As we cruise into the holiday season, it’s never too early to think about what foods shall be the centre of the feast.
Sure, the various types of glistening roast beast (turkey, prime rib, ham) are always the focal point of the table, but don’t forget about show-stopping side dishes that will garner a gasp from your guests. This roasted hasselback butternut squash salad is not only pretty to look at, it’s pretty darn delicious to eat, too.
You may be aware of hasselback potatoes — where they are cut about halfway through into thin fan-like slices and roasted until tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. This technique also works on other vegetables, and it is quite lovely with butternut squash.
The trick here is to not cut the squash all the way through — about 3/4 of the way should do it. When it’s finished cooking it should look golden and caramelized and the flesh should be tender. While the squash roasts away in the oven, sage leaves are fried, shallots are caramelized, and pecans are candied. It may sound like a lot or work, but the steps only take a few minutes each. You could prepare these components as well as the apricot vinaigrette the day ahead, saving you some time on the day of. Peppery arugula makes a fine bed of greens, and the creamy goat cheese and dried cranberries add another layer of flavour and texture.
The overall appearance of this salad is quite impressive, and don’t be surprised if your guests go back for seconds.
Roasted Hasselback Butternut Squash Salad
1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs)
5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 Tbsp pure maple syrup, divided
8 fresh sage leaves
2 large shallots, sliced
3/4 cup pecan halves or pieces
120 grams arugula
1/2 cup creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup dried cranberries or tart cherries
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp apricot jam
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Wash the squash, pat dry, and peel until you reach the pure yellow/orange layer with no white remaining. Use a very sharp chef’s knife for this task, and be careful when doing so. Don’t worry if the squash isn’t super smooth — little jaggedness adds character to the salad. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out all of the seeds and stringy bits. Place the squash halves onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and rub generously with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash cut-side down for about 20 minutes.
2. Remove the squash from the oven and use a sharp knife to score the squash in small increments (about 1/4-inch thick). Only cut about 3/4 of the way into the squash — you don’t want to cut all the way through. Brush the halves with 3 Tbsp of maple syrup and roast for another 30-40 minutes until the squash is tender and caramelized.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, pour in 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the sage leaves and fry until crisp — only 1 minute or so. Remove from the oil and transfer to a plate. Stir the sliced shallots into the hot oil and sauté for about 5 minutes until caramelized. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove the shallots from the oil to a plate, leaving the oil in the pot. We’ll use this as a base for the vinaigrette.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the pecans and toast for a few minutes, then pour in 3 Tbsp of maple syrup, stirring to coat. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the maple syrup has reduced. Add a pinch of salt to the nuts. Remove from the heat.
5. To make the vinaigrette: Add all of the ingredients (except the olive oil) to the small saucepan of sage and shallot oil. Whisk to combine until smooth. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can also transfer the vinaigrette to a jam jar and shake well to emulsify.
6. In a medium bowl, add the arugula and about half of the vinaigrette. Toss well. Arrange the greens onto a large serving platter, then carefully lift the warm squash off the sheet pan and place on top of the greens. Top with the maple pecans, dried cranberries, crumbled goat cheese, fried shallots, and sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and season with flaky salt. Serve immediately.
Makes 6-8 servings.
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