As I've mentioned before, I originate from Missouri and although most people would argue that it is the quintessential midwestern state, the town in which I grew up was very much Southern in style. Things move a bit slower (much to the dismay of my more northern-minded mother). Relatives are refered to as kin. Breakfasts consisted of biscuits and sausage gravy. Summertime meant bar-b-q sandwiches on white bread, smoked ribs, cornmeal-crusted catfish, and fried dill pickle slices. Desserts often had pecans in them. However, I have to confess that, other than steaming piles of crawfish served on newspaper, much of this down-home cookin' I was not a very big fan of, particularly suspicious, oozing bowls of okra and the oddly flecked black-eyed peas, that were a New Years Day tradition. Until recently, that is.
Last week when we had our friends James and Wendel over for dinner, to go along with the brisket I served, at the cookbook's suggestion, I made a salad of roasted butternut squash, black-eyed peas, and crumbled goat cheese. I was very intrigued by the recipe. I love, love, love roasted butternut squash. Goat cheese, of course, is brilliant. My fondness for marjoram is growing. But the black-eyed peas? Not convinced. But I was determined to keep an open mind and I'm glad I did. The salad was fantastic, perhaps the highlight of the meal.
So this past Saturday I was invited to a barbecue for my dear friend, Heather's birthday. "It's kind of a pot-luck," she explained. "You don't HAVE to bring something, but you can if you want." Although she made it clear that there was no pressure to bring anything, I could tell she wanted me too. This salad seemed like the perfect candidate.
(For the dressing)
1/3 cup apple cidar vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
(For the salad)
I medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (about 12 ounces) black-eyed peas (I used canned black-eyed peas)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram, plus a little more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus a little more for garnish
1/2 cup of the dressing
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) crumbled goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To make the dressing, stir the vinegar, honey, lemon zest and juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Add the oils in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until all is incorporated. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes about 1 cup.
Next, scatter the diced butternut squash in one layer on a baking sheet with sides lined in foil. Drizzle the squash with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
Roast in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the squash is starting to brown around the edges and is tender when pierced with a fork, stirring the squash pieces every 10 minutes so the cubes brown evenly. When the squash is finished cooking, remove from the oven and let cool a little. Scrape the warm squash into a large mixing bowl.
Add the black-eyed peas, bell pepper, jalapeno, marjoram, parsley, 1/2 cup of the dressing, and season with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Transfer the salad to a large serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese, scatter with a little more of the parsely and marjoram, and serve warm or room temperature.
Much like the corn, snap-pea, and blue cheese salad I made a few weeks ago, this dish really gets people talking. "WHO made this salad?!" The hostess of the barbecue demanded, as she devoured another heaping spoonful. I told her I did, although she didn't believe me at first. I wish I could take credit for inventing the recipe, but alas, I just followed the instructions.
There are but a handful of ingredients and yet the combination is just unique enough that the results are quite exceptional. I love the juxtaposition of the roasted butternut squash, slightly crisp on the edges, with the earthy black-eyed peas, and the clean, watery crunch of the red bell pepper. The marjoram, with it's vaguely piney, citrus scent, gives the salad an unexpected flavor. The jalapeno adds a slight heat which is reflected in the dressing but is also balanced with the sweetness of the cider vinegar and honey. The creamy goat cheese gives the whole thing a rich, slightly tangy finish.
I feel like the salad would be nice tossed with or served on a bed of arugula or spinach and it would be outstanding with a thick, grilled ham steak.