Squash is the ultimate Thanksgiving food, not turkey. So says Chris Kimball, host of the PBS show America's Test Kitchen.
"Of all the things they served in that first Thanksgiving, there might not have been turkey," Kimball says. Early revelers may have dined on small birds or venison. "The one thing we know they did have was squash. So, if you want to go back to the first Thanksgiving, this is the item to start with."
Kimball joined NPR's Renee Montagne in her kitchen to whip up some recipes featuring members of the squash family. On the menu: mashed butternut squash, barley risotto with squash, and a maple-pumpkin stack cake.
Some require tools like knives and wooden mallets. Others are more simple. All require squash. The results are un-beet-able.
Barley Risotto With Roasted Butternut Squash
Pearl barley is widely available in supermarkets. Because the bran has been removed from the outside of the grain, the exposed starchy interior helps to create a supple, velvety sauce when simmered.
Makes 8 servings
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds) peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and spread it out over the prepared baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover to keep warm.
Combine the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and the onion in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the barley, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth and half of the roasted squash. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 22 to 25 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups of the warm broth and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 15 to 18 minutes longer.
Continue to cook the risotto, stirring often and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth at a time as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 4 minutes), until the grains of barley are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Remove it from the heat and stir in the remaining roasted squash, Parmesan, butter, sage, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Mashed Butternut Squash
Soupy, fibrous, washed out. Winter squash gets called all sorts of names. In this recipe by Nick Iverson, cubing the raw squash cuts through the fibers, making them vanish into the finished dish. Roasting at high heat evaporates extra moisture and concentrates the squash's flavor and sweetness.
Makes 8 servings
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded (2 cups)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine squash, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in bowl. Spread squash in an even layer on prepared sheet. Roast until squash is tender and starting to brown, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.
Meanwhile, melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add apples, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, covered, until apples are soft, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until apples and onion are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside while squash finishes roasting.
Add squash and maple syrup to pot. Mash with potato masher until mostly smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Butternut Squash Soup With Fried Leeks
Forget cream and spices — the secret to squashier squash soup is concentration. Do not use pre-peeled squash in this recipe. If you use a blender to puree the soup, fill the jar no more than two-thirds full and process in batches. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. Serve with sour cream and fried leeks. The soup can be made up to two days in advance. Recipe by Adam Ried.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 7 cups)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, quartered lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly (about 1 1/2 cups)
Salt and pepper
4 cups vegetable broth, or low-sodium chicken broth
1 to 2 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne pepper
Place squash in bowl. Cover and microwave until paring knife glides easily through the flesh, 14 to 18 minutes, stirring halfway through. Carefully transfer squash to colander set in bowl (squash will be very hot) and drain for 5 minutes; reserve the liquid.
Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add squash, leek, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash pieces begin to break down and brown fond forms in bottom of pot, 10 to 13 minutes.
Add 2 cups broth and scrape bottom of pot to loosen and dissolve fond. Add remaining 2 cups broth, reserved squash liquid, 1 cup water, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and cayenne. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are fully tender, 6 to 7 minutes.
Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Working in batches, process soup in blender until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Return soup to clean pot and bring to simmer, thinning with up to 1 cup water to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with dollop of sour cream.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced into very thin 2-inch-long strips, washed thoroughly, and dried
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Toss leeks, flour, and pinch each salt and pepper in medium bowl. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add half of leeks and fry, stirring often, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer leeks to plate lined with paper towel; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Repeat with remaining leeks.
Butternut Squash Galette With Gruyère
To increase the flavor of the crust and keep it tender, this recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated swaps out part of the white flour for nutty whole wheat, and uses butter instead of shortening. A series of folds create interlocking layers, punching up the crust's flaky texture. An equal amount of rye flour can be substituted for the whole-wheat flour. Cutting a few small holes in the dough, using a plastic drinking straw or a paring knife, helps to prevent the dough from rising off the pan as it bakes.
Makes 6 servings.
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
7 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar
6 ounces baby spinach
1 1/4 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 teaspoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
3 ounces gruyère cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Pulse flours, sugar and salt in food processor until combined, 2 to 3 pulses. Add butter and pulse until butter is cut into pea-sized pieces, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
Sprinkle water and vinegar over mixture. With rubber spatula, fold mixture until a loose, shaggy mass forms with some dry flour remaining. Do not overwork. Transfer mixture to center of large sheet of plastic wrap, press gently into rough 4-inch square and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Roll into 11-inch by 8-inch rectangle with short side of rectangle parallel to work surface. Using bench scraper, bring bottom third of dough up, then fold upper third over it, folding like a business letter into 8-inch by 4-inch rectangle. Turn dough counterclockwise 90 degrees.
Roll out dough again, perpendicular to edge of work surface, into 11-inch by 8-inch rectangle, and fold into thirds. Turn dough 90 degrees counterclockwise and repeat rolling and folding into thirds again. After last fold, fold dough in half to create 4-inch square. Press top of dough gently to seal. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to two days.
Place spinach and 1/4 cup water in large microwave-safe bowl. Cover bowl with large dinner plate (plate should completely cover bowl and not rest on spinach). Microwave on high power until spinach is wilted and decreased in volume by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Using potholders, remove bowl from microwave and keep covered for 1 minute.
Carefully remove plate and transfer spinach to colander set in sink. Using back of rubber spatula, gently press spinach against colander to release excess liquid. Transfer spinach to cutting board and roughly chop. Return spinach to colander and press again with rubber spatula; set aside. Add squash to now-empty bowl, cover with plate, and microwave until just tender, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and oregano, cover, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are tender and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and add onion mixture to squash along with spinach, cheese, crème fraîche, and vinegar, and stir gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position, place pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. Roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 14-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Trim edges as needed to form a rough circle. Transfer dough to parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With plastic drinking straw or tip of paring knife, cut five 1/4-inch circles in dough (one at center, and four evenly-spaced midway from center to edge of dough). Brush top of dough with 1 teaspoon olive oil.
Spread filling evenly over dough, leaving two-inch border around edge. Drizzle remaining teaspoon olive oil over filling. Carefully grasp one edge of dough and fold up outer 2 inches over filling. Repeat around circumference of tart, overlapping dough every 2 to 3 inches; gently pinch pleated dough to secure, but do not press dough into filling. Brush dough with egg and sprinkle evenly with kosher salt.
Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is beginning to brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool tart on baking sheet on wire rack for 10 minutes. Using offset or wide metal spatula, loosen tart from parchment and carefully slide tart off parchment onto cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley, cut into wedges and serve.
To rescue the usual pumpkin bread recipe from mediocrity, this recipe by Lan Lam starts by kicking the canned flavor. The best pumpkin bread needs to begin with the best pumpkin puree, which must be made from scratch. Sprinkled on just before baking, a simple streusel — or candied ginger — gives sweet crunch to each slice and prevents the surface of the loaf from getting soggy when stored overnight.
Makes 2 loaves
5 tablespoons packed (2 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces
4 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2-inch by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda together in bowl.
Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.
Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK). Fold walnuts into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf.
Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let breads cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature. For candied ginger topping, substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger for cinnamon in topping. Fold 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger into batter after flour mixture has been added.
Maple-Pumpkin Stack Cake
Why stop at two layers? Spice up your holiday table this year with four layers of moist, tender pumpkin cake, sandwiched with maple cream.
Makes 1 cake
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper. Grease parchment and flour pans.
Whisk flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat sugar, butter, and eggs on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add pumpkin, and mix until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until only few small flour streaks remain, about 30 seconds.
Spread one-fourth of batter (about 1 cup) in even layer in each prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert each cake onto large plate, peel off parchment, and invert again onto lightly greased rack. Cool completely. Reprep pans and repeat with remaining batter.
Using dry, clean bowl and whisk attachment, whip cream and maple syrup together on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Place 1 cake layer on cake plate or pedestal, then spread one-fourth of whipped cream (scant cup) evenly over top. Repeat with remaining cake layers and whipped cream. Sprinkle pecans on top and serve.
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