Of all the seasons, I definitely think fall is the top contender for having the best potential salads. While summer also comes to mind, I think by the end of August we can all admit we are just a little tired of the classic tomato-corn combos. While it seems like there are only so many options in that department, I feel like the fall topping choices are plentiful and endless and that is sure to result in a salad that I know I'll be craving.
Like this butternut squash autumn salad! Autumn salads feel like the perfect opportunity to add all the flavors and textures a great salad needs. A good, bright, crunch (apples!), a little sweetness (dried cranberries aka craisins!), something savory (obviously bacon…!), cheese (again, obviously, and fall screams cheddar!), and finally a homemade dressing. With all these delicious and fresh flavors, every bite is sure to be a little different and bring a bottomless bowl of seasonal joy!
Roasting butternut squash is one of my favorite things to do in the fall because not only is it so easy, but I feel like butternut squash naturally has the best sweet and savory flavor that in my opinion it doesn't need any seasoning apart from a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. When grocery shopping I'm always drawn to the piles of different types of whole squash, but if it's available I usually try to purchase the partially peeled half of a butternut squash with the seeds removed. While the whole squash is undoubtedly cool and looks like it was grabbed straight from the patch, the pre-cut squash is definitely a great time saver. I like to chop the butternut squash into 1-inch cubes, and then it's all set to drizzle, sprinkle, and pop in a hot oven.
While baking, the bottom sides of the squash that are touching the pan will begin to caramelize, so make sure to toss partway through to ensure the squash becomes evenly golden. While that's roasting, we'll move along to making the SIMPLEST vinaigrette out there. Not kidding, while it may be a tough mental image, I have to stop myself from eating this dressing with a spoon, as it's really that good.
Our mom introduced me to this vinaigrette and while I typically think of a vinaigrette as olive oil plus some type of acid, it never occurred to me that mayo is one of the best options to use for the oil base. This dressing is as simple as combining mayo (any kind you like), honey, and sherry vinegar. I thought the honey was perfect in a recipe like this as I love how the subtle sweetness pairs perfectly with the other fall flavors in this salad like the apples, thyme, and cheddar. And sherry vinegar, my gosh, if you've never tried it go ahead and order yourself some right now. To me, it's less acidic than balsamic vinegar, which seems to allow its flavor to come through more. It's still acidic, definitely dry, and a bit nutty. Mixed with the mayo and honey, I swear this could be the best dressing I've ever had. Whisk it all up until it's smooth, creamy, and just perfect to drizzle.
Once the squash is roasted and the vinaigrette is whisked, it's as easy as putting it all together. For this salad recipe, mesclun seemed like the ideal option. With lots of toppings, some being crunchy, I love how the tender mesclun leaves have a soft enough bite while having enough flavor to stand up to all the other fall favorites in this salad. While you could certainly use romaine, or just arugula, or even kale, I think the smaller mesclun leaves are sometimes best for a salad that is packed like this one.
We'll first top it with the roasted squash, followed by the thinly sliced apple. I don't think there's any arguing that a thinly sliced apple on a salad just looks so pretty. That being said, I can see it being questioned whether it would be easier to eat if it was say, diced, but if you slice the apple thin enough I promise it's easy to grab in every bite.
Next we'll add on some chopped bacon. When I was younger and saw a recipe with chopped bacon I swear I would chop that bacon as if I was finely chopping an herb, until it was truly crumbled to bits. Over the years I've definitely learned that slightly larger pieces actually work great over a salad, and are still dispersed evenly enough as was my original goal. In my opinion, craisins were a must-have topping, as they are not only perfectly sweet, taste JUST like thanksgiving and fall, but also add a little necessary crunch. We'll also add some cheddar, cut into small cubes, for that ever-necessary cheesy finish that pairs perfectly with the other seasonal flavors.
Top this autumn beauty with some fresh thyme and pumpkin seeds if you like, drizzle with as much sherry vinaigrette as your heart desires, and enjoy every bite of this satisfying October salad.
A packed, satisfying, butternut squash autumn salad full of fall fresh flavors including apples, bacon, and more, drizzled with the simplest and most delicious 3-ingredient sherry vinaigrette.
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