Updated: Sep 25
Early fall is here, and my cravings for pumpkin dishes are rising. I love this time of the year, even though it begins a lot later in the South than up North. I love the pumpkin spice aroma everywhere, the colors, the festivals, and of course football season, right?
Every Saturday morning I love to go to the farmer's market. I'm like a kid in a toy store! I never know what I might find; sometimes it's a super unusual mushroom, exotic cheese, or rare growing produce. I'm always excited to talk to the vendors. I love hearing their stories and learning something new. This past Saturday I saw some pretty unique mushrooms and early fall squash. I grabbed some and started working on them as soon as I got back to the kitchen. I'm still experimenting with the new mushrooms, but the squash is ready to be used in the most delightful and elegant salad.
What is so special about this salad?
This salad is perfect for your next gourmet dinner party or just to treat yourself while you enjoy a glass of wine. While blue cheese may be the only ingredient that sounds luxurious, I have to stop you from thinking this way. The real prize of this salad that gives it an absolutely unique flavor that cannot be substituted is the black truffle vinaigrette. It's the key ingredient to the dressing! It will truly make you feel like you're eating in 5-star restaurant even though you can whip it up in no time at home.
This is a make-ahead winter salad that's great for any occasion and full of good stuff. It can be a side dish or a whole meal in itself. It's super easy to make because there's no need to peel the squash (because, seriously, who likes to peel squash?). It's also gluten free! Each ingredient speaks for itself while still complementing each other, which makes it absolutely delicious. You have the classic combination of blue cheese and crisp pear, plus the crunch of roasted pumpkin seeds and sweetness of swollen cranberries with red onions are a concise way to articulate fall on a plate.
What makes this salad not only delicious but very nutritious as well?
Squash and pumpkin are very healthy and similar in nutritional value. These veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. I like to mix up the different kinds of squash when I cook. Adding pumpkin to the mix is also not a bad idea. Try to use organic and the best produce you can find it. Each squash is slightly different in some way, so try to experiment with any squash or pumpkin you have on hand.
What are truffles, and why are they so special?
Truffles are a fungi with an intense earthy aroma. Aside from their high price tag, truffles are a delicacy due to their intense aroma and ability to punch and lift up the flavor of any dish. Oil made with the European Black Truffles (Tuber Aestivum) has a powerful black truffle flavor. Truffles are hunted by specially trained dogs who can sniff out a prize truffle a foot underground. The French food writer Brillat-Savarin in 19th century called them "the diamonds of cuisine." It's so true. If you try them once, you'll know what I'm talking about. But please be aware that every region where truffles are hunted has its own unique complex of flavor. Some of them are very strong and earthy with a garlicy scent, while some are on the fruity side.
Truffles are loaded with health benefits. Very much like any other type of fungi, such as mushrooms, truffles are packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that can fight disease and boost overall health. However, only real truffle oil is made by adding edible black or white truffles to an oil base (high quality olive oil) and infusing it. You should be aware that the synthetic stuff that's available on the market contains a chemical called 2,4-Dithiapentane that mimics the true aroma and taste of truffles. I like this product, called truffle hunter.
What kind of greens should be used for the bedding in the salad?
Any greens you have such as arugula (that's what I used in the video), salad mix, baby spinach, baby kale, watercress, endive, curly chicory, etc. will work great!
What winter squash should I use?
I used a combination of 3 varieties (acorn, dumpling, and Honeynut). Almost any squash such as kabocha squash, butternut squash, red kabocha, carnival squash, sugar pumpkin, sweet dumpling squash, Delicata squash, blue Hubbard, acorn, etc. will work. However, I would not recommend using spaghetti squash in this recipe.
What kind of blue cheese is best to use for this salad?
The blue cheese you enjoy with a glass of wine. Any good quality cheese such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton, etc. I would not recommended crumbled "gorgonzola."
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25-35 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Servings: 2 salads as a meal or 4 salads as a side dish
4 cups squash chopped into 1-inch cubes (acorn, Hubbard, Honeynut)
5 oz. baby arugula
1 red onion, sliced
2.5 oz. blue cheese
½ cup pumpkin seeds
¾ cup dry cranberries
1 large pear, sliced (crisp and not over-ripe or Asian pear)
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Celtic salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Few turns of black pepper
½ cup maple syrup
Black Truffle Vinaigrette Ingredients
1¼ cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons black truffle oil
½ teaspoon Celtic Salt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 large lemon (juice only)
1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl, mix together chopped squash, cranberries, and sliced onions. Add salt, olive oil, maple syrup, paprika, and black pepper. Mix all together.
2. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread out the veggie mixture in one layer. Roast in the oven for 25-35 minutes.
3. On another baking sheet, spread out the pumpkin seeds and let them roast for 7-10 minutes.
5. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of truffle oil into the dressing. Then slowly add the olive oil and continue emulsification. As soon a creamy mixture appears, your vinaigrette is done.
6. To assemble the salad, add arugula to the serving platter, then arrange sliced pears, then roasted veggies, followed by pumpkin seeds and crumbles of blue cheese.
7. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad; please be generous.
8. Serve with a glass of wine.
This is a great make-ahead salad, but you need to wait until the last minute before serving to mix with the greens.
Make sure the roasted vegetable and pumpkin seeds are room temperature before assembling the salad.
The leftover dressing can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 months.