There is a very short time of the year when eggplants, still firm and purple, thrive in the garden and on the market stalls with the orange squashes. They are not only complementary in colour but also, and above all, in flavour.
The smell of butternut squash baking in the oven is close to that of a cup of hot milk and honey that my mum would prepare for me in winter, when I was young and I had a sore throat. It cuddles and comforts.
Add the eggplants and you will have a sumptuous side dish which can only improve with the addition of wedges of red onion and a few sprigs of fresh herbs: rosemary and sage beautifully marry these vegetables for their resinous smell, which reminds that of Sunday roast.
Here we are in the early days of autumn. The butternut squash has already entered into the reassuring routine of this small country kitchen: cooked until it is dissolves in a soup, roasted with a shy grating of nutmeg, grilled and drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, tossed with Tuscan kale and whole grain pasta… Difficult to get bored, surely not now, surely not for at least a few months.
Last Friday, after a cooking class and a market tour, I was preparing everything for Saturday’s food writing workshop. In a chaotic kitchen, brimming with good intentions, I needed to cook something easy and nourishing, something that the following day I could carry around Florence, on the tramway, tightly closed in a container and outside of the fridge for a few hours.
Since I was a child the most obvious answer to these needs was the rice salad, one of the leitmotiv of the 80’s and of those carefree summers made of bikes and books. It was creatively dressed with cooked ham, boiled eggs, würstel, canned tuna, vegetables in oil or in vinegar, capers, spoons of thick mayonnaise… I dressed my rice salad with an autumn flair, changing the light colourful dress of a breezy summer with a burnt orange sweater and a purple scarf, a cosy protection in the cool early mornings.
A brown rice salad with an Autumn flair
The backbone of this salad is a blend of brown basmati and wild rice, which keeps the chewy al dente texture even after a few hours in the fridge. I added roasted butternut squash and eggplant, then olives, capers and chives. It is an autumn brown rice salad for your lunches in the office and for those evenings where you already know that you will be late and want to prepare something in advance. It suits also the lazy mood of those Autumn night made of couch and TV series, when you just have to choose what to watch, as the salad is already waiting for you.
You can eat it cold, as a proper rice salad, but it is definitely at its best when it is just warmish, as befits these early days of Autumn, or even quickly heated, stir fried in a pan until some grains of rice becomes crunchy. Yes, that’s definitely my favourite way of enjoying this salad.
It is a vegan and gluten free salad which can work as a first course or a main. Be creative with it, though, and use it as a blank canvas for your favourite Autumn brown rice salad: add sliced or crumbled hard-boiled eggs, a good canned tuna, a fresh pecorino cheese or a milky mozzarella, but even prosciutto crudo torn with your hands.
With the arrival of the pomegranate season you can also prepare a jeweled brown rice salad adding a shower of their tart ruby-red seeds.
Autumn brown rice salad
- 240 g of brown rice
- 350 g of butternut squash
- 1 medium eggplant
- Some sage leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of capers in vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of pitted olives
- Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Salt it generously and add the rice. Cook the rice according to the packaging directions. When the rice is al dente, cooked through but still slightly resistant to the bite, drain it and cool it under running water, then set it aside.
- Heat the oven to 200°C.
- Dice the butternut squash and the eggplant: try to cut them all of the same size, as to roast them faster and evenly.
- Spread butternut squash and eggplant into a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- In a small cutter chop all the herbs with garlic and black pepper, then add the salt and use this aromatic rub to season all the vegetables. Drizzle the vegetables with a few spoonfuls of extra virgin olive, then toss with your hands to evenly distribute the seasoning.
- Roast the vegetables in the hot oven for about 40 minutes, mixing them with a spoon once in a while, or until they are soft and golden, with caramelized edges.
- Take a large mixing bowl. Add the cold rice, the roasted butternut squash and eggplant, the capers, the olives and some finely chopped chives.
- Toss gently the salad with two wooden spoons until the brown rice is evenly dressed.
- You can eat the brown rice salad immediately, still warm from the freshly baked vegetables, or leave it in the fridge until you need it. It keeps perfectly for a day or two.
First of all I would like to know how do you change the rice salad according to the season. Do you cook it even when summer ends? Which are the ingredients that can not be missed?
- With your butternut squash you can prepare this chickpea soup which is a family favourite for the cold season.
- An interesting recipe which calls for butternut squash and eggplant is Ottolenghi‘s Roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, rich and sumptuous as all his recipes.
- On BBC Good Food you find a Zingy salmon & brown rice salad, the ideal combination of slow-releasing carbs, lean protein and heart-friendly fats.
- A seasonal recipe from The Kitchn: Chopped Brown Rice Salad with Grapes and Pecans.
- This looks so tasty: Brown Rice Salad with Spice-Roasted Carrots, Feta + Pine Nuts from My Darling Lemon Thyme