Salad for me means a bowl of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, scallions and parsley or dill, dressed with either olive oil and vinegar, or a homemade a mayo/sour cream-based dressing. That’s the kind of salad I grew up eating, and that’s the kind of salad I make most often. Every once in a while, though, I’ll get a craving for an American-style lettuce-based salad. No iceberg, please, just a hoity-toity mix of romaine, aragula, endive, radicchio and so on. I’ll top the lettuce with my usual tomatoes, cukes and whatever protein I have on hand, but occasionally I’ll get creative.
For a while I used to have lunch at Panera, and their Fuji apple chicken salad almost makes me take back everything bad I once said about this place. I honestly liked Panera’s take on the fancy bistro-style salad, topped with chunks chicken, blue cheese, red onions, pecans, and sliced apples. That’s the kind of salad I was craving lately, and a butternut squash and mushroom salad is what I concocted out of leftovers I had in the fridge. The ingredients are different, but the spirit is the same: a leafy, nutty, filling, fall-themed fancy salad, slightly sweet, woodsy and crunchy all at the same time.
You will need leftover roasted butternut squash, chilled. (To roast: peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler, cut into chunks, toss in a pan with kosher salt, black pepper, a splash of olive oil and a tablespoon or two or brown sugar. Roast at 425 for 30 minutes, or until soft). Thinly slice some yellow onions and white button mushrooms, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and sauté the onions for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and keep sautéing until the mushrooms are soft and golden. Add the garlic and some kosher salt to taste, sauté for a few more minutes. Take off the heat and let cool (put the mixture in a chilled salad bowl). When the mushrooms and onions have cooled, add a variety of fancy lettuce (bagged is fine) and a couple of handfuls of walnuts or pecans—both work well here. Dress with a vinaigrette, or just olive oil like I did. (I bet walnut oil would work great here). Top each serving plate with shaved Parmesan.