[Warm Hokkaido Squash and White Bean Salad]
I write this from a café where I like to go and get some work done when I find it difficult to concentrate at home. Today, however, an unforeseen challenge has materialized on my path. Sitting a few tables from mine are two living clichés: a blond, middle-aged, French casting director and a young, craggy-bearded, khaki-vested film director from LA. They are in deep conversation about finding the perfect actress (dark-haired, curvaceous, Middle-Eastern-looking) for his next feature.
He’s cool as a cucumber, but she’s holding her end of the discussion in such a throaty, heavily accented voice that even Leonard Cohen in my earphones can’t white-noise it out. But, the eavesdropper in me must admit, the crux of the matter is that it’s all wildly entertaining — especially since I can hear the entire dialogue effortlessly, as I pull up the imdb pages of the actresses they’re considering.
But this is unrelated to the matter at hand. The matter at hand is this warm winter salad, which, come to think of it, is also curvaceous and Middle-Eastern-looking, but is booked all through 2010, sorry. It is loosely inspired by a recipe for pumpkin and chickpeas in a tahini dressing that appeared in Casa Moro, the middle panel of Sam Clark and Sam Clark’s cookbook triptych*.
The underlying concept of this dish stuck with me — winter squash and legumes! hello, luminous idea! — and I recreated it from memory** on Sunday night, using the potimarron I’d bought at the market the day before, white beans, almond butter (my jar of tahini has been residing in my neighbor’s fridge since New Year’s Eve, when he borrowed it to make hummus for the party), and a sprinkle of pinenuts for extra crunch.
The result is a down comforter of a salad, sweet without excess, and filling in a way that’s most welcome after a run in the park in late afternoon (i.e. when it is dark enough that toddlers have been dragged home, but not so dark that you trip on tree roots and abandoned toys).
I didn’t have any cilantro (I can’t find it at the market in the wintertime) and I’d already used up my weekly allotment of parsley, but if you have some sort of leafy herb on hand, the salad will enjoy the greenness of it.
** To see a version that’s closer to the printed recipe, take a look at my friend Molly’s rendition.
Salade Tiède de Potimarron et Haricots Blancs
For the beans:
– 120 grams (2/3 cup) dried white beans, soaked overnight in cold water
– one bay leaf
– one bushy stem fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary)
– 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
For the squash:
– one medium (about 1 kg, or 2.2 pounds) potimarron, a.k.a. Hokkaido squash or kuri squash (substitute butternut, buttercup, delicata, or kabocha squash)
– 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
– a drizzle of olive oil
– 1 teaspoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
– 1 teaspoon ras-el-hanout (a complex Moroccan spice blend; substitute a good curry powder, or a mix of ground cumin, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander, and pepper)
– fine sea salt
For the dressing and topping:
– 1 tablespoon almond butter (the light brown kind, made from non-blanched almonds)
– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon orange flower water
– 1 teaspoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
– fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper
– 2 to 3 tablespoons pinenuts, toasted
– the leaves from a small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
Serves 2 to 3; the recipe can be doubled.
Rinse and drain the white beans. Place them in a medium saucepan with 75 cl (3 cups) cold water and the bay leaf. Set over medium-high heat, cover, bring to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour, or until the beans are tender, but before they get mushy. 45 minutes into the cooking, add the rosemary and coarse salt. When the beans are cooked, drain, discard the bay leaf, and keep warm.
While the beans are cooking, roast the squash. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Cut the squash into eight wedges, deseed, scrape, and peel each wedge if necessary (the skin of the Hokkaido squash is thin and edible, so you can and should keep it). Cut the flesh into 2-cm (3/4-inch) cubes. Place the squash and the garlic in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and 1 teaspoon vinegar, sprinkle with ras-el-hanout and salt, and toss to coat well. Bake for 30 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned, stirring halfway through.
In a medium salad bowl, combine the dressing ingredients, from almond butter to vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and thin with a teaspoon or two of water if necessary. Add the cooked beans, stir delicately to coat; add the roasted squash, and stir even more delicately. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Divide between serving plates, sprinkle with pinenuts and cilantro, and serve, slightly warm.