Acorn Squash and Kale Salad with Lavender, Walnut Caramelized Onions

Enjoyed cold or warm, this salad combines autumn colors and fragrant flavors. It is easy to prepare the ingredients individually ahead of time and assemble them at the last minute for a Thanksgiving dinner or other get together. You can also add a few dried cranberries if you wish to make it a bit more festive.

20131122-053413.jpgIf you do not have lavender leaves, you can substitute for sage. A different flavor but one that also harmonizes well with the acorn squash.

20131122-053548.jpgIngredients:
1 1/2-1 3/4 lbs acorn squash
1/2 lb kale
1.5 lbs white onions
2 oz walnuts
6 Tbsp olive oil for vinaigrette + 2 Tbsp for caramelized onions and acorn squash
3 tsps balsamic vinegar for vinaigrette
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar for caramelized onions
1/8 oz lavender
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven 400F.

20131122-053804.jpgWash and cut the acorn squash in half. Remove the seeds with a large spoon.

20131122-053950.jpgBrush a little olive oil on the cut sides.

20131122-054133.jpgPlace the acorn squash cut side down in a baking pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The squash is cooked when it is slightly soft to the touch, but still somewhat firm.  You do not want to fully cook the squash as if you were making soup as the flesh will not hold well for the purpose of the salad and rather it would become pureed.

20131122-054323.jpgPeel the onions, cut in half and slice thinly.

20131122-054424.jpgHeat olive oil on medium high heat in a heavy cast iron pan and pour in the onions.  Reduce the heat to low. Mix well to coat them with the olive oil thoroughly. Simmer for about an hour, tossing periodically.

20131122-054531.jpgSeparate the stems from the lavender leaves.

20131122-070232.jpgChop the lavender leaves finely. Set aside.

20131122-131132.jpgChop the walnuts medium-coarse. Set aside.

20131122-131802.jpgRinse the kale carefully.  Gather the leaves together, with the stems on one end.  Cut off and discard the hard part of the stems and chop the leaves very finely.  Set aside.

20131122-132537.jpgMake a balsamic vinaigrette in a bowl large enough to contain the chopped kale. Whisk together the vinegar, salt and pepper.

20131122-150822.jpgAdd the olive oil in a stream slowly and continue whisking vigorously to transform the mixture into a well homogenized sauce. Set aside.

20131122-203927.jpgWhen the acorn squash is cooked, turn each half upside down to release the steam and let cool for handling.

20131122-204023.jpgPlacing each half of the acorn squash cut side down onto a cutting board, cut through the skin using a serrated knife into thick slices.

20131122-204158.jpgPeel each slice carefully.  Set aside.

20131122-204314.jpgBy now, the onions should have mostly caramelized. Add the walnuts to the pan and keep on low heat for a few minutes longer.

20131122-204413.jpgAdd the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and turn off the heat.

20131122-204512.jpgPlace a few slices of acorn squash on each plate and brush a little bit of the vinaigrette on the top of each slice.

20131122-204601.jpgToss the sliced kale in the large bowl with the vinaigrette and display the kale around each acorn squash slice for presentation.

20131122-204943.jpgSprinkle with the caramelized onions and walnut mixture. Add the fresh lavender.  Enjoy!

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Acorn Squash and Chestnut Soup

Autumn is here and we received our first squash in our weekly share from the farm. This time of year reminds me of when we used to harvest chestnuts in Ardeche, known in France as “chestnut country”.  They were so common to us that we would use them in every dish, from soup, to main course accompaniment to desserts. So I decided to pair the acorn squash with chestnut into a soup today.

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Typically, when using for soup, we would boil the chestnuts as opposed to roasting them so they would be more tender, moist and reveal a more subtle flavor.

20131012-131617.jpgIngredients for about 6-8 servings:

About 30 chestnuts
1 acorn squash
1/2 onion
2 garlic cloves
A few springs of thyme and/or marjoram
2 to 3 cups water
Olive oil, freshly ground salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

20131012-133150.jpgFirst, wash and cut the acorn squash in half.

20131012-133231.jpgWith a large spoon, scoop out the seeds and slightly scrape the hollowed space to remove the fibrous pieces.

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Brush the cut sides with olive oil and place them down into a baking dish. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, until the outer shell of the squash is tender to the touch.20131012-133510.jpgPelling the chestnuts is time consuming.  This is not a task that one would typically do by themselves.  Enrolling the help of others is more fun and efficient.  Peel the outer skin of the chestnut with a strong serrated paring knife, starting at the tip on the flat side.

20131012-133554.jpgContinue peeling off the outer skin this way, leaving the inner skin attached to the chestnut, all the way around to the wider end.

20131012-133652.jpgFinally, remove the cap at the wider end.

20131012-133811.jpgWhen all the chestnuts are peeled, set aside.

20131012-133914.jpgWhen the acorn squash is cooked, remove from the oven, turn the halves over and set aside until cool enough to handle.

20131012-134029.jpgChop half an onion and two cloves of garlic.

20131012-134152.jpgPlace about a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a medium size pot and heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and reduce the heat to soften and slightly brown.

20131012-134249.jpgMeanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the acorn squash with a large spoon.

20131012-134356.jpgGrossly chop the cooked squash country style.

20131012-134510.jpgAdd the squash, garlic, and either 2 or 3 cups of water depending on whether you want more of a stewed/pureed texture or more liquid consistency.  Add salt and pepper at this time.

20131012-134620.jpgRemove the leaves of thyme and marjoram from the stems.

20131012-134803.jpgAdd to the soup and simmer about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

20131012-135305.jpgBring a large pot of salted water to a boil and plunge the chestnuts.  Return to a boil and cook at a medium roll for about 30 minutes.  The chestnuts should become very tender and the inner skin should detach easily.

20131012-135401.jpgOnce the chestnuts are cooked, drain them (the water will have turned reddish brown) and peel the second skin immediately while they are hot.  If the chestnuts cool, they’ll become hard to peel as the inner skin will adhere back to the chestnut.  If this happens, plunge them back into boiling water for a few minutes.

20131012-135642.jpgChop the chestnuts into large pieces, reserving the nicer looking ones for decoration.

20131012-135734.jpgAdd the chopped chestnuts to the soup.

20131012-135842.jpgHeat again for about 5 minutes.

20131012-135929.jpgServe in bowls along with a spring of thyme and a whole chestnut for decoration. Enjoy a hearty dish!