This is a nice spicy fall salad, filled with the flavors of the Mediterranean. The briny kalamata olives and feta cheese pair well with the spicy warm roasted butternut squash that’s been seasoned with touches of cumin and cayenne pepper and dressed with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette. We found this to be a lovely fall vegetarian lunch or a fine accompaniment to a roasted chicken or pork loin.
I don’t know about you, but I dread dealing with hard winter vegetables such as butternut squash or pumpkin. They’re difficult to cut and a challenge to peel. So I asked the green grocer to cut the butternut squash in half, which prevented me from having to enlist my husband and his trusty long French chef’s knife. Then I relied on a wide peeler to remove the skin. Believe me, a regular thin vegetable peeler would take forever and frustrate you at the same time. The wide peeler, example here from Williams Sonoma, is your best friend when it comes to peeling big hard vegetables. Roasting is definitely the way to cook butternut squash. As you can see in this photo, the high temperature gives it a nice caramelization.
Make sure to find a nice creamy feta cheese that comes in brine (heavily salted water). The dry crumbly feta just won’t get the job done here. It might look okay, but it lacks the taste and texture of the brined cheese.
We learned something the other day about olives. At an Italian market we overheard a customer order a scoop of kalamata olives with pits and Meakin asked him why, since it’s so much more convenient to buy them already pitted. He explained that the olives have more flavor with the pits, because when the pits are removed, the olive is more exposed to the brine and that affects the flavor. Interesting. I was giving up flavor for a short-cut.
Speaking of olives, Bill Granger, whose recipe I’ve adapted here, says if you find store-bought olives a bit too salty for your taste, soak them in water for an hour or two and then drain. If you want marinated olives, pour a little good extra virgin olive oil over them and add green peppercorns, garlic cloves, or other seasonings that suit your taste.
The original recipe calls for pumpkin, so feel free to substitute it or sweet potatoes for the butternut squash. Next time I would cut the olives in half lengthwise to make the olives go further in the dish. This warm and spicy salad is a definite have-again.
Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash, Feta, and Olive Salad
Adapted from Bill’s Food by Bill Granger – serves 4
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb, 12 ounces butternut squash, cut into ¾” cubes
3 ½ ounces baby spinach leaves
5 ½ ounces feta cheese in brine, drained and crumbled
20 Kalamata olives, pitted (sliced in half if desired)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely sliced or chopped
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Measure the olive oil, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper into a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine. Place the squash on a roasting pan large enough to hold the cubes without crowding. Pour the spices over the squash and with your hands, stir the cubes to combine with the spice mix. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool very slightly, yet still warm, while you assemble the vinaigrette and the salad.
Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well to combine.
Divide the spinach leaves among four serving plates and scatter warm squash, feta and olives over the top. Drizzle each salad with the red wine shallot vinaigrette. Serve right away.
This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.