Are you knee-deep in holiday overwhelm? Me, too. I got most of my holiday shopping squared away and ate a proper dinner last night, so that’s something. I’m going to call this salad a proper dinner-in-a-bowl. It’s full of roasted winter squash, nutritious greens, whole grains, seeds and olive oil. Granted, this blog needed another kale salad like my closet needed another motorcycle jacket… which is to say not really but absolutely.
Traditional panzanella is a summertime salad made with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, vinegar and homemade croutons made from stale bread. As far as I can tell, though, any salad featuring vegetables, vinaigrette and big ol’ homemade croutons qualifies as panzanella these days. This salad calls for a healthy amount of olive oil, of course, so now seems like prime time to share some photos of my trip to the olive oil harvest this fall.
California Olive Ranch invited me and a few other bloggers (Erin/Naturally Ella, Kelsey/Happyolks, Brenda/A Farmgirl’s Dabbles, Stacey/Delightful Crumb!) out to the Sacramento area for a couple of days at the end of October. The two lovely ladies in charge of marketing for California Olive Ranch, Kirsten and Grace, were warm and welcoming and fit right in with the rest of the crew.
During those two days, I was just hanging out with friends who are as passionate about good food as I am. It was grand. I wasn’t obligated to post about the trip, but it was so inspiring and insightful that I didn’t want to keep it all to myself.
Aren’t those green and purple olives gorgeous? I can’t stop admiring them. Naturally, the olive oil harvest brought to mind the almond harvest I attended a couple of months prior. There are some strong similarities between the two crops, although the machinery operates differently.
To remove almonds from the trees, a machine shakes the base of the tree to make the almonds fall to the ground, where they dry in the sun. With olives, though, a much taller machine with an olive tree-sized opening drives down the rows of olive trees while mechanical arms built inside carefully and quickly pick the olives off the branches. The base of the machine catches the olives and they are immediately off to be processed and turned into olive oil.
Olives deteriorate rapidly once they’ve been picked from the tree, so the clock starts ticking the second the olive falls. I was so impressed by the speed and efficiency in olive oil production at California Olive Ranch. Those people are passionate—you could say obsessed—with producing the highest quality olive oil at a grand scale. They sent me some incredible Limited Reserve oil after the trip, but I most often reach for the Everyday variety at Target.
California Olive Ranch is interesting because unlike almost all other olive oil producers, they only press the olives once. They really milk those precious olives for all they’re worth. The first pressing yields extra-virgin olive oil, which is the purest olive oil.
We tasted super fresh olive oil (see the photo below, look how green it is coming out of the tube!) and I was shocked when the olive oil hit the back of my throat. Those good-for-you polyphenols buuuurn. The polyphenols are responsible for giving olive oil its spicy flavor and the reason that buying fresh, quality olive oil is so important.
The extra-virgin distinction is critical when it comes to cooking. You may have heard before that olive oil shouldn’t be used for high heat cooking. However, the latest research found that pure extra-virgin olive oil can be cooked at high heat (up to 420 degrees Fahrenheit) without breaking down. The later pressings of olive oils contain more impurities that cause the olive oil to deteriorate at high temperatures, so you really want to use extra-virgin olive oil when it comes to cooking. I heard this first in California, and it was reiterated by a small organic producer in Israel.
So why the confusion? In the past, research on cooking with olive oil was murky because olive oil labeling is tricky business. Overseas olive oil producers have gotten into trouble for intentionally mislabeling olive oils as “extra-virgin” when they are not. Some “olive” oils have even been found to contain oils other than olive oil, like canola oil or worse.
Grocery stores today are full of extra-virgin olive oil—real or fake—that has gone rancid already, too. We sampled rancid oils side-by-side with California Olive Ranch varieties. I honestly didn’t recognize the rancid oils because they tasted like the olive oil I’d known for years, but California Olive Ranch’s products tasted undeniably better and more complex.
That’s why it’s so important to buy fresh olive oil from reputable suppliers. I pick domestic olive oil because we have regulations in place to prevent mislabeling. Plus, generally speaking, U.S. producers use more advanced modern technology that gets fresh olives into bottles more quickly. More tips? Pick bottles that are dark in color, which help block damaging light from reaching the oil inside, and store the bottle in a dark, cool cupboard with the lid securely fastened.
Goodness, I didn’t mean to go on an olive oil rant today, but here we are. All science aside, this salad is delicious! If you make it, will you please post a photo on Instagram and tag it #cookieandkate so I can go see it?
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch cubes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 small loaf (about ½ pound) crusty whole grain bread, sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons seeds, such as pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sesame seeds and/or sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 large bunch of Tuscan kale or regular curly kale, ribs removed and chopped into small, bite-sized pieces
- ⅔ cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 medium shallot (the whole bulb, papery skin removed), sliced super thin
- Preheat oven to 420 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the upper third and lower third of the oven. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper for easier cleanup (I used one large half-sheet for the butternut and a smaller quarter-sheet for the croutons).
- Roast the squash: On one of your lined baking sheets, toss the cubed butternut in enough olive oil to lightly coat all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange the butternut in a single layer. Roast on the lower third rack until the butternut is tender throughout and caramelized on the edges, about 35 to 40 minutes, tossing at the 20 minute mark when you add the croutons during step 4.
- Prepare the croutons: On your other baking sheet, combine the cubed bread with the seeds and salt. Drizzle on 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss to lightly coat the bread. Don't worry about trying to get the seeds to stick to the bread, just try to make sure they're lightly coated in oil. Arrange the mixture in a single layer so no croutons are on top of one another.
- Once you have tossed the butternut and placed it back on the lower rack, place the sheet of croutons on the upper rack. Toast the bread for 10 to 13 minutes, until the edges are golden. Remove the croutons from the oven and check the squash—it will probably need 5 to 10 more minutes before the edges are caramelized. Once the butternut is done, remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool.
- To prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together all of the ingredients until emulsified.
- To prepare the kale: Transfer the chopped kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Final assembly: Add the grated cheese, cranberries and shallot to the bowl. Drizzle enough dressing into the bowl to lightly coat the leaves (you might not need all of it), then toss to coat. Add the roasted butternut and croutons and gently toss to combine. Drizzle in extra dressing if the salad seems like it needs it. For best flavor, let the salad rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Make it dairy free/vegan: Skip the cheese. You might want to add some sliced kalamata olives to make up for the cheese's saltiness, or maybe add a dab of white miso to the dressing for some umami.
Make it nut free: Be sure your whole grain bread is nut free.
Change it up: Substitute sweet potato or another winter squash for the butternut. Try chopped pecans or walnuts instead of seeds. Substitute arugula or baby spinach for the kale (no need to massage it). Substitute fresh pomegranate arils for the dried cranberries. All delicious ideas!
Storage suggestions: This salad is best served promptly but keeps well overnight if you want to pack it for lunch the next day.
Disclaimer: My trip to California for the olive oil harvest was paid for by California Olive Ranch, but I’m writing about it because it was awesome!