Monday, October 5, 2009

Halloween Recipe Pairing - Butternut Squash Salad with Basil and Pumpkin Seeds for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

What would Halloween be without Charles Schulz's classic animated feature - It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

This little short has been a part of my life since I can remember. I'll never forget the thrill of waiting for it on TV when I was little, constantly hounding my mom about when it would be on until AT LAST - it arrived (thank goodness we had VHS so she could record it and to be fair I'm sure my first few memories of it were pre-recorded on this now defunct form of capturing cellouloid...)

I watched it diligently, all throughout childhood and the arrival of hormones (when I abandoned my first and true love - horses) then even through college and all the way up to right now. In fact - I'll never forget the time my brother came to visit me at UT and we had to wait until it came on before we headed out to the infamous 6th Street to commence with our October debauchery. It was that important, to both of us.

Poor little Linus and his feverish anticipation for the Great Pumpkin signified fall to me. And tradition. - with all its buildups and occasional disappointments.

And even though I have it on DVD now, I'd still rather catch it on TV. It just feels more special. I think the magic of this little film is that it captures the feeling of fall. Fall, unlike the hedonistic abandon of summer whose seduction is obvious (an excuse to wear less and stay awake longer), is finicky. It is far more bewitching with its blustery winds, crimson colored leaves and whispers of apple pies and roasted turkeys. In essence - it's the redhead of seasons. Even if it's not your cup of tea - you still find yourself caught up in its web. And happy for it.

Well, if there's a recipe that captures the feeling of fall - it's my roasted butternut squash, basil, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed salad. Long list of ingredients, maybe, but SO easy you'd be a fool not to try it. That said - I'm a complete hypocrit as I like to purchase the already cut up butternut squash found in the veggie refrigerated section of my grocery store. Yes, it might be a little dried out compared to a freshly hacked up bit of squash, but you can always trim off any dried ends with your handy paring knife. And roasting forgives so many imperfections, much like a tanning bed;)

Few salads have the power to move me in this way - I get a bit emotional over this one and it's embarrassing. Something about the sweetness of the caramelized roasted squash against the sharp tang of the goat cheese and balsamic... It's a flood to the senses. Which is what fall is all about, right?

Butternut Squash Salad with Basil and Pumpkin Seeds

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (or a package of precut butternut squash - about a 1/2 pound)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 1/2 teaspoon
kosher or sea salt for seasoning
3 oz goat cheese, broken up with your fingers
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried and torn if desired
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
sea salt or kosher salt, optional


Preheat oven to 400 (375 if your oven runs hot.)

Spray a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray and add your cut butternut squash to it (pan should be large enough so that each chunk has its own space to brown.) Drizzle over your 2 teaspoons of olive oil, a good pinch (1/2 teaspoon) of kosher or sea salt, and red pepper flakes (to taste) and mix all around with your hands making sure each piece gets anointed with the oil and seasonings (you might need a touch more oil - use your judgement.) Place in the oven for 20 minutes then remove and carefully flip each piece to the other side with a spatula. Return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until deep and dark on the other side (I even like them a little 'blackened' but you might not so check early and often.)

Remove from the oven and transfer to a large salad bowl. Add in the goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and basil then give a light toss. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and oil (and more salt if desired), toss again and serve.

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