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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Autumn Cobb Salad with Smoky Butternut Squash Dressing

Autumn Cobb Salad with Smoky Butternut Squash Dressing
by Victoria Challancin

Beautiful food inspires the poet in us all, but when my own attempts at adequate description fail me, I simply turn to the great poets who say it better.   In this case, I will call on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and simply use her voice to say, "Cobb Salad, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways."

Let's see...there was the memorable New Orleans' style Muffaletta Cobb Salad with a Horseradish Vinaigrette.  Mmmm.  And then there was the stunning retro Mexican Shrimp Cobb Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Tomatillo Dressing.  Ahhhh.  Fun.  And I could never overlook the Shrimp and Gruyère Cobb Salad with Pickled Quails Eggs and Low-Fat Green Goddess Dressing.  Sigh...Yes, Cobb Salad, I truly do love you.  And your interpretations are endless.  Antipasto Cobb Salad?  Why not?  Sushi Cobb Salad?  Absolutely!  Indian-Inspired Cobb Salad with chicken, curried potatoes, raita, kachumber, and a chutney dressing?  Divine.  Vietnamese Summer Roll Cobb Salad?  Yes, yes, yes...just open up those summer rolls and serve with a ginger-soy dressing.  Satay Cobb Salad?  Gado-Gado as a Cobb Salad?  Greek Cobb Salad? California or Southwestern Style?  You bet.  Let your imagination go wild.  It is all in the presentation after all.  

A Little History of Cobb Salad
From an earlier post:  In 1937 an overnight salad sensation was born at Hollywood's The Brown Derby restaurant, when the hungry owner, Bob Cobb, three together an assortment of salad ingredients to satisfy his late-night hunger.  According to Arthur, Schwartz, NYC's "Food Maven," more than 4 million Cobb salads have been sold at the Brown Derby restaurants since that time.  It is easy to understand why:  the salad is beautiful, full of healthy ingredients, and above all, the recipe is flexible.  While the original classic recipe calls for chicken, bacon, and blue cheese, this salad begs for reinterpretation.  Because it is so perfect for San Miguel's al fresco dining style, I have prepared it over the years in a variety of styles ranging from Italian to Thai to Mexican, and of course, French.

I always feel a bit sad when I think of my many Down Under friends who are now ending their spring, just as we prepare for winter.  Maybe I can convince them to save this tasty recipe for autumn, just as I am gathering up their lighter food offerings for when our own weather warms up!

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe used pumpkin instead of butternut squash, but because I am so giddy at suddenly having access to the latter, I chose it.  I used mizuna as a spritely base for this and chose multi-colored tiny tomatoes, including some lovely chocolate-hued ones.  Although I used feta, blue cheese would have been lovely as well.  This certainly should have had some toasted pumpkin seeds atop it as well--I just didn't have time to make them in class!

Recipe:  Autumn Cobb Salad with Smoky Butternut Squash Dressing
(Original recipe from

3 cups pumpkin (or other winter squash--I used butternut), peeled, and cut into large dice
Seeds from the squash (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 head iceberg lettuce  (or other lettuce such as endive, arugula, baby kale--or mizuna, which is used here)
2 cups cooked chicken breast cut into chunks or shredded (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 avocado, cut into large dice
4 hard-cooked eggs, cut into quarters or slices
4 slices crispy cooked bacon
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons finely minced flat-leaf parsley

Smoky Pumpkin Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin chunks
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Kosher salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 415 degrees F.  Spread the pumpkin or squash pieces on a sheet pan and toss them with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 20 minutes or until golden and tender.  Remove and set aside to cool.

On a separate sheet pan, toss the seeds from the pumpkin or squash with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and a little kosher salt.  Roast for about 7 minutes or until golden.  Remove and set aside to cool.

To make the Dressing:
In the jar of a blender, combine 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin or squash, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, smoked paprika and salt.  Puree on high until well combined and smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Set aside.

To assemble:  
Arrange the ingredients in rows over a base of lettuce or chosen green leaves.  Sprinkle the top with parsley and pumpking seeds, if using.  Serve with the Smoky Dressing on top and/or on the side.

Parting Shot:


Eha said...

Thank you for thinking of your many Down Under friends but there is no reason whatsoever for us not to make this for a happy, colourful, tasty and healthy Christmas luncheon! Love the colour palette, and, having a somewhat 'organized' mindset the 'order' of a Cobb salad has always appealed. It may not be in season, but butternut pumpkin is always somehow available in an Oz supermarket and the dressing 'tastes' very moreish! I can get the little tomatoes from my own garden with the harvest just started and the herbs, mibuna and mizuna are stretching their necks forwards to be picked too . . .

Hotly Spiced said...

I love the story behind this salad. How incredible that so many have been sold since that time! Your salad is so pretty and full of wonderful ingredients and I'd love to try your smoky squash dressing - I've never added squash to a dressing before! xx

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Hehe as one of your Down Under friends I need no more persuasion to serve this lovely salad up! :D I am so intrigued by the squash dressing!

Tehmeena said...

wow truly delicious :) just look at the clicks and presentation.. pass me whole platter :D

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I'm with you about a cobb salad…it is one of my favorites. As you say, you can make so many variations. Your smoky butternut squash dressing sounds different and delicious.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

That salad with it's butternut dressing has me swooning. What a wonderful salad and perfect for an Australian Christmas lunch!

Ann said...

I love creative salads and this one looks great. Thanks for the history

Tania@ MyKitchen Stories said...

Love that squash dressing. Such a fantastic combination with tha cobb salad/ I always wondered about the name cobb salad