Is there anything better to eat in the summer than a salad made with ripe, sweet tomatoes, handfuls of fragrant, aniseedy basil and good quality creamy mozzarella? It is perfect alongside hunks of rich olive oil focaccia as an al fresco lunch. As the days shorten and autumn rolls into winter it is impossible to get delicious tomatoes. Our homegrown tomatoes are long gone and the supermarkets have reverted to selling the watery ones that are available out of season.
If you get hold of good quality mozzarella it seems a shame to cook it (except perhaps on top of a wood-fired pizza) so I developed this mozzarella salad for the winter months; it is a celebration of the flavours of autumn – the sweet, nuttiness of roasted squash and creamy, crunchy hazelnuts paired with the soft, lactic acidity the mozzarella. I still love to serve salads throughout the winter, they add a bright freshness to slow-cooked meats or alongside rich cheesy, vegetable bakes.
Serves 8 as part of a sharing meal
1 butternut squash
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
30ml olive oil for roasting
225g mozzarella, I like to use a good quality mozzarella like Toonsbridge or sometimes we make our own mozzarella (which is easier than you think)
10g thyme (leaves picked off the stems)
Salt and pepper
30ml good quality extra virgin olive oil or Broighter Gold lemon rapeseed oil
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Roast the hazelnuts for 10 to 15 minutes until just turning golden brown. Allow to cool and then roughly chop, you want big chunks for a bit of texture.
Turn the oven up to 200°C. Wash the butternut squash and peel if the skin is very thick or hard. If the skin is quite thin I like to leave it on. Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into large chunks (2.5cm wide). I like to cut it into large semi-circles.
Put the butternut squash on a baking tray and drizzle over the regular olive oil, sprinkle with smoked paprika, coriander seeds, ½ the thyme leaves and salt and pepper. Toss well to ensure the squash is covered in the seasoning and then roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until soft and starting to crisp at the edges. Allow the squash to cool to room temperature.
Tear the mozzarella and arrange on a platter with the butternut squash. Dress with extra virgin olive oil or lemon oil. Sprinkle over the remaining thyme leaves, roasted hazelnuts and a generous sprinkle of Maldon sea salt.