No matter how delicious a Caesar salad is, chilly temperatures tend to be a turnoff for all things leafy green.
Which is why I decided to tinker with the basics of this classic salad, to see whether I could make a winter-friendly version that was true to its tangy, cheesy roots, but also hardy enough to be desirable on a snowy night.
I kept the classic Romaine base, but bulked it up with roasted cubes of butternut squash. Warm and substantial, butternut is the perfect base for a robust Caesar dressing. Add to that some freshly made croutons (the oven is already on for the squash, so why not?) and it's a perfect vegetarian dinner.
Want to make it more substantial? No need to dirty a pan. Slice some boneless, skinless chicken breasts into thin strips, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder, toss them on the baking sheet with the croutons and squash for the last 20 minutes of baking, then cut them into chunks and toss with the salad.
BUTTERNUT CAESAR SALAD
Start to finish: 40 minutes
For the squash:
20-ounces peeled and cubed butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
For the croutons:
10 ounces rustic bread, cut into croutons (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
2 heads Romaine lettuce, chopped
Heat the oven to 400F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the squash with the oil, tossing to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then transfer to one half of the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the bread cubes in the same bowl, then drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat evenly. Season lightly with salt, pepper and the garlic powder. Set aside.
To make the dressing, in a blender, combine the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, Dijon, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
After the squash has roasted for 10 minutes, add the bread to the other half of the baking sheet. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove the squash and bread from the oven and set aside to cool until still warm, but not hot.
Set the Romaine in a large bowl, then drizzle with a bit of the dressing and toss well. Divide between 4 serving plates. Top each serving with squash and croutons, then drizzle with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle each serving with some of the remaining Parmesan.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 670 calories; 380 calories from fat (57 percent of total calories); 42 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 57 g carbohydrate; 17 g protein; 9 g fiber; 1,050 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.