Prep 10 mins Cook 10 mins Eat 15 mins
Our La Cucina Italiana cooking class was “the best class yet” according to one of my students. When I asked everyone which dish was their favorite, they all mentioned the Pumpkin Salad. This was a huge surprise. A salad over the Mandilli Pasta with fresh Genovese Pesto! A salad over the Chicken Piccata! All dishes were excellente in prep by our fellow students and all were delicioso. But the Pumpkin Salad was one of those dishes that stood out because you weren’t expecting it to be THAT good…and it was so memorable. So easy to make too.
We all vowed to make it in the next day or at least within a week. I’ve now made it a few times. First served over mixed baby greens and then over fresh arugula, which I think is my favorite.
Pumpkin or Butternut Squash?? In Italian, it is all zucca. When we speak of pumpkin, we think of the orange Jack O’Lantern from Halloween. This is one of the many varieties of squash available to us in autumn. We’ll be using Acorn Squash in my Autumn Table class next month and I usually use Kabocha Squash in my Pumpkin Ravioli. (Amazing recipe!)
Being the purest that I am, I never buy precut veggies touched by someone else. After all, I teach how to use a knife properly in my Knife Skills Class. But we were preparing Pumpkin Salad for 20 people and one of my least favorite vegetables to cut open is a butternut squash. I am happy to cut it open ONCE down the middle hacking it against the counter with a large scary knife until it finally succumbs to the break. Then I scoop out the seeds and place it on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven to soften it up for whatever I am cooking. The flesh becomes easy to scoop or cut out and the skin just peels away. My phobia is mainly based on the fact that even though I am pretty darned good with a knife, the potential for danger lurks. In a previous class my students suggested I buy the precut butternut squash. So I thought this was the moment. I scooped up five bags of precut and peeled butternut squash at Trader Joes. I knew we were using it within a day, so it wouldn’t spoil and the ingredient list included one ingredient: butternut squash. Good.
A number of produce companies stock precut butternut squash, but when I made this again, I finally broke down and peeled and cut my own butternut squash cubes from a medium sized squash. The clear advantage is I can have a butternut squash hanging around the house for weeks before using it and OK, it wasn’t so bad. I peeled it all with a vegetable peeler first, cut off the stem, then made my first cut crosswise. Now I had a SAFE flat edge to place against the cutting board and begin breaking it down. Make sure to use a large SHARP knife carefully.
I didn’t time myself, but suspect it took about 15 minutes from a whole butternut squash to a dice.
A simple sauté would do it with some garlic, sage, olive oil and a smidge of butter.
Next up was combining pistachios, garlic, red wine vinegar, grape seed and olive oils and making a pesto in the food processor.
The pistachio pesto completes this dish. Drizzle the pistachio pesto generously over the pumpkin and then top it with fresh mozzarella chunks.
The team of Becky, Sara and Mike artfully plated the pumpkin onto a bed of greens and then topped it off with the pistachio pesto and some fresh mozzarella pieces.
With autumn in full tilt, this dish is going to appear on my table with great regularity.
Pumpkin Salad with Fresh Mozzarella and Pistachio Pesto
1 garlic clove
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter
15 medium sage leaves, sliced
5 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes (2 pounds)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch pepper
1 small garlic clove
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces arugula leaves or mixed baby greens
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced into 1/4″ chunks
1. Gently smash and peel 1 garlic clove. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil and the butter, sage and garlic clove over medium-high heat. When butter is melted and bubbles form around sage, add squash, salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, tossing occasionally, until squash is golden and fork tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and discard garlic.
2. While squash is cooking, make Pistachio Pesto. In a blender or food processor, combine small garlic clove, pistachios, red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of each olive oil and grape seed oil and salt. Puree until somewhat smooth.
3. Lay a bed of greens on platter or individual plates. Top with squash and cheese, then drizzle with pesto.
Servings: 6 407 calories per serving