Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn Harvest Salad with Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

This past weekend, right on cue for the start of October, our scorching Southern California weather cooled down beautifully, perfect for spending the day in the yard. All was going well until my husband, beaming like a proud Papa as he counted and admired the season's pomegranate crop, discovered a problem.  

I'll give you some background. Ian, originally from Scotland, is obsessed with growing food. Nothing makes him happier that plucking a lime off our sad little tree and popping it into his beer. I'll tell you; they are tiny and ridiculously bitter, but he will squeeze it in there and choke it down because HE grew it.

25 years ago we bought our home here in the foothills and he eagerly set about planting every variety of citrus, avocado, apple, zucchini, peppers, pumpkin, we could find. We soon learned that the decomposed granite we sit on is not conducive to growing any living thing.

If I counted up all the money spent on Miracle Grow, fancy soil amendments, organic pest sprays, etc., the two minuscule heirloom tomatoes we managed to yield this year would be worth their weight in gold!

The only thing that actually thrives in our soil is the pomegranate tree. (I recently learned that pomegranates originated in the Persian desert, so that makes perfect sense).

Hearing the alarm in his voice, I ran over to see what was amiss. One after another he handed me breached fruits. "Something's eating my pomegranates!", he bellowed. "I bet it's the damn birds!"  

You'll see the irony in this once you are aware that we have multiple bird feeders hanging from our backyard trees and we spend about as much money on suet, bells, blocks, socks, sunflower and assorted seeds, as we do on the garden. The back deck is where we unwind and enjoy watching the colorful Grosbeaks, Blue Jays and Orioles that come in for the evening feeding.

Just like that, our beloved and well-fed birds became the enemy. That evening my husband planted himself on the deck, binoculars in one hand and pellet gun in the other, ready to make short work of whatever was destroying his pomegranates.

After an hour or so I was finally able to lure him inside with the aroma of braised chicken curry, and while I set about seeding the salvageable pomegranates for my coconut rice, our Woogie leaped up and shot out the door like a bolt into the night. His sharp, incessant barks indicating one thing; he had something treed.  

The grin on Ian's face - I've never seen him move so fast! Flashlight in one hand and gun in the other, he charged out into the dark in his pajamas, and I inevitably followed with my camera.  

We found Woogie on his hind legs, barking up into the pomegranate tree with his tail wagging 90 mph. From underneath the umbrella-like canopy we scanned the branches with the flashlight until...

There was the furry culprit, clinging to a branch, either frozen in fear or playing possum, a sweet-faced little rat. Well, not so little, but undeniably cute, with big eyes and long whiskers - still tinted red from pomegranate juice.

Ian didn't shoot it, or course. He loves animals as much as he loves his garden.   

Autumn Salad

3 C chopped romaine lettuce
3 C baby kale/spinach blend
1 butternut squash, cubed and roasted 
1 persimmon or pear, peeled and chopped 
1/4 C red onion, chopped,
1/4 C rough chopped walnuts, toasted
Blue cheese    
pomegranate seeds

Roasted Spiced Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1 T fresh chopped rosemary
1 T fresh thyme
1 T chipotle chili powder
1 T brown sugar 
Tuscan Orange Olive Oil
Kosher salt and pepper 

Preheat oven to 350. Slice ends off butternut squash to make it more stable. Peel squash. Cut in half horizontally, separating the neck from the bulb. Dice neck into 1/2 cubes. Cut bulb in half. Scoop out seeds and pulp, then dice. * See note. 

Place cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt, spices and herbs. Drizzle with enough Tuscan Orange Olive Oil to coat and toss. Spread out on non-stick foil covered sheet pan and roast at 350, turning with spatula halfway, until sugar is caramelized and squash are golden brown and tender in the center.

* note: Only season and roast as much squash as you need. Seal the rest of the raw cubes in a freezer bag, squeeze out air and lay in a single layer in the freezer so you can break off as many as you like in the future.  Let cool to room temperature.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

 1 T fresh crushed garlic
1 T finely chopped shallot
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 C maple balsamic vinegar
1 T cider vinegar  
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil (or more to your taste)
salt and pepper 

Seal everything in a mason jar and shake vigorously.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Next time we are together, I will make it for sure. Has to be in the fall though for the pom seeds...


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