By Chef Selwyn Richards
PRIDE Cuisine Columnist
Many gardeners experience tremendous pride when they harvest their first squash, and it’s no wonder. Squash, any squash, is a beautiful, boastful crop. Part of the thrill is the anticipation, since many varieties of squash take quite a while to appear and ripen. Another reason is, of course, they are just so pretty.
There are so many varieties of squash, that sometimes we don’t actually think of them all as the same vegetable with similar characteristics in cooking. While we often consider some squash, like yellow, or summer squash, and zucchini to be suitable for gourmet salads, we seldom consider the ‘fall’ squashes to be worth a try in a salad bowl. We sometimes get stuck thinking about preparing squash in the same ways we have, over and over again. Let’s see if we can get unstuck, shall we?
See Squash in a New Light
If you imagine your beautiful yellow squash, also called summer squash by some, sliced, and stir fried, then buttered and served, that’s just fine. And, you can make another zucchini casserole with tomatoes and cheese, or another loaf of bread. It’s all tasty to be sure.
You can once again bake your butternut squash with brown sugar, and that’s good, too. You’ve got acorn squash that’s ready to bake, as well. It all sounds like a warm, and lovely meal. Even a squash as fun as spaghetti squash has you in a rut, baking, scraping out the ‘noodles’, then salt, pepper, butter, and Parmesan cheese, right?
But, when the rest of the garden looks like a giant salad bowl, wouldn’t you like to include your lovely squash in that bowl, as well? All you need to do is imagine your squash, any squash, in a new way to create lovely gourmet salads.
Use Fresh Ideas
Some squash varieties are so tender that you can actually cut them super-thin, shoestring style, and use as you would cabbage in a coleslaw. Zucchini and yellow squash are the best known for eating fresh picked and raw. Combine julienned slices with crunchy vegetables like radishes, red or green bell peppers, basil, mint, or dill for a fresh new take on a couple very familiar squashes.
Of course, a fresh gourmet salad can also be made with squash as a complimenting flavor rather than the base for a salad. A salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, for instance, can be served with a topping of a tangy summer squash and zucchini salsa. Prepare the salsa using these two squashes, finely chopped, with onion, red pepper flakes, and a good balsamic vinegar mixed with oil and fresh herbs. This makes an excellent topping for other greens, as well.
Roast Your Way to a Splendid Salad
Some squash has been waiting in the wings for years to be invited to your salad bowl. Butternut squash is a garden favorite that blends well with a number of sweet and savory ingredients. Acorn squash is another well known squash that hasn’t found its way into our gourmet salads quite enough.
These pungent squash are best when roasted in an oven until golden brown. Cut the squash open and cut into sections until you can cut away the outer skin. Then cut into cubes, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, and put in a hot oven until just tender and brown. Remove and cool slightly, then toss in a salad using crisp greens and ingredients that stand up well to the deep flavors of these hearty squash. Ingredients that go well would include arugula, kale, and spinach, along with sweet onion, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts, and a variety of cheeses, just to name a few.
The sweetness of roasted squash also plays well with fruit. Include grilled pineapple rings, peaches, pears, or tart apples to your salad for a very elegant gourmet salad creation. A sprinkling of creamy baby mozzarella or goat cheese might be just the topping to complete the meal.
To dress your salad, you want a light vinaigrette that won’t mask the incredible flavor of the roasted squash. Mix fresh ingredients like lemon juice and herbs, then blend in oil, and drizzle over your masterpiece.
As mentioned, spaghetti squash is another fun squash we look forward to harvesting. To turn it into a new treat, start by cutting it in half lengthways and roasting it until tender. Cool and remove the ‘noodles’ from the squash’s insides. Then, create a fresh tasting ‘pasta salad’ with your spaghetti squash. Toss the ‘noodles’ in a big salad bowl with freshly diced crunchy veggies, even diced zucchini and summer squash, tomatoes, cucumber, and other salad ingredients and dress with a tangy vinaigrette. Serve cold just like you would any pasta salad. You’ve got the taste of the roasting and the freshness of the other vegetables. Now that’s a gourmet salad!
The varieties of squash are just about endless. The variety of ways to fix squash should also stretch the imagination. We only covered a few here, but hope you feel inspired to experiment with this incredible bounty from the garden to create your own gourmet garden salads.
Gourmet Radicchio Salad In Roasted Acorn Rings
1 small acorn squash
olive oil and kosher salt for baking
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, washed
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 cup baby arugula
1 Granny Smith apple, unpeeled, cored, and diced, then sprinkled with a dash of red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Scrub the acorn squash and cut into 1/2 inch thick rings. Remove seeds and pulp from each ring. Put rings in large bowl and drizzle olive oil in bowl; sprinkle with kosher salt; lay out on baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash is tender and starting to brown nicely. Do the same with the Portobello mushrooms. Once both the acorn rings and Portobello mushrooms are roasted and removed from oven, start arranging the salad. In a large bowl, toss the radicchio, arugula, prepared apple, and pumpkin seeds, then add the red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt, tossing again lightly to coat well. To assemble the salad, put an acorn squash ring on a salad plate and place a serving of the salad inside the ring; then cut the Portobello mushrooms into thin wedges and arrange them around the salad. Drizzle completed salads with more vinegar and oil if desired.