Thursday, 22 December 2011

Feeding a crowd: Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad

Lovely nutty flavours and sunset colours make this bountiful salad a real crowd pleaser. Roasting the vegetables takes a little time, but you can do this well in advance and let them steep in their own toasty juices for a few hours before you assemble the salad. And making stuff ahead is the key to success when you're tackling a big festive feast, isn't it?

I'm a fan of big composite salads like this one because they go a long way and don't cost very much to make. I served this with my Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange and Ginger Glaze and a platter of crunchy potato wedges, and it easily fed ten very hungry people.

I'm not crazy about butternut - sweet vegetables aren't my cup of tea - but I don't mind it at all plainly roasted with tender ears of corn and baby carrots, then combined with feta, watercress, spinach and peppery rocket. Lemon juice in the dressing adds necessary acidity, while soy-sauce-coated sunflower seeds provide a bit of crunch and texture.

Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad with Feta and Sunflower Seeds

1 large butternut, peeled, deseeded and cubed
2 cups (500 ml) tiny little carrots (or big carrots, peeled and cut into cubes)
1 large punnet baby sweetcorn
7 T (105 ml) olive oil
salt and milled black pepper
2 large packets mixed rocket, watercress and baby spinach, or similar dark leaves
1 stick celery (no leaves), finely sliced
140 g (about two 'wheels') peppered feta cheese
½ cup (125 ml) sunflower seeds
2 T (30 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce

For the dressing:
reserved juices from the roast vegetables
a pinch of Hot English Mustard powder, or ½ tsp (2.5 ml) prepared Dijon mustard
a pinch of caster sugar
the juice of a small lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
2 T (30 ml) white wine vinegar
3/4 cup (180 ml) olive oil, or a mixture of sunflower and olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 190ºC.  Put the butternut cubes on a roasting tray and drizzle them with half the olive oil. Season generously with salt and black pepper and, using your hands, toss well to coat. Roast the butternut, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are nicely freckled with brown. Push the cubes to one side of the tray and arrange the baby sweetcorn and carrots on the other side. Drizzle the remaining oil over them, season, toss well and return the tray to the oven. After 15 minutes, remove the butternut cubes, place them in a large bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave the sweetcorn and carrots in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until they are toasty and just tender. Add them to the cooked butternut cubes and set aside at room temperature until you're ready to use them.

To make the dressing, tip any juices that have accumulated under the roast vegetables into a small mixing bowl.  Add the mustard powder, caster sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce and vinegar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Now whisk in the olive oil to make a smooth emulsion.  Season with salt and pepper. If you'd like a tangier dressing, add more lemon juice or vinegar to taste.

Put the sunflower seeds in a large frying pan and toss them gently over a medium-low flame until lightly toasted.  Turn the heat up to medium, add the soy sauce and stir well so all the seeds are coated. Leave over the heat for 30 seconds, or until the pan is dry, then set aside to cool slightly.

Lay the leaves on a big serving platter and arrange the roast vegetables, chopped celery and feta - broken into chunks - on top.  Immediately before you serve the salad, pour over just enough dressing to coat the leaves lightly, and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Serves 10 as a side salad, or 6 as a main course.
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