Years ago my family stopped being nuclear and evolved into an extended and very eclectic family of friends. My Thanksgiving dinners have evolved too, from the traditional menu of my childhood to the wondrous offerings of many cooks who come together yearly, each bringing a different dish, to form a collective feast.
In this way Thanksgiving has become the ultimate pot luck dinner, a fabulous array of the “best of” each cook. We enjoy innovations of the traditional themes – stuffing, cranberry sauce, side dishes, pies – that always seem to embody the originality and generosity of the makers. Favorite dishes are requested the following Thanksgiving, to become a newly time-honored custom.
Purees using the season’s produce – chestnuts, winter squashes, and root vegetables like celery root and turnips – make appealing plays on the classic Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. Their velvety texture and rich, spicy flavors seems to unify the other elements of the feast. These purees are also unexpectedly virtuous – requiring minimal enrichment of cream or butter due to their naturally creamy textures.
Throughout the cooler months, these purees are also great accompaniments to simple roasted meats and poultry such as pork, lamb, venison and chicken, and game birds like duck and quail. All can be doubled or tripled to serve more, and can be made up to 2 days in advance. Reheat them in a double boiler, adding a little chicken broth, water or cream to thin them if necessary.
Recipe: Spiced Winter Squash Puree with Roasted Garlic
This fragrant puree makes a delicious departure from the usual sweet potato and pumpkin side dishes. Roasting concentrates the flavor of winter squashes like butternut or kabocha and renders their flesh creamy when pureed. The squash-and-roasted-garlic puree is delicious as is, or flavored with exotic spice mixtures such as garam masala or the Tunisian Spice Mix, below.
4 servings, about 2 cups
2 1/2 pounds winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 head garlic
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or 2 tablelspoons heavy cream or to taste
3/4 teaspoon salt
Tunisian Spice Mix (optional)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway seed
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
To roast the squash for pureeing: Preheat the oven to 350′. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Brush lightly with olive oil and place cut-side-down on a heavy baking sheet. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water onto the pan. Pull the loose papery skin off the garlic, keeping the head intact, and wrap it in a sheet of foil. Place the baking sheet and the foil packet in the oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes, until the squash is puree tender and the garlic gives when the package is pressed. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.
With a spoon, scoop the flesh out of the squash into the bowl of a food processor. Separate the garlic cloves and squeeze the soft pulp into the work bowl. Process the mixture to a fine puree, then add the butter or cream and salt to taste.
To make the Tunisian Spice Mix, combine the spices in a small bowl. Add half the spice mix to the puree, then taste, adding more spice if desired and fresh lemon juice to lift the flavors. Adjust the seasoning. Keep the puree warm in a bain marie until ready to serve.