It's a bit like Chinese landscape painting, cooking from the northern winter larder. Although the palate is limited, the elements somewhat sparse, the restrictions can in fact be liberating. You're able to consider familiar things in a different light, place them in new roles.
I can't say whether it arose from a stroke of culinary genius, or from the sheer boredom of contemplating yet another cole slaw, but one night I decided to fry the salad. And it turned out really, really well.
In fact, I'd been meaning to try this for quite some time, this tweaked combination of three of the most constant foods in our winter kitchen--cabbage, apples, and squash. What brought them together was two other local products, Hay River Pumpkin Seed Oil from near Prairie Farm, Wisconsin (which is just a few miles from our Bide-A-Wee), and an apple wine vinegar from the Leatherwood Vinegary in Long Prairie, Minnesota. I bought the vinegar at Local D'Lish in downtown Minneapolis. Hay River is the first and only brand of American pumpkin seed oil, and Leatherwood is the only vinegary in Minnesota; they helped make this delicious salad unique, indeed.
This really was an intensely local meal: Grilled Hilltop Pastures Family Farm pork cutlets (off a shoulder roast, very economical) glazed with Talking Oak Farm buckwheat honey (another Prairie Farm, WI product) atop Sunrise Creative Gourmet fettuccine tossed with a little Hope Creamery butter. The butternut squash and cabbage were from Julie Pflaum of our Midtown Farmers' Market , and the apples from another Midtown colleague, Havlicek's Veseli Vrsek Happy Hill Orchard . We drank a bottle of Hauser's Colonial apple wine from the Bayfield Winery .
This works equally well as a starter or side dish.
Seared Salad of Butternut Squash, Cabbage, and Apples
1 butternut squash
2 apples, peeled, seeded, and quartered
2 wedges cabbage, about three inches at the wide end
grapeseed or canola oil
2 Tbsp pumpkin seed oil (or olive oil if you don't have this)
1 Tbsp apple wine vinegar (or another good vinegar--I realize these specific products may be difficult to find)
freshly ground black pepper
Remove the solid top of the squash, and use the lower part, around the seed cavity. Cut the lower part in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel the squash with a peeler or paring knife. Cut two strips per person, a bit more than an inch wide.
Heat a heavy skillet and add a couple teaspoons of grapeseed or canola oil. Add the cabbage and apples and cook over medium-high heat. Check the apples frequently, and keep turning them to brown on all sides. Let the cabbage develop a nice sear on the first cut side, then turn it over to sear the other side.
Remove the apples and cabbage when they're nicely seared--they won't be cooked through, just colored and softened a bit. Add a little more oil and the squash slices. Cook over medium-high heat till the first side is well browned, then turn the squash over and brown the other side. When both sides of the squash are browned, add 3/4 cup of water. Cover the pan and steam the squash until the squash is tender, four or five minutes.
To assemble: Cut each cabbage wedge in two--as if you were butterfly-ing a shrimp, but in this case, cut all the way through. On each plate place a half-wedge of cabbage, seared side up. Arrange two slices of squash and two pieces of apple on top of the cabbage.
Mix together the pumpkin seed oil and apple wine vinegar (or subs of your choice). Drizzle the dressing over the salad and a bit around the edge of the plate for superfluous gourmet garnish. Sprinkle a good pinch of coarse salt (gray sea salt would be my choice) and give it a grind of fresh black pepper.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw