the garlic. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
Add the bread to the bowl and toss until all of the pieces get a little oil. Spread the bread onto your baking sheet. I then use my microzester, holding it over the bread and lightly grating some parmesan onto the bread squares. Lastly sprinkle the bread, again lightly, with salt.

Bake for 5 minutes, turn, and bake for another 5 minutes, watching carefully so nothing burns. Remove from oven and place on paper toweling, allow to cool. If needed add another sprinkling of salt. Store in airtight container.

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