Friday, November 11, 2011


I did a pretty good job of overcoming my slight resentment of main-dish salads this past summer; thanks to recipes like this, this, and this, we quite happily ate salad as an entrée almost once a week. As winter approaches, raw, cold meals become far less appealing, yet I don’t want to break this healthy Salad Night habit completely. I have a couple of warm salad recipes, but now I’m on the prowl for more. I have no idea what series of link-clickings led me to this one at For the Love of Cooking, but why even bother talking about that when we should be talking about how much this salad kicks ass? Yes, I just swore, albeit mildly, about a salad, on a blog that my mother reads. That’s how good it is. If I were talking to you about it in person, I might swear downright emphatically. WE $@*!ing LOVED THIS #&!% SALAD.

Really, this is quite similar to a recipe I already have, but served over spinach, with a balsamic Dijon vinaigrette and some cheese on top, additions I would have never thought to make. It manages to be simultaneously wholesome and hearty, with all the fresh and colorful appeal of a salad in a warm, filling, satisfying meal. The combination of vegetables is perfect; along with the expected onion, potatoes, and garlic, you get asparagus (which, sure, may not exactly be in season right now, but we all know how awesome it is when roasted), mushrooms (which I never think to roast but are great that way), and tomatoes (which I have a whole treatise on; see below). Although I usually roll my eyes when some online recipe commenter talks about how they added chicken to a perfectly good vegetarian dish to “make it a meal,” as though meals are somehow not complete without meat products, I gotta say that the savory, meaty sausage does really make this feel like a meal. The spinach wilts gently under all this caramelized, roasty goodness. The dressing adds moisture and a welcome zesty acidity, and the feta does its usual salty, creamy, fabulous thing. All that and it’s easy to throw together on a weeknight.

I made only minimal changes. I probably ended up using more vegetables than called for—I got greedy when picking out my mix of cute little potatoes, and I threw in the whole 8-ounce package of mushrooms and the entire bunch of asparagus because I didn’t want to get stuck with the orphaned vegetables. The original recipe called for 12 ounces of spinach, which, although it’s technically 4 servings according to the nutritional information on the package, is a tremendous quantity in its raw state; maybe my vegetables and sausage weren’t piping-hot enough to wilt the greens sufficiently when I put the salad together, but that amount of spinach wouldn’t have fit in any of my entrée bowls. I just eyeballed it, using one to two generous handfuls of spinach per serving, which probably came to more like 8 or even 6 ounces total.

I also used cherry tomatoes instead of the little on-the-vine ones used in the original recipe or the plum ones used in its Real Simple source. I’ve recently fallen in love with roasted cherry tomatoes (the maple syrup in the recipe I use sounds weird, but go with it! It adds a sweet smokiness without tasting anything like pancakes; I typically scarf them all straight off the baking sheet before I can manage to take a photo of them, which is why I haven’t posted the recipe yet), but of course the key to the ones I’m used to is letting them roast face-up, undisturbed, until they dry and wrinkle. Here, roasting the tomatoes with the other vegetables and tossing them periodically, they break down quite a bit, so their juices leak out and spread over the baking sheet, meaning that all the vegetables turned out much less crisp than I’d envisioned. I think this could be resolved by either (a) roasting the tomatoes ahead of time using my usual recipe (I’ve been meaning to try adding those to salads anyhow, if I can ever stop snacking on them) or (b) roasting the tomatoes at the same time as the other vegetables, but undisturbed on a second baking sheet, not to mention there’s always the option of (c) just using larger tomatoes as the original recipe does. I may give one of those methods a try in the near future just for kicks, but I don’t know if any changes are really necessary, because the recipe turned out so damn delicious just as I made it, and it’s certain to be a Salad Night staple for us throughout the winter.

UPDATE, 1/13: If the idea of out-of-season asparagus doesn't appeal, substitute a couple of handfuls of trimmed green beans, cut into 1-to-2-inch pieces. It's just as excellent.

1 cup cherry, grape, or plum tomatoes, halved
1 medium red onion, sliced into wedges
1 cup baby potatoes, halved, or quartered if larger (I used a mix of yellow, red, and purple)
1 cup mushrooms, quartered (I used cremini)
1 bunch (about 12 spears) asparagus, tough ends removed, remaining spears cut into 2-inch pieces
4 large cloves garlic, with skins left on
1 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 Italian sausages (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic and Herb Chicken Sausage, which I highly recommend)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coarse-grain Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
6 to 12 ounces fresh spinach
2 to 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the tomatoes, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and 4 whole unpeeled garlic cloves on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the asparagus and continue to roast for 10 minutes, or until the asparagus and potatoes are fork-tender.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, make the salad dressing by whisking the vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, mustard, water, and 1 small minced garlic clove together in a small bowl until emulsified, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Also while the vegetables are roasting, cook the sausages in a skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes or until done.

4. Once the veggies are out of the oven, carefully remove the skin from the garlic cloves and then slice the roasted garlic. Toss the warm vegetables (including the garlic) and sliced sausages with the spinach and dressing until evenly coated. Top with feta.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, if not yet mixed together. Store all the elements (roasted vegetables and sausage, spinach, dressing, and cheese) separately, and when you want to eat them, reheat the vegetables and sausage and then add to the spinach, dressing, and cheese.

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