A squash worthy of a feast

I’ve begun to dread any recipe that starts with cutting up a winter squash.  Every time I slice open a butternut squash, I worry that I’m either going to break a knife blade or slash a finger before I’m done.  Kabocha squash, which I love, is even more of a challenge.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I sliced into a delicata squash for the first time this year.  The knife just slipped right through the thin skin and tender flesh.  The heirloom squash didn’t even require peeling.

The flavor was wonderful, too – a little milder than butternut, but sweet and rich with a creamy texture.  It’s ideal for this beautiful salad I found in one of my favorite new cookbooks, “Eat Good Food,”  by BiRite Market owner Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

The combination of roasted squash and fingerling potatoes with peppery arugula, pomegranate seeds and Parmesan is as delicious as it is colorful.  I’m planning to serve it with a pork roast for Christmas dinner.

The delicata squash looks a bit like a reverse image of its summer cousin, the zucchini.  It’s sausage-shaped and rather small with green stripes on yellow skin.  The flavor is so nice, it needs little embellishment.  Roast the slices with a little olive oil and salt until the edges begin to caramelize and  you’ve got a great side dish .

For this recipe, the squash and potatoes are sliced fairly thin for quick roasting.  Then they’re tossed with the arugula and pomegrante seeds in a vinaigrette made with champagne vinegar and shallots.  A dish this substantial could be served as a vegetarian entree but I think of it as salad and starch in one.  Just add protein, bread and a nice wine for a complete winter’s feast.

Serves 8 as a side dish1-1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium delicata squash (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or more to taste
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
10 cups packed baby arugula (about 8 ounces)
Seeds from 1 medium pomegranate (about 1 cup)
1 cup shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice potatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch slabs.  Mound on a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss to coat evenly.   Spread potatoes out into a single layer and roast until just tender and starting to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.Half squash lengthwise.  Scoop out and discard seeds, then slice into half moons about 1/8 inch thick.  Place slices in a large bowl, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and toss to coat evenly.

When potatoes are done, set them aside to cool.  Arrange the squash slices in a single layer on 2 large rimmed baking sheets line with parchment or silicone mats.  Roast squash, rotating pans after about 10 minutes, until slices are just tender and beginning to brown, 20-25 minutes.  Do not overcook.

In a small bowl, combine shallot, lemon juice, champagne vinegar, mustard, honey and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Whisk to blend, then slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil, whisking as you pour to create an emulsion.

Just before serving, put potatoes and squash into a large bowl and drizzle with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the slices.  Toss lightly and taste.  Add more lemon juice and salt if needed.  Add arugula, half the pomegranate seeds and half the cheese and gently mix with your hands.  Top with remaining pomegranate seeds and cheese and a few grinds of black pepper.  Serve.

Adapted from “Eat Good Food,” by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough