18 November 2010

Insalata Proserpina: a salad for autumn

Insalata Proserpina

The earthy dishes of autumn, rich with harvest produce, can be too heavy for the perpetual heat of the Caribbean. When I was asked for a seasonal dish to feature, the clear choice for me was... a salad. Not my customary autumn salad (much as I love it) of slow-roasted chunks of pumpkin and sweet red beetroot, caramelised in the oven and tossed with fetta and mint and arugula to brighten the flavours. No. I wanted something light and fresh and crisp to celebrate the turning of the year.

So I chose fresh pomegranate seeds for a burst of bright acidity, with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch and butternut squash for its sunny colour and natural sweetness.

I’ve named this salad as a homage to the legend of the hapless Persephone (known to the Romans as Proserpina) who once ate six pomegranate seeds in her captivity in the underworld, and was thence tethered irrevocably to her husband for six months of each year—six months in which her beloved earth withered into cold winter sleep, awaiting her touch in the spring.

I can’t say I blame her. Sitting for so long in the dark and the cold, who would not have been tempted by a pomegranate? The whole fruit so comfortingly heavy in the hand, the jewel-like seeds so vivid with stored sunshine... really, the surprise is that she was able to stop at six.

Insalata Proserpina
salad of finely shaved butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and torn mint leaves in an orange, honey and hazelnut dressing

For the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest and one tablespoon of hazelnut oil till nicely emulsified. Slowly add another two tablespoons of hazelnut oil, a teaspoon of honey, a good squitter of orange juice, and half a teaspoon of coriander seeds (dry-roasted and crushed), whisking gently all the while. Taste to adjust seasonings; add sea salt and cracked pepper as needed.

For the salad: toss 2 cups of fresh raw butternut squash shavings (a vegetable peeler does the job), a handful of lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds (you can be generous!), and a scant handful of torn mint leaves together with the dressing.

I’ve a late thought that some peppery arugula would be a nice addition, but that can wait for another day.

note I found the finely shaved butternut squash took on an al dente pasta quality when tossed with the dressing. I should like to play with this texture some time—completely vegetal “pasta” ribbons with a good savoury sauce, perhaps.

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about this blog

Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher


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