Apples, sweet potatoes, autumn squash, turnips, rutabagas, leeks, and greens of every shade—I await the fall garden and all of its bounty each year with as much eagerness as the changing of the leaves and the relief from blistering Alabama summers. Root vegetables are at their prime this time of year and their heartiness is a beautiful accompaniment to braised meats. A meal of slow-cooked beef or pork alongside a simple roast of beets, potatoes, and turnips is my way of welcoming the season. Autumn squash, with its wonderful versatility, may find its way into a bisque or pie. And no fall meal is complete without a serving of greens—collards, mustards, turnips, kale, cabbage, spinach, etc.—served braised, sautéed, or dressed in salad.
The greens are the star of the following recipe. I visited our friends at Jack O’Lantern Farm to collect the ingredients for this salad that can be served as a starter or meal on its own. Cooking the vegetables in a variety of different ways gives the salad a lovely texture and flavor profile.
ALABAMA AUTUMN SALAD
1 head red butterhead lettuce, torn into large pieces
3 large mustard green leaves, stalk removed and torn into 1 inch pieces
½ bunch spinach, stalks trimmed
1 butternut squash
1 large purple sweet potato
½ yellow onion
1 medium beet
½ Honey Crisp apple, cut into thin wedges
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
¼ cup Apple-Sherry Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cube the purple sweet potato and boil in salted water for 10 minutes or until very soft. Puree the sweet potato in a food processor with 1 tablespoon butter, a dash of cayenne, the sugar, and salt to taste. Set aside at room temperature. Peel the onion, halve, and cut into rings. Cook over medium heat with one tablespoon of olive oil until translucent, then continue to cook over low heat with ½ tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar until caramelized. Set aside at room temperature. Clean the beet and cut off the stalk. In a baking dish, drizzle the beet with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, and salt to taste. Cover dish with aluminum foil and roast for 30-45 minutes, until tender. Let cool slightly, then peel and cut into ½ inch pieces. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the salad. Peel the squash and slice the neck of the squash thinly on a mandolin. Set aside. Cut the body of the squash into ½ inch pieces and toss with ½ tablespoon olive oil, the honey, cinnamon, dash of cayenne, and salt to taste. Lay the squash in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Let cool.
Assemble the salad. Paint the plate with a heaping spoonful of the purple sweet potato puree. Toss the greens in the Apple-Sherry Vinaigrette and arrange on top of the puree. Continue building the caramelized onions, raw squash, cooked squash, beets, apples, and pine nuts on top of the greens. Top with fresh cracked pepper and serve.
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinaigrette
½ honey crisp apple, peeled, cored, and cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. The vinaigrette will be fairly thick.