There’s nothing like walking around a local farm drinking freshly brewed coffee on a crisp fall morning. OK, I’ll admit, last week was the first time I ever did that. I grew up in northern New Jersey and eventually moved to Chicago. Farms haven’t typically been a part of this city girl’s life, but they’re quickly becoming a new obsession.
My husband and I now live a ways west of Chicago, on the border between urban excitement and country charm. There’s a beautiful organic farm just minutes from my house and I decided it was probably time for me to add a bit more of that country charm to my life.
With coffee and camera in hand, I headed over to Heritage Prairie Farm. I learned about farming techniques, wandered through rows of vegetables and practically had to stop myself from drooling while I watched the Heritage Prairie chefs prep for a private dinner on the farm that evening.
In addition to the produce from their own farm, Heritage Prairie sells honey, cheese, meat, produce, wine and a myriad of other local items at their on-site market. After having watched the farm’s chefs in action and then perusing the shelves of goodies in the market, I felt a bit of culinary inspiration. I purchased some butternut squash and fresh arugula and headed home to make one of my favorite fall recipes.
I first made this recipe two years ago when my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving. Salad normally takes a back seat to everything else on my family’s Thanksgiving menu, but since this was my first time hosting the ultimate food holiday, I was determined to give every bite priority status. Made with sweet butternut squash roasted with maple syrup, this dish did not disappoint.
Now just a couple years later, after making this recipe with freshly harvested butternut squash and arugula from Heritage Prairie Farm, I’ve officially decided this is a recipe Thanksgiving cannot be without. And this city girl will even venture out to a farm for the ingredients.
Maple Roasted Squash Salad with Citrus Cider Vinaigrette
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of dried cranberries and/or dried cherries
2 handfuls of lightly candied walnuts*
6 ounces arugula or baby spinach
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced sweet onion
Juice and zest of 1 medium orange
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the butternut squash on a cookie sheet. Add the olive oil, the maple syrup, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Toss so all the squash is adequately coated. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.
For the dressing, combine the apple cider, vinegar, onion, orange juice and zest in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for about 6-7 minutes, or until the mixture is reduced by half. Take the mixture off the heat and whisk in the mustard and olive oil. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper.
Place the arugula in a bowl and add the roasted squash. Toss in the cranberries and/or cherries, walnuts and the grated Parmesan. Serve with vinaigrette dressing and enjoy!
*To make the candied walnuts, put a small saute pan over low heat. Add a handful of shelled walnuts and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until sugar is melted and walnuts are coated. Be careful not to overcook and burn the sugar. Remove from heat and let the walnuts cool.