As far as culinary trends go, preserved foods like pickles continue to top the list. Perhaps the enduring popularity of the pickled-everything fad can be attributed to the fact that it’s not really a fad at all: The practice dates back thousands of years.

For acclaimed chef Kelly Liken of Harvest by Kelly Liken in Edwards (and the now-closed Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail), pickling has long been a part of her life, with her grandparents teaching her the technique when she was a kid. “We would pickle everything,” she says. “Pickles are my favorite food in the whole world. [Pickling] is something I’ve always incorporated into cuisine and menus.”

And while many home cooks might not think to pickle butternut squash, her fantastic recipe is likely to change that. Liken balances the bracing crunch and sweetness of the lightly spiced squash pickle with peppery arugula, a bit of crisped pancetta, and a drizzle of aged balsamic. It’s just the dish to balance out all of the rich fare on the holiday table this year.

Pickled Butternut Salad with Arugula, Crisp Pancetta and Aged Balsamic (Serves 6)

1 small squash or pumpkin; peeled, seeded, and sliced lengthwise 1/8″ thick

1 cup cider vinegar

½ cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

3 cups water

3 cups arugula

6 strips of thinly sliced pancetta, crisped in a 350° oven for 5–10 minutes

2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

olive oil

salt and pepper

In a medium sauce pot, combine the cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, and all the spices. Bring to a boil. Place the squash or pumpkin in a large, heatproof bowl and pour boiling liquid over it. Let sit for a few hours or overnight.

When the pickled squash is ready, place the arugula and pumpkin in a bowl and dress lightly with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

For each salad, arrange a bit of the arugula and pumpkin on a plate, then top with the one strip of the crisp pancetta and drizzle lightly with the aged balsamic vinegar.

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.