Pumpkin, Strawberry and Gorgonzola ‘Traybake’ Salad

Okay, so I love a traybake. I love the simplicity, the lack of washing up, and the lack of plating up. But to be fair, this is more of a traybake-salad hybrid. In the spirit of the one-pan dinner (my preferred way to cook) you can literally take this one straight from the oven to the table with just a little artless assembly (my preferred way to assemble) along the way.

Half of the inspiration for this has been brewing in my mind for a few weeks now. My sister-in-law, Lilli, was going to be in town and asked if I’d like to meet for lunch after I finished up at work. We decided to meet at Old Friend bistro and bar on Pirie Street where I had caught up with, aptly, an old friend for lunch a few weeks before. By happy circumstance, my husband’s office was a street away and he was free for lunch, and our nephew, Christopher, and his girlfriend, Alice, were also around and free for lunch! Our lunch for two became an impromptu family catchup for six. The fabulous yet concise menu at Old Friend provides something to please everyone, yet it was Alice’s vegan roast pumpkin salad that was the table showstopper and the source of lots of plate envy: think thick wedges of roasted pumpkin with salad leaves, grilled stone fruit and accessorised with ruby red pomegranate jewels. It looked so beautiful on the plate that it has stuck in my mind as something I might one day try to replicate.

The other half of the inspiration for this recipe was a salad I made for a Christmas brunch a few years ago which consisted of baby spinach leaves, pecans, gorgonzola and strawberries. Blue cheese isn’t to everyone’s liking, and even if it isn’t your fromage du jour, I urge you to be open-minded: the sharp saltiness of the cheese is the perfect counterbalance to the sweetness of fruit, and this salad is a perfect example of how to make these flavours work in perfect harmony.

So, I have taken the essence of the strawberry, spinach and gorgonzola salad and coupled it with roasted pumpkin to create something that is sure to prove that you can, very much, make friends with salad!

 

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PUMPKIN, STRAWBERRY AND GORGONZOLA TRAYBAKE SALAD
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as an entree

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 large Jap pumpkin; seeds reserved
  • 100g pecans
  • 1 punnet strawberries; leaves removed, quartered
  • 2 large handfuls (about 120g) beetroot leaves (or rocket or baby spinach)
  • 100g pecan kernels
  • 180g Gorgonzola Dolce cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A good pinch of salt

METHOD

Preheat oven to 220C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Slice the pumpkin into 8 equal sized wedges and reserve the seeds. Separate the seeds and remove the stringy fibres. Arrange the pumpkin pieces on the tray so they are evenly spaced.

Sprinkle the pecans and pumpkin seeds evenly over the tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and a sprinkle of salt.

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Place the tray in the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender and the skin is a little coloured, being careful to roast but not burn the pecans. Do not to overcook or else the pumpkin will not hold its shape.

Meanwhile, in a small jar with a secure lid, add the honey, the remaining oil, and the balsamic vinegar. Shake vigorously to make a dressing making sure the honey is totally combined. Set aside.

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Remove the tray from the oven and distribute the leaves evenly over the pumpkin still in the tray. Then, evenly sprinkle over the quartered strawberries.

With your hands, break up the gorgonzola into small blobs and dot the salad with the cheese, then sprinkle over the sunflower seeds.

Give the jar of dressing a final shake and then drizzle a few tablespoons over the whole salad.

Place the whole tray on the table with a few salad servers and the jar of leftover dressing on the side, and let everyone help themselves.

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Crispy Chermoula Salmon and Couscous Salad

Making your own spice mixes and pastes seems overwhelming for midweek cooking, especially when you can save yourself the hassle and just buy something in a jar off the shelf. However, if you’re like me (and if you’re reading a food blog, you probably are) you like to make your own when you can because you know what is going into your food and you know you can’t beat the flavour of something you have made fresh yourself. Truth be told, making your own mixes and pastes is an effortless affair when you have a decent food processor to do the busy work for you. This chermoula paste could not be simpler; you could skip the extra minute it takes to toast the whole spices before adding them to the food processor if you were feeling particularly impatient, but to do so would see you miss out on the smoky warmth that this simple step gives your marinade.

Chermoula is a paste used as a marinade or relish prominent in Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine. While it is traditionally used to flavour seafood, it can be used on meats and vegetables, too. The first time I had chermoula it was as a relish pasted onto grilled lamb cutlets after they had been cooked – a herb sauce as opposed to a marinade. While chermoula pastes can vary from region to region, you will find garlic, cumin, coriander and lemon in almost every mixture.

Here, the chermoula is used as a thick textured marinade. You will notice the spices are toasted but not ground and I think it is important to retain the texture of the whole spices in this recipe; the coriander seeds, especially, cling to the salmon flesh and give a burst of spice when you crush them while eating that you don’t get with ground spices. The salmon is grilled in this recipe – not baked, but grilled under the griller element of the oven – which cooks the salmon flesh tenderly in around 7 minutes while producing a satisfyingly crispy bronze skin. Be sure to press as much of the chermoula paste into the salmon flesh sides and base before grilling, but remove excess paste from the skin to prevent burning.

The couscous salad is purposely not complicated with excess flavours from spices or stock as the chermoula marinade of the salmon really carries across the whole dish. Instead, the freshness of the cucumber, fresh herbs and tangy yoghurt cut through the complex spices, not to mention the sweet and sharp bursts of those ruby pomegranate jewels.

After experimenting with grilling salmon for this recipe, I think this is the only way I will cook crispy skinned salmon from this point on. I think you’ll be impressed with how perfectly it cooks through, too.

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CRISPY CHERMOULA SALMON AND COUSCOUS SALAD
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 salmon fillets, equal sized, skin on

For the Chermoula Paste:

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 3 long green chillis
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (3cm length), peeled
  • 1/2 large bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves and stalks
  • 1/2 large bunch fresh mint, leaves and stalks
  • 1/2 large bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 big pinch of kosher sea salt flakes (eg Maldon)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Couscous Salad

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 large bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 large bunch fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 large bunch fresh coriander leaves
  • 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 80g pine nuts, toasted
  • seeds from one pomegranate

For the yoghurt dressing

  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt (I like the creamy consistency of Tamar Valley Greek Style)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • pinch of salt

METHOD

Prepare the Chermoula Paste and Salmon:

Toast the whole cumin and coriander seeds and the paprika together in a dry pan over high heat until slightly toasted and aromatic.

Place the toasted herbs into a food processor with all the remaining ingredients for the paste mix except for the oil.

Blitz on high speed while slowly adding the oil to the processor to form a thick paste.

Empty the paste into a large freezer or zip lock bag.

Place the salmon in the bag with the chermoula paste. Close the bag securely and use your hands to smoosh the paste all over the salmon. Set aside to marinade for 30 minutes or longer in the fridge. If marinading in the fridge for longer, be sure to bring the salmon to room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.

To cook the salmon:

Light the grill on your oven.

Line a baking tray with aluminium foil. Place a wire rack over the foil in the tray. Oil the rack with olive oil or cooking spray.

Place the salmon, skin side up, on the wire rack. Use a knife or spoon to remove the excess paste from the skin but try to press as much paste into the sides and base of the fish as you can – you want these flavours and texture!

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Place under the grill for about 6 – 8 minutes or until the skin of the salmon has browned and turned crispy, being careful not to burn it. (Mine was perfect at 7 minutes).

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Remove from the oven and use an egg slide to carefully lift the salmon from the rack. The salmon will be succulent and tender so be careful and gentle when lifting.

Serve atop the couscous salad with a dollop of yoghurt.

To make the salad:

Place the couscous in a large bowl with a tablespoon of butter. Pour over the boiling water. Cover and set aside for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed.

Fluff up the cooked couscous with a fork.

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Add the cucumber, chickpeas and chopped leaves.

Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts.

To make the yoghurt sauce:

Combine the salt, lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl. Check for flavour and add more salt, juice or garlic if you wish.

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Warm Greek Bean Salad

This is more Greek inspired than it is a Greek dish. I wanted something to complement my ‘Stolen’ Lamb and Potato Packets and given it was a cold wintery Adelaide Hills night a cold salad was not going to cut it.

The most actual cooking you’re going to do here is boil the kettle and pop a few tomatoes on an oven tray. The rest is just some artless assembly – the salad doesn’t even need tossing.

Here you will find most of the usual suspects in a Greek salad: tomato, crumbly feta, kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil and oregano, but I’ve replaced lettuce with warmed green beans. You could also top the salad with some fresh chunky-cut Lebanese cucumber if you wanted to cut through the saltiness, particularly if you opt to be heavy handed with the olives and feta. I have a particular preference for the multicoloured cherry tomato medley packs you can buy now but you can really use whatever tomatoes you want. A little Jamie Oliver trick is to salt the tomatoes generously and leave to rest a little before roasting to draw out the juices. The tomatoes taste sweeter when you do this.

WARM GREEK BEAN SALAD

Serves 2 as a generous side

This is salad, not chemistry: adjust measurements as you please. Quantities given below are a guide.

INGREDIENTS

  • 250g green stringless beans, trimmed
  • 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 80g kalamata olives
  • 80g Greek style feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 200C.

Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over salt, pepper, oregano and drizzle with a tablespoon of oil.

Bake tomatoes for 15 – 20 minutes or until they start to colour but still hold their shape. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. You want them to be warm on your salad.

Boil a kettle of water. While the water is heating up, place the beans in a salad bowl.

Pour enough boiling water to just cover the beans and allow to stand about 2 minutes or until the colour of the beans intensifies. Drain the beans and dry the bowl fore retuning the warmed beans to the salad bowl.

Drizzle another tablespoon of oil and the vinegar over the beans and toss a couple of times to cover. Add the olives and crumble over the feta before topping the whole lot with the warm roasted tomatoes.

Give a last drizzle with the remaining oil and sprinkle with a pinch of extra dried oregano before serving.