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 heatherchristo.com)
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.
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.