End of Winter Salad

Six months ago I wrote this, my farewell to summer, optimistic with the prospects of fall activities: football, winter squash, changing leaves, but so sad to leave the fresh vegetables and fruits of summer. I am truly a summer being, a warm-blooded, July-born Leo, and need the sunshine to function on a normal level. That salad was hard to let go. But we’ve made it through with a surprising and wonderfully mild winter. Not once did I break out the snow shovel, not once did our school cancel classes. It was a winter that required merely an extra blanket and a mug of hot chocolate to get through.

Spring came two days ago with a bang, literally. After aweek of nearly 80 degree weather, Mother Nature brought us the new season by means of an almost rite of passage. By 4:00 the winds picked up. By 5:00 the sky grew dark. At 6:00 flashes flickered in the distance and low rumbles murmured through the heavens. I sat on the floor in the kitchen, face peering out the open window and watched the storm unwind. It’s almost a magical moment when you hear the very first raindrop, a resolute patter on the grass that then, in less than a minute, it accelerates to a full-on shower. The storm progressed and just when I thought is was beginning to pass, it happened. A lightening bolt struck literally feet away from our house accompanied by an earth-shattering boom. Surges of electricity pulsated through me and every hairstood up on the back of my neck. It was absolutely frightening and exhilarating and a jolting burst into spring.

So to accompany my end of summer salad I bring you this end of winter salad I concocted last weekend. It’s refreshing yet still hearty, the sort of dish that I don’t think I would mind eating every day. A simple composition of cooked farro and wild rice, tossed with some lemon and oil, and topped with steamed farmer’s market kale, roasted butternut squash, spiced, honeyed walnuts, and a smattering of manchego cheese. It goes well with a glass of iced tea, open windows, cool breezes, and the sounds of chirping birds. I can find no other word for it that just plain lovely. It would be great for a picnic (just pack the walnuts separately and sprinkle on top before eating) but was nice for a special lunch alone too. Though this celebrated some of the last of the wintery foods, the bright kale and citrusy flavors bring with it signs of more gorgeous, sunny weather to come. Hello spring!

End of Winter Salad
Serves 2-3
adapted significantly from this recipe

I can’t wait to try this with more spring-like variations (asparagus, peas, pancetta, and pine nuts would be delicious) but almost any substitution could work. It is very versatile. Also, if you have any leftover grains, be sure to make this. The proportions of this salad and vinaigrette arenot really exact, absolute recipes. Assemble it according to your tastes and proportional preferences and you’ll be happy no matter what.

4 cups cooked whole grains (I used a combination of wild rice and farro. Look to packaging for cooking instructions. I also added a bay leaf to the cooking water for a bit of flavor)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
olive oil
a big bunch of kale, washed and removed from thick stems
manchego cheese slices
salt and pepper

for walnuts
½ cup walnut halves
2 Tbs. honey
¼ tsp ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt
a dash of water

for vinaigrette
½ lemon, juiced
3 Tbs. olive oil
a squeeze of honey
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and start by cooking the butternut squash. Toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pop it in the oven for around 30 minutes.

While that cooks prepare the vinaigrette in a bowl. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Also begin to prepare the walnuts by mixing the honey turmeric, cayenne, and salt in a bowl. Add enough water to make a runny paste. Set aside. When there are 10 minutes left for the squash, add the walnuts to the honey mixture, stir to coat them completely, and add them to the pan with the butternut squash off to one side, spreading them in an even layer. Return the pan to the oven until the walnuts are bubbling in the honey syrup and turning golden. While the squash and walnuts finish up, steam the kale in apot with a steamer basket.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and set aside to cool for a moment. This will let the sugars on the walnuts set and turn crispy. To assemble the salad, add the kale and butternut squash to the grains. Pour overthe dressing and gently toss to combine. Taste and add salt or pepper as needed. Top with the walnuts and some shavings of the manchego cheese.