Recipe: Baby Spinach with Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts
Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she finds the sweet spot in some hearty spinach that’s endured this wild winter right along with us.
Sometime during the weekend, Joey and I leave the kids to their own devices and take a big walk. Usually we walk down the hill towards Main Street in Great Barrington and turn off at the railroad tracks. We follow the tracks until they lead us to the cemetery across from the fairgrounds, and then we walk through the cemetery to the supermarket to pick up a few groceries we used as an excuse for the walk in the first place. These walks have been the first time I’ve really spent time in that cemetery, and it’s become one of my favorite places in Great Barrington. The view of the mountain over the fairgrounds surprises me every time, and watching it change with each month has helped me get through this long, cold winter. The hills never look quite real, and the weight and texture of it all feels soft and painted.
Last weekend, we walked in sweaters. The temperature hovered right around 35 degrees, but the sun was warm on the back of my legs. I’d forgotten the feeling of it. We haven’t gone anywhere warm this winter (every year we say we’ll do it, but we never seem to be able to make it happen), and my Instagram and Facebook feeds have made me feel like we’re the only ones who haven’t escaped to Mexico or Florida. But this weekend, with that quiet warmth on my legs, I felt grateful for the ability to feel the baby steps of the seasons. It was the contrast that made it feel so sweet. Only a winter like the one we’ve been through could make me so happy for a little bit of spring sun.
Of course, there’s still time before the ground thaws and begins to grow. The farmers’ markets are a few months off, but if you know the right people, you can find yourself with real, fresh greens. A few weeks back, my friends Jen and Pete brought over a bag of spinach so sweet, it outshined the cake I’d made for dessert. Pete explained that it was the extreme cold that made it so sweet. Those tender leaves had to fight to grow, and that process made it taste so much better.
If you can, search out some good, local spinach for this salad—leaves that have pushed and fought through this cold winter. We’re almost there, and hopefully, we’ll all emerge sweeter and stronger. Soon, soon.
Baby Spinach with Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts
Serves 3-4 as a side, or 2 as a main dish
1 small head cauliflower
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/3 cup hazelnuts
4 ounces baby spinach
3 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the cauliflower into small florets, and toss it with the olive oil and a heavy pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast until the edges of each floret are brown and crispy, 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F.
2. Transfer the cauliflower to a cutting board, and lay the hazelnuts out on the baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the kitchen smells like hazelnuts when you open the oven. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly.
3. You can remove the skins from the hazelnuts if you like, or you can leave them intact—it’s a matter of preference and time. To remove the skins, transfer the hazelnuts to a clean dishtowel, fold the towel over the nuts, and rub them back and forth. Whether you skin them or not, roughly chop the nuts. Separate 2 cups of the cauliflower out, reserving the rest for another meal. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and combine it with the nuts and spinach in a serving bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the top of the greens.
4. Make the dressing: Heat the walnut oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, and allow to cook until it softens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Pour the warm dressing over the salad, and toss to combine. Taste a leaf, and adjust salt if necessary.