Pumpkin has enjoyed pride of place on this blog for the past couple of weeks. Lest readers get the impression that this winter squash is worthy only of Thanksgiving dessert, this post will celebrate pumpkin’s savory possibilities.
Pumpkin-leek soup, of course, is a classic, one I’ve previously recommended. I suppose that’s why this Los Angeles Times recipe that pairs roasted pumpkin and sautéed leeks caught my eye.
If your holiday spread, like my family’s, always seems to be short one vegetable, this could be the solution. Because the components of this salad can be prepared a day in advance, getting this dish to the table won’t require another rack in the oven or element on the range.
Reminiscent of frisee salad with lardons, which has become so popular in restaurant circles, this salad won’t be overlooked, unlike bowls of spring mix or baby spinach, which seem like afterthoughts at festive meals. Texturally, it layers roasted, caramelized vegetables atop a crunchy canvas that’s almost slaw-like.
And with bitter notes of mustard and walnuts contrasting with the sweet pumpkin, onions and leeks and savory bacon, this dish has interest enough to constitute a lighter main course anytime this winter. If this recipe is coming up on your radar too late for Thursday, consider it as a vehicle for leftover chunks of turkey.
Leeks are one of my favorite cold-weather crops, but they do take some extra care to clean. Because the white part of the leek’s base is most prized in cooking, farmers mound dirt around the leeks to keep out sunlight, extending the white as the leek grows. The result is a lot of dirt and grit between the layers of leeks as they grow.
To clean leeks, peel and discard any old, outer leaves, then trim away dark-green leaves, reserving the white and very light-green base. Trim root ends, then halve leeks lengthwise. Rinse leeks under cold, running water, feeling between the layers to loosen and dislodge any dirt or grit. Slice as desired.
Finally, rinse the pieces in a colander under cold water, ensuring they’re totally clean.
Los Angeles Times photo
Roasted Pumpkin Salad
10 cups cubed pumpkin (peeled and seeded), cut into 1-inch pieces (from about 7 pounds of pumpkin)
3 cups red pearl onions, peeled and trimmed
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/8 teaspoons salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 teaspoon minced, fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon minced, fresh thyme
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 medium leek, trimmed (root end and tough outer greens), halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 cup walnut halves
2 heads frisee, leaves separated from root
6 cups lightly packed mesclun mix or mixed greens
Heat oven to 375 F.
In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin and onions with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt, several grinds of pepper, the rosemary and thyme. Place vegetables on a foil-lined baking pan and roast in preheated oven until softened and lightly caramelized, for about 45 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes for even coloring. Remove pan and allow pumpkin and onions to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Drain all but 3 tablespoons bacon fat, discarding or reserving the rest for another use.
Add the leek strips to pan and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and just begin to color, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, for about 30 seconds. Stir in the white wine and cook, scraping up any flavorful bits that stick to bottom of pan, wine evaporates, for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place leek strips and any cooking liquid in a medium bowl. Whisk in the vinegar and mustard. Drizzle in the walnut oil while whisking to emulsify. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of pepper, or to taste. Set aside in a warm place.
Toss the walnuts with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread on a sheet pan and toast in oven at 375 F until nuts are fragrant and a rich brown color, for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Set aside. Salad components may be made up to this point 1 day in advance. Refrigerate components separately and warm dressing before folding into salad.
In a large serving bowl, toss the greens with two-thirds of vinaigrette. Gently fold in roasted pumpkin and onions, crisped bacon and toasted walnuts. Add extra vinaigrette as needed to lightly coat ingredients.
Serve immediately, or cover and chill until needed, up to several hours in advance. Allow to warm slightly before serving.
Makes 10 servings.