Warm Pumpkin Salad with Candied Pumpkin Seeds and Polenta

Active time: 1 3/4 hr
Start to finish: 5 hr

6 servings

Ingredients:

• 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (not coarse)
• 7 1/2 cups water
• 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
• 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
• 1/2 cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
• 1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate juice (see cooks’ note, below) or cranberry juice cocktail
• 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
• 1 tablespoon minced shallot
• 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 small cheese pumpkin or butternut squash (2 lb), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and seeded
• 1 (6-oz) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano
• 8 oz arugula, trimmed

Preparation:

Prepare polenta:
Bring cornmeal, water, and 2 1/4 teaspoons salt to a boil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until polenta is creamy and tender, about 50 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in 11/2 tablespoons butter and cool slightly.

Spoon polenta onto center of a lightly buttered large baking sheet, then spread evenly into a 10- by 7-inch rectangle (about 1/2 inch thick). Cover with plastic wrap, then poke several holes in wrap with a small sharp knife and chill 2 hours.

Candy pumpkin seeds:
Melt remaining tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in sugar, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, then cook, without stirring, until caramelized. Add pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until seeds are puffed and golden. Transfer to a plate to cool. When seeds have hardened, break up any clumps with your fingers.

Make vinaigrette:
Whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, and shallot and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.

Roast pumpkin:
Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut pumpkin quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper to taste in a shallow baking pan and arrange slices in 1 layer. Roast in middle of oven until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then cover with foil to keep warm.

Fry polenta while pumpkin roasts:
Trim polenta into a 9- by 6-inch rectangle. Cut polenta into 6 (3-inch) squares, then halve each square diagonally. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet until hot but not smoking, then cook polenta in 2 batches, turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes (if necessary, use remaining tablespoon oil for second batch).Transfer as cooked to a plate and keep warm, covered.

Assemble salad:
Shave 12 strips from cheese with a vegetable peeler. Whisk vinaigrette, then toss arugula in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Place several pieces of pumpkin and 1 piece of polenta on each of 6 plates. Top with arugula, more pumpkin, and remaining polenta. Sprinkle with candied pumpkin seeds and top with parmesan shavings, then drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.

Tips:

• Polenta, spread on baking sheet and not yet fried, can be chilled up to 1 day.

• Candied pumpkin seeds can be prepared 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

• To juice a pomegranate, firmly roll it on a work surface until it feels softer, then cut a small hole in skin and squeeze.