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Squash & Arugula Salad in a Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

Hard to believe that it’s been a year of blogging, but here we are with fall knocking on the door and I’m again contemplating my very favorite curcurbit, the butternut squash. Last year, it was medieval squash soup and fall pasta; this year, I got into the groove a bit earlier and worked up a salad of roasted squash and spicy arugula with a divine maple-mustard vinaigrette.

Inspired by a picture of something similar on tastespotting (don’t click through unless you’ve got a few hours to burn browsing…), I’m most pleased by the dressing. Just a version of my basic salad vinaigrette, swapping maple in for the honey coaxes out some lovely, lovely nuances in the squash and brings everything together.

Its things like that that convince me that maple as a flavor is sorely underused. People get burned, I think, by unpleasantly gritty maple candy and “pancake syrup” which has real maple syrup in it the way a bone dry martini has vermouth in it.  Real maple syrup has such a uniquely wonderful flavor, in addition to its sweetness. So much so that I kind of want to take a bath in this dressing. I’m sure it’s really good for the skin…

One could argue that some bits of soft cheese could also go well here, but I really kind of like the salad as it is.

On the arugula front, you want some really spicy robust stuff–look for the big-leaved bunches, not the baby stuff in the plastic boxes. And taste a little before you buy. It’s hard to tell just by looking how peppery it will be.  You’ll likely need two good bunches if you buy loose arugula to get the 8oz required as you’ll end up cutting a lot of the heavy stuff off (sigh).

Finally, regarding equipment, making salad dressing with an immersion (stick) blender is simply transformative. While I use it for other things as well, vinaigrettes are very much the money application and I will never make salad dressing any other way. You can pretty much dump everything into a tall, straight-sided container that’s just a bit bigger in diameter than the blender head and go to town. Oil can go in all at once and emulsifies immediately. The resulting dressing won’t break either. Love… Of course, one can also make dressing the analog way, with a whisk and a bowl. Just be sure that your bowl has a nicely rounded interior (this sounds stupid, but DOES make a difference), stream in your oil gradually, and go to it.

Fall Harvest Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

Yield: 4 starter servings

1/2 medium butternut squash
(~1 lb of cut-up squash; though you can roast it all as save the rest)
1 1/2 tbs light olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 14oz can cannellini beans
8 oz arugula
5-6 fresh figs
1 oz toasted pecans
Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (below)

Preheat oven to 400°. Peel the squash and cut into ~1″ pieces. In a medium bowl, toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Spread onto a lipped baking sheet and roast till tender and lightly browned–about 35-40 minutes.  Gently toss them around on the sheet every 15 minutes or so. When cooked, return to the bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

While the squash is roasting, prep the rest of the ingredients and make the vinaigrette. If necessary, trip, rinse, and dry the arugula. (Cut off the tough bottoms, swish in a few changes of cold water, spin it dry, roll it up in a clean kitchen towel and put in the refrigerator.) Rinse and drain the beans, and add them to the bowl with the squash. Set both aside. Stem the figs and slice into sixths, set aside. Roughly chop the pecans and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette.

Just prior to serving, put the arugula in a large bowl and add about 1/3 of the dressing. toss to coat. Add a tablespoon or so of the dressing to the bowl of squash and beans, tossing gently to coat. Between four chilled salad plates, divide the arugula, the squash and beans, the figs, and the pecans. Drizzle with a little bit more of the dressing and serve immediately.

Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette

1 small shallot
1 tbs Dijon  mustard
2 1/2 tbs pure maple syrup
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

If using a stick blender* or food processor cut the shallot into thin matchsticks (~2 tbs). If using a whisk, mince  it very finely (~1tbs). Add the remaning ingredients–except for the olive oil–and blend/whisk till evenly homogenized.  Slowly stream in the olive oil and blend/whisk till evenly emulsified.

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