Fall is the time we all honor the Earth. Especially us, the city folk.
When you live in a big city it is easy to forget, easy not to notice the change of colors, the change of food, the change of air. Until on your way to work, wrapped up in your daily worries you stumble upon a big pile of gourds in front of your local supermarket. Until an ever-cheerful Starbucks barista informs you that they are not carrying your favorite latte anymore, but they will happily serve you their new pumpkin spice caramel mocha. Until the retail stores stage magnificent fall displays, which transport you straight to a Tuscan village and the forest nearby, together with acorns, hazelnuts, fallen leaves, rustic tables and an occasional pig. Chances are that these days you will encounter far more magnificent harvest experience inside Pottery Barn, than you ever will on a farm in Tuscany.
As soon as we, the city folk, realize that fall has arrived, overnight everything turns orange and the golden colored leaves are everywhere, except that they are on plates and napkins and tablecloths and dishes, instead on the street walks where they should be and where they belong.
And if you think that given my keen observations of the fall rituals among the city dwellers, my sharp pen and my wit in documenting their habits, if you think that I am immune to such tribal practices, you are wrong. You are very, very wrong. They will get you no matter how hard you resist and over the years I have amassed quite a few relics myself. I am currently a proud owner of 17 (seventeen) fall themed napkins and kitchen towels, a set of Italian ceramic plates with harvest scenes, eight leaf-shaped cookie cutters, a pig-shaped chopping bard, a pair of pumpkin spice scented candles which I am allergic to, and a gigantic wheat wreath that come fall welcomes you into my home. Although, I have been contemplating giving the wreath to our friends who own a farm upstate. Being on a farm, they have never seen anything like it, and after all they too deserve a little piece of fall.
Caramelized Squash with Burrata, Hazelnuts, Arugula & Balsamic Glaze
* one butternut or two carnival squashes (about 3 lb)
* 5 oz baby arugula
* 8 oz Burrata, cut into thin slices
* 1/4 lb hazelnuts
* 1 cup aged balsamic vinegar
* 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
* 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus some more for drizzling)
* 2 tbsp hazelnut oil
* salt and freshly ground pepper
1. First toast the hazelnuts. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the hazelnuts toast evenly. Remove the hazelnuts from the oven when they are fragrant and golden, and allow them to cool at room temperature. Once the hazelnuts have cooled completely, rub them with your hands or between two kitchen towels to remove the skins. Cut the hazelnuts in half and set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the stem off of the top of the squash and remove the bottom. With a vegetable peeler remove the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Slice the flesh into 3/4-inch dice. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and toss to combine. Place the cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes. You want the cubes to be golden and slightly charred, yet still firm. Remove the squash from the oven and let it cool.
3. Prepare the balsamic reduction. In a small skillet or saucepan, bring the aged balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to minimum setting and simmer for a while, until reduced to about a third of its original volume. (The reduction will thicken some more as it cools. If it becomes too thick, thin it with a drop of water. Do not be tempted to expedite the process by turning the heat up, long slow simmer is a road to success at least when balsamic glaze is concerned.)
4. Prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, hazelnut oil and white balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and whisk until well blended and creamy.
5. In a large bowl toss the arugula with the half of the vinaigrette. Arrange the arugula on a large platter. Top with the butternut squash cubes and burrata. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and sprinkle with pepper (you might have some leftover vinaigrette). Spoon the balsamic reduction generously on top of the salad, finish with hazelnuts and serve.