If I’m famous for anything in the kitchen, it’s my track record for that most heroic of tasks: Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a beast, but someone’s gotta do it. Best assign it to the person who once claimed ownership of a pre-Pinterest era Thanksgiving binder that housed every T-day recipe from Gourmet to Saveur, classified, naturally, in order of appearance, from cocktails to desserts.
That person would be me.
Last year I cooked two dinners – Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and American Thanksgiving in November. Twice I wrote out long lists ingredients to source; twice I stood on my feet for two days solid, peeling, mashing, squeezing, rubbing, brining and basting until I gave myself a simultaneous episode of tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. Twice I had that foreboding sense that I might not make it to the finish line. Twice I managed to pull it off, poured myself an immense glass of red, and melted, silently, into my leather-backed chair between cheerful dining companions.
This year, we travel. It’s the least we can do – to share our part of the responsibility of getting one’s family, preferably intact, to a home that’s not our own. To brave the two busiest travel days of the year, crossing fingers for no delays, no lost baggage, and most important – no issues with the in-flight wine supply.
But that’s how it goes. You can’t always be the ones to stay at home. To sit back and put your feet up on the sofa, enveloped in the comfort of candlelight and your Frank Sinatra Pandora station, while others brave trains, planes and automobiles to land in this exact place.
But a travel year doesn’t mean that you have to put your excitement about Thanksgiving dishes on hold. There should be a law – let’s call it Jessica’s Law because nobody will pronounce my last name correctly, which could be summarized by the following equation:
TH Factor = (TMT-DTD)/3.14TMT2
In layman’s terms, your TH factor (that’s your Thanksgiving Hunger factor) = (Thanksgiving Miles Traveled – Days until Thanksgiving Dinner), divided by (Pie x Thanksgiving Miles Traveled) squared.
It just made sense to have pie in the equation – make it pecan, pumpkin, it doesn’t really matter.
The gist is that the closer you get to Thanksgiving, and the farther you have to travel, the hungrier you are for these kinds of foods at home.
Lately, my TH Factor has been stratospheric. And it doesn’t help that I’ve found a favorite new squash.
OK, maybe I haven’t found a favorite new squash. Everyone, their brothers, their uncles, and their kids’ elementary school teachers have discovered it this year. That would be delicata. Do you hear the angels sing when I mention the name?
Not only does the name “delicata” conjure loveliness on its own, but it also follows up its name with a silky, almost custard-like texture that will have you questioning whether you’re eating dinner or dessert. And I’m saving the best part for last….you don’t have to peel the skin.
I’ve fallen in love. Completely, madly, back-breakingly. I can’t visit my local farmer’s market, the Union Square Greenmarket in New York, without buying far more delicata than I can carry home. And then I look longingly at the knobby blue Hubbards and wonder….”perhaps I can tether more squash to my torso with ropes and some kitchen twine?”
It’s an illness. Fall does that to me. The colors, the textures, the unfettered promise of slow roasts and garlic-perfumed air. And let’s not forget about the supporting players that are starting to emerge from their annual hibernation – the pomegranates, the Meyer lemons and other Winter citrus.
It was with this abundance of produce in hand that I headed home from the farmer’s market with visions of a Thanksgiving-inspired lunch. So often we (me included) keep Thanksgiving ingredients and dishes sacred.
If you don’t believe me, please answer the following questions:
- How often do you eat stuffing for dinner? (always, sometimes, never)
- Do you like to pair sage and cranberry on the same plate? (always, sometimes, never)
- How often do you finish a rib-bending meal with pecan pie? (always, sometimes, never)
If you answered “never” at least once, please include yourself in the category that I’m henceforth calling “The Thanksgiving purist”. While you love Thanksgiving, you tend to save these flavors, moments and ingredient combinations for the big day and frown upon those who choose to do otherwise.
Fortunately I have a little something for you. It’s kind of a salad, kind of a Thanksgiving side dish, but it’s really so much more.
Yes, you can save this dish for Thanksgiving….it’ll pair well with the stuffing and the Brussels sprouts. It’s sweet, smoky, tangy, and has plenty of different textures – from the silky squash, to the crunchy pumpkin and pomegranate seeds. You can eat it warm, or you can leave it at room temp making it perfect as a make-ahead dish that’ll help alleviate any game-time Thanksgiving angst.
Or you can eat it now…armed with your bounty of Winter squash from the farmer’s market. There’s no better dish to celebrate the glory that is Fall.
It will carry you over into the Winter months as well. The Meyer lemons and pomegranate make it perfect for holiday dinners in December. And its simplicity makes it useful when you’re low on time amidst the gift-giving-tree-gawking-Rockette-sit-throughing that defines the end of the year. Or whatever shape your end of year tends to take.
The squash starts off with a roast in the oven with a touch of brown sugar and some Ancho chili powder to balance the sweetness. Seeds and herby things are then added for flavor and texture. Finally, the dish gets an unexpected twist that brings all of those contrasting flavors and textures together: a creamy Meyer lemon vinaigrette.
The dressing’s creaminess comes from Quark, which is a tangy cheese that has the texture of a heavy whipped cream. I use Vermont Creamery’s Quark, which you can find in places like Whole Foods and specialty food stores. If you’ve never tried Quark, I recommend giving it a try – not only is it delicious for dressings, but it can also be used it in place of crème fraiche to top smoked salmon, or as a substitute for sour cream when you’re making Mexican-inspired dishes. If you don’t have Quark on hand, I will not report you to the police. Just swap an equal amount of sour cream, or even crumbled goat cheese, into the dressing instead.
What may get you a police report is an outright refusal to at least give this dish a chance. There aren’t often days when a dish is so darn good that it makes me spring to my feet to jot down the recipe, moaning silently as I continue to chew from a standing position, pen held mid-air. That was this dish. It was perfect the moment that I plated it. It made for delicious leftovers. And it blinded me – even for just a few minutes – to the fact that I won’t be cooking it alongside a Thanksgiving turkey this year.
But sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Or the pie crust. Pecan, pumpkin, it doesn’t really matter.
Happy November everyone.
Recipe created in partnership with our friends at Vermont Creamery who supplied the quark for this post.
- 3 delicata squash
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- ¾ teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons quark (such as Vermont Creamery)
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice (about half a lemon, juiced)
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A few sprigs of cilantro
- Scrub the squash, making sure that no dirt remains, and then slice them lengthways.
- Using a spoon, scrape out the squash seeds and discard (or save to make roasted squash seeds, which you can either use here in place of the pumpkin seeds, or use for another purpose).
- Slice the squash crosswise, and then place in a single layer on a baking sheet that’s been covered with parchment paper.
- Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil so that the pieces are all well-coated in oil, and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
- Roast the squash for 30 minutes.
- While the squash is roasting, stir together the Ancho chili powder and brown sugar in a small bowl. I like to add the brown sugar mixture during the second half of the roasting process so that the sugar doesn’t burn.
- Remove the squash from the oven, and then flip the slices. Sprinkle the squash with the brown sugar/Ancho chili blend, and then place back in the oven for another 30 minutes. The squash, when done, should be golden and tender but not falling apart.
- While the squash is roasting, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together the quark and lemon juice, and then slowly add the olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The dressing should be of nice dropping consistency – if it’s too thick, add a little more lemon juice. If your lemons are quite tart, you can always add a drop of honey or two to sweeten things up.
- This dish is wonderful served warm as well as room temp. If serving room temp, roast the squash, and keep the ingredients separate, adding the seeds, vinaigrette, and cilantro right before serving.