This time of the year, as the weather grows cooler and the leaves start turning red and gold, I am happy to trade summer squash for winter squash, tender greens for denser kales and collards.
Roasted chicken was on the menu Monday, and spent some time pondering what to have alongside it. As I mentally shopped my refrigerator and pantry (I was at work) I decided make a nice harvest salad from the gorgeous bunch of Tuscan kale and the package of cubed butternut squash (from Costco) I had on hand.
I love all kales, but Tuscan kale is one of my favorites, because of it’s deep, dark green color. If you aren’t familiar with Tuscan kale, you may know it by one of its other names: cavolo nero, dinosaur or laciniato.
I wanted to add some crunch, and immediately thought of walnuts. Walnuts are always on my mind because barely a day goes by when I’m not recommending them to a patient as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based source to omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber and antioxidants. This makes them important for helping prevent or reduce chronic inflammation, which research suggests is the root of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Walnuts also provide protein, making them a great addition to, oh, salads, among other dishes (or simply with a piece of fruit as a snack).
Toasting the walnuts isn’t absolutely essential, but it brings out their earthy flavor and really adds to the flavor profile of this salad. I really like pairing a walnut oil-based vinaigrette with walnuts, but if you don’t have walnut oil on hand you can simply use extra virgin olive oil.
Because walnuts and blue cheese play so nicely together (one of my favorite salad combos involves pears, walnuts and blue cheese), it was natural to grab some blue from my fridge and add it, too. I thought about adding dried cranberries, but didn’t. I think they would be lovely, though.
Fall Harvest Salad with Walnuts
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 2 pounds peeled, cubed butternut squash
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in oven and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, checking every few minutes. When walnuts are cool enough to handle, coarsely chop them.
- Turn up oven to 400°F. Transfer cubed butternut squash to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool slightly.
- While squash is roasting, remove the leafy part of the kale from the tough stems (you can easily strip the leafy part off by hand, or you can use a knife to cut out the stem). Next, either create stacks of the leafy parts and cut them into ribbons, or use your hands to tear the leaves into small pieces.
- In a mixing bowl, toss the kale with the walnut oil and cider vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Place in a wide, shallow salad bowl.*
- Once the roasted, cubed butternut squash is warm, not hot, arrange it on top of the kale. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts, the blue cheese, and the dried cranberries (if using) on top.
*If you are feeling unfancy, you can just add all the other ingredients to the bowl with the kale (after tossing the kale with the oil + vinegar + salt + pepper) and toss.