DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kabocha pumpkin, sweet potatoes and acorn squash bring the flavors and colors of fall to the Thanksgiving table.
The burnished shades of autumn deserve a place at every Thanksgiving table, with the sweet-nutty flavors they bring in the form of pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes. Without them, what have you got? A pretty pale plate: turkey (beige), potatoes (off-white), gravy, stuffing, buns (various shades of brown.) And need we mention -- beta-carotene! The cancer-fighting element prominent in orange veggies somewhat neutralizes the indulgences of the day. Here are few simple ways to enjoy the color orange, but since this is a time to flex your cooking muscles, find more complex dishes below.
If you kept your Halloween pumpkin refrigerated, good for you. If not, consider a kabocha, the Japanese pumpkin so widely available here.
To prepare: Cut in large chunks and steam or bake at 350 degrees until tender. Peel after cooking.
Seasonings: Salt and pepper are fine, but Asian flavorings of soy and mirin are good, too.
Easy fix: Serve in wedges, puree for pie filling, add in chunks to your post-Thanksgiving turkey soup.
Butternut or acorn are most common.
To prepare: The hardest part is cutting them up. A mallet and cleaver are the traditional tools, but you can also microwave or steam briefly to soften the rock-hard skin.
Seasonings: Butter and brown sugar are classic, or maple syrup
Easy fix: Cut squash in half. Brush with olive oil and bake, cut-side down, at 400 degrees, 40 to 50 minutes. Turn over and season, then return to oven long enough to get toasty.
Usually deep orange and moist, although there are many varieties. The closely related yam is less sweet, more moist.
Mash 'em: Peel and cube, then simmer in butter and cream until very soft, 35 to 40 minutes. Mash and season with salt.
Roast 'em: Scrub (don't peel) potatoes and cut into wedges. Toss with your choice of oil, plus salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. They can also be roasted whole for a unique baked potato.
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These side dishes will bring a pretty burnished orange to your Thanksgiving table as they complement the turkey in flavor.
All come together relatively simply, but expect to spend quite a bit of time peeling and cutting. You can do that the day before, though.
An apple-pie flavor plays wonderfully against the toasty taste of squash in this combination. Still, you can simplify this dish by just preparing the squash. If you do go with the apples, though, don't get distracted while cooking them. They burn quickly. This is experience talking. The dish is great for a buffet, as it is just as good at room temperature as hot.
Roasted Squash and Fried Apples
Food & Wine magazine
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 3-pound butternut or acorn squash or kabocha pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
2-1/2 pound tart, firm apples, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter.
In large bowl, toss squash with melted butter and dill. Season with salt and pepper; spread on large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast 30 minutes, turning once, or until browned and just tender.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Add half the apples in a single layer and cook over medium-high heat, turning once, until golden, about 5 minutes.
Add half the brown sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring gently, until apples are lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. Transfer apples to a plate. Wipe out skillet and repeat with remaining butter, apples, sugar and cinnamon.
Toss roasted squash with apples and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 16.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 150 calories, 8 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 1 g protein.
Asian flavors of sesame and mirin play off the pumpkin in this unique dish. It's a nice alternative to the usual sugary presentations for pumpkin and squash.
Kabocha and Cashews
Chef Peter Gordon, the Sugar Club, London
1 3-1/2 pound kabocha pumpkin, cut in wedges, pulp removed
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cups boiling water
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup chopped cashews
1/3 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1/3 cup lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place kabocha wedges in baking pan. Sprinkle with oil. Pour boiling water in pan around pumpkin. Bake, uncovered, 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make dressing: Grind together sesame seeds, sea salt and cashews (a coffee grinder works best). Place in a jar with mirin and lemon juice; shake to mix.
Cool pumpkin slightly, then peel and cut into chunks. Pour dressing over squash and season with salt and pepper. Serves 12.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 135 calories, 8 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrate, 3 g protein.
If the idea of Candied Sweet Potatoes has always meant canned yams run under the broiler with marshmallows on top, try this fresh alternative and prepare to be amazed.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
"Perfect Vegetables," Cook's Illustrated (Brookline, 2003, $29.95)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 medium sweet potatoes (about 3-3/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup packed light brown sugar (for deeper flavor use dark brown sugar)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
Melt butter in large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until tender, 45 to 55 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes.
Remove lid and bring to rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until sauce is reduced to a glaze, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 290 calories, 12 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 48 g. carbohydrate, 1.5 g protein.
» For marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, transfer cooked potatoes to an oven-proof casserole and top with mini-marshmallows. Broil 3 to 4 minutes, until marshmallows are brown.
» To add fruits and nuts, substitute 1/2 cup orange juice for the water in the recipe and add 1/3 cup dried cranberries, currants or chopped dried apricots. Just before serving, top with 1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped pecans.