I know, I know. There are two problems with this ‘recipe’:
1. It is a salad. At Christmas. And I’m going to tell you that this will fill you with sparkle and festive spirit. I know; and
2. It is a salad. A recipe for a salad. I have the temerity, the GALL to give you a recipe for a salad. I know.
But here’s why neither of those things are a problem:
1. This isn’t really a salad. It’s loads of delicious Christmassy things that will make you feel Christmas truly is here, rather than hiding lackadaisically behind at least nine cold, dreary working days; and
2. Sometimes you need someone else to tell you what you fancy. Since Autumn and Winter have struck, I have struggled to work out what I want to eat at any given time other than a whole packet of biscuits consumed underneath my duvet.
I gaze resentfully at the contents of my fridge and I traipse isles of supermarkets and I despair. I despair because nothing inspires me, because nothing makes me want to chop onions, because I don’t want to eat bloody packaged tortellini again. And once in a blue moon, I want something other than stodge. Don’t get me wrong: I am a real fan of stodge. I am one of stodge’s most ardent champions. Winter is for the most part designed for sausage and mash, with doorsteps of bread to soak up a puddle of onion gravy. It embraces suet crusted pies with bubbling mahogany interiors . It cries out for roast dinners with five different types of carbs, at lest two of which must be smothered in cheese sauce. But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s too much. It’s deliciously and fatefully soporific when you have a pile of papers to process before bed. It’s too much like hard work, and it’s too much beige and brown. So this is a bit different. It’s wintery, but it’s vibrant, with a punchy dressing. It’s comforting, but it’s a salad. And, possibly best of all, it’s an assembly job: you cook the vast majority of ingredients in one pan, and then chuck it on a plate. It’s quick and delicious and infinitely adaptable.
It goes like this:
Makes: 2 generous portions for a main course
Takes: 20 minutes (including cooking and assembly)
Bakes: 15 minutes
100g chestnuts, chopped
Handful of pecans
Half a handful of dried cranberries
Two slices of bread (the staler the better)
Sage or thyme
Sherry/cider/white wine vinegar
2 Very generous handfuls of salad leaves
Zest of one orange (optional)
1. First, roast your squash. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Chop the squash in half, remove the seeds, and cut off the stalk. Dice, leaving the skin on. Place in a roasting tray, drizzle generously with oil, and scatter your sage or thyme over the top. Cover tightly with lid or tin foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid or foil and bake for another 20 minutes.
(If your squash is completely rock hard, and you can’t dice it without putting yourself in Jack Bower levels of danger, pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds., and BLAM, you’ll be able to cut it.)
2. Croutons! Cut the bread into rough cubes, or tear if you can’t be bothered. You probably shouldn’t use crusts here, but everyone loves a rebel. Place in a hot pan and drizzle liberally with oil. Fry until golden and crispy. Place to one side.
3. Lardons! Fry your lardons in the still hot, still greasy pan you used for the croutons. This will take about five minutes and they will turn golden. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Leave oil in pan.
4. Chestnuts and pecans! Toss into the same pan you’ve been using, and warm through. Set aside.
5. Dressing! Add an extra tablespoon of oil to the still hot, greasy pan, and a tablespoon of vinegar, and a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Mix together, and warm through for a couple of minutes.
6. Assemble! Pile the salad leaves on the plate, and sprinkle over: 1) butternut squash , 2) croutons, 3) lardons, 4) chestnuts and pecans, 5) cranberries. Drizzle generously with dressing. If you’re using an orange, zest over the top of the salad.
7. TA DAH!
Icing on the Cake
There are so many variables with this. Its a salad for God’s sake! Do what you want with it Crumble amaretti biscuit crumbs over your butternut squash before baking. Add chilli flakes. Add turkey. Use walnuts instead of pecans. Scatter blue cheese over the top. Brush it with edible lustre. I say the following with all the love in the world: I don’t care. This is a salad. It is your salad. Put in it whatever the hell you want.
Follow with 25 of the pink quality street, or a whole box of mint matchmakers, and get into the Christmas spirit.