When J and I were first dating, I didn't cook. Cans of soup, stir-fry's with arbitrary spices tossed in, salads and nachos were the norm for me. As our relationship progressed, I was spending more and more weekends at his place and we couldn't afford to go out to eat every night so we started to learn to cook together. Not everything came out great the first time we made it but every attempt got a little better than the one before and soon we had 3 or 4 staples we made well, regularly. Even though our confidence grew cooking together, when it came to cooking something alone I had the phenomenal ability to ruin almost anything. After we returned from a camping trip in Lake George, NY, I took Monday off and J had to go back to work so I decided to plan and cook a dinner all by myself. A non red-meat eater at the time, I decided I'd make steak and a salad. Well the steak turned out a little rubbery but the salad became an instant fall favorite for both of us (yes, I realize it's March). And it's filling enough to be eaten alone or with just a piece of crusty bread.
Salad - Serves 4
8 cups mixed salad greens, washed
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons dried cranberries
4 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
1 apple diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried basil (or 1 tbsp fresh)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and toss the cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and a few shakes of cinnamon. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring at least once while cooking.
While the squash is cooking, make the vinaigrette. I use equal parts vinegar and oil but feel free to use less of one and more of the other if that's what you like. Look for a balsamic vinegar that is aged at least a couple of years and thick. It will cost a little more but the difference in taste is discernible. Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, pepper, garlic, salt and basil and then slowly whisk in the olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. You can also do this in a food processor if you want the flavors to blend deeply.
Toss the greens in a large bowl with the vinaigrette and divide equally among 4 plates. Top each with 1 tablespoon walnuts, cranberries and gorgonzola, 1/4 of the apple pieces and a large handful of the butternut squash.
All text and photographs © 2008, 2009 Food is to love / Andrea Quigley