Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
Did you know that watercress is considered one of the top super foods? It surprised me too! Apparently this tiny little green is a relative of broccoli and is filled with all kinds of health benefits, including cancer-fighting compounds, lutein, carotenoids, and a host of vitamins and minerals. In addition to what is in watercress it is also notable for what it lacks- namely calories. A cup of watercress only contains 4 calories. That’s right, 4! Of course it takes a braver dieter than I to stick to raw watercress, but even with a drizzle of dressing and sprinkling of Parmesan cheese the health benefits cannot be denied.
This January, I am not on the diet wagon. In fact it is probably the first January in memory where I’m actually expecting to gain weight. However, after watching the scale move steadily upwards for the past 8+ months, I am fully aware of the long journey to get back to ‘normal’ once the baby arrives. To avoid worrying about it more than necessary I have chosen instead to focus on finding and making healthy nutrient packed foods that will benefit both the baby and my own waistline. Kale, cauliflower, watercress, and squash are all a part of the program. The best part is learning to use ingredients that I normally overlook and discovering the fun of new flavors and textures along the way.
This salad, which appeared in the New York Times, is the creation of chef Natalia Machado. It mixes together the vibrant peppery flavor of watercress with sweet roasted squash and a bright pesto dressing. A wafer-thin Parmesan cheese cracker adds a salty crunch to the salad, rounding out the dish with that elusive fifth flavor, umami. All of the ingredients can be found in the dead of winter, yet the resulting salad carries a bright freshness that will make you forget the 12″ of snow outside. For a few blissful seconds you might even feel like Spring is just around the corner.
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad (Printable Recipe)
Minimally Adapted from the New York Times, Chef Natalia Machado
Note: All of the salad components can be prepared up to 1 day ahead of assembling the salad.
2 ounces butternut, pumpkin, or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Vegetable oil or nonstick spray
8 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
3 cups watercress (large stems removed), rinsed and dried
Roast the Butternut Squash
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and distribute the squash onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle the salt, sugar, thyme, garlic, and olive oil on top of the squash. Toss with a spoon or your hands until the squash is well coated with spices and oil. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast the squash until it is lightly browned and tender, about 15-25 minutes. Pull the baking sheet out of the oven and set it aside to cool. Leave the oven turned on.
Make the Parmesan Crackers
While the butternut squash roasts, assemble the Parmesan crackers. Lightly oil a baking sheet, or line it with a non-stick silpat liner. Divide the grated Parmesan cheese into 4 equal mounds, making sure they are at least 3″ apart from each other. When the squash is done roasting, set the baking sheet with cheese into the oven. Bake, watching closely, until the cheese has melted and turned a light golden color, forming a thin cracker. This will take 5-10 minutes, but be sure to check every 2 minutes or so to avoid burning the cheese. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a flat spatula to gently loosen the crackers from the pan. Set the crackers on a plate and let them cool and crisp up.
Make the Dressing
In a blender, combine basil, garlic, Parmesan, and half of the olive oil. Pulse for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides, then with the motor running, add in the rest of the olive oil in a slow stream. Blend until the dressing is smooth. Scrape the dressing into a small bowl and stir in the vinegar. Set aside until ready to use.
Assemble the Salad
Place the watercress in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top of the watercress and toss gently with your hands or salad tongs until the greens are well coated. Distribute the watercress between four plates. Top with roasted butternut squash and garnish with the Parmesan cheese crackers.