Winter Crunch Pasta Salad
Alright alright. We all know that if we’re talking about tomatoes and corn then summer is where it’s at when it comes to produce. But, don’t sleep on winter fruits and veggies. There are plenty of delicious reasons to not completely give up on the produce section this time of year.
You know I’m always honest with you all so I’ll say up front that this recipe involves one very annoying step: peeling and cubing an acorn squash. It takes like 15 minutes and is beyond frustrating. But, after that the recipe isn’t too hard to make.
You could serve my winter crunch pasta salad as a side dish or make a meal of it without too much problem (we did at the Macheesmo house). The “crunch” in the recipe comes not only from a little crispiness on the squash and sprouts, but also the handfuls of pomegranate and pecans.
1) For dressing, whisk together all ingredients and set aside. You might not want all the dressing. Add it slowly.
2) Cook pasta according to package. When done, drain pasta rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
3) Peel acorn squash with a paring knife (careful) and chop squash into 1/2-inch cubes. I medium squash should yield roughly 3 cups of chopped squash. Also, shred 2-3 cups of brussels sprouts.
4) Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and cooking, stirring occasionally, until cubes are slightly browned in spots and tender, 8-10 minutes. Add shredded sprouts and cook for another 3-4 minutes until they are bright green. Season squash mixture with salt and pepper.
5) Toast pecans in a dry skillet over low heat until they are fragrant. Seed pomegranate (I like to do this in a bowl of water to prevent the seeds from going everywhere. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl.)
6) Add cooked pasta to a large bowl and stir in squash mixture. Toss with cranberries, pecans, pomegranate, and dressing to taste. Season pasta salad with salt and pepper.
Pasta salad can be served at room temperature or cold.
Winter Crunch Pasta Salad
The Hard Part
Let’s get this out of the way. The squash is a pain in the gourds. For easier prep, you could roast the squash and then spoon it into the pasta salad, but I wanted defined cubes of slightly caramelized squash and not mush.
The best tool to peel a hard gourd like this is a big chef knife to chop off the ends of the gourd, chop it in half, and then cut it into even segments.
Once the squash is in segments, I like to use a small paring knife to peel off the hard skin and scoop out the seeds.
Then you can just cube the squash flesh into about 1/2-inch cubes. It’s a fair amount of work, honestly, but put on some tunes and get it done. It’s worth it knowing how to break down a gourd.
In easier waters, chop some clean brussels sprouts into shreds.
Cooking the Pieces
Okay. Time to cook. Add a good drizzle (2-3 tablespoons) of olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the squash. Cook the squash, stirring occasionally, until it’s browned in parts and tender. You want some color on the squash for sure.
Then toss in the shredded sprouts and continue to cook until they are bright green, another few minutes.
Here’s my finished squash mix which would be a great side dish on its own actually.
Speaking of cooking, you’ll also want to cook the pasta. I used a tiny round pasta but almost any small pasta would work great here!
Once it’s cooked, drain it and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking.
There are three add-ins to this salad that really make it awesome: Dried cranberries, pecans, and pomegranate seeds. You can just stir in the cranberries, but I recommend lightly toasting the pecans in a dry skillet over low heat until they are fragrant.
And the best way to seed a pomegranate is in a bowl of water! Just break up the fruit and the delicious seeds will sink to the bottom. Then you can scoop off the white pith part and drain the water.
Then just stir everything together! I included a recipe for a quick apple cider dressing that’s really good with these flavors. Just whisk it all together and sprinkle it over the salad to taste. You might not need or want all the dressing so start slow with it.
Season with salt and pepper and you’re all set.
This salad is really great at room temperature right after you make it but it’s also excellent cold. I actually kind of liked it better cold after the flavors mingled in the fridge for a bit.
Okay, there are some annoying steps in this recipe, but the flavors are really good. It’ll make you forget about how cold and crappy it is outside!
What do you think? Worth the work or what?