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Holiday meal traditions, old and new…

squashLike most people in my family, I like to keep things traditional on the Thanksgiving table. Mom’s buttery mashed potatoes slathered with her homemade gravy, Grandma’s pumpkin pie baked in a 9×13 so we all can have a large piece, and Grandma’s cranberry jello that wobbles and shakes when gently nudged. Even the boxed stuffed and canned cranberry sauce I find endearing because it’s been a part of this day my entire life. But as I’ve grown older and realized that there is a world beyond stovetop and that you can actually make your own cranberry sauce and as much as I love my sweet potatoes mixed with brown sugar and covered with marshmallows, there are other ways of doing things and other ingredients that are begging to be included.

But, like I said, my family loves the tradition, so I try to only introduce one new dish a year, in hope that eventually they will allow me to completely riff on the traditional flavors in new and inventive ways. The last couple years, I’ve contributed something a bit lighter to balance out the marshmallows, butter and pie. And this year, I’m thinking of the same, while highlighting my favorite squash—delicata.

Delicata is a long, slender squash with yellow skin and green stripes running the length. It’s mild in flavor, easy to cut in to and doesn’t require a lot of cleaning before roasting. But you know my favorite part? You don’t have to peel it. After a long roast in a hot oven, the skin becomes tender and sweet and completely delicious. 

This year, I’m thinking of lopping of the stem, slicing the squash in half lengthwise, running a spoon down the middle to clean out the pulp and seeds, then cutting the squash in half in moons. I’ll brush those with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and rush out to the garden to grab a few sprigs of thyme to roast alongside. In the oven, those orange moons will soften, then blister and char. I could have sprinkled them with Parmesan just before going into the oven and served them warm just like that. But I’m thinking I’ll toss the cool, roasted squash pieces with some peppery greens—maybe even a bit of kale too—with a vinaigrette that is biting and fresh from lots of lemon juice. I’ll throw in some pomegranate arils for color and a sweet, tart pop, maybe some toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and perhaps some creamy feta for a salty bite and a bit of richness. 

It’s not traditional to the Thanksgiving table and yet it uses ingredients that are at their best right now. It whispers of tradition in the sense that it is loaded with familiar flavors and sits beautifully alongside the stuffing for those who are leery of new things.

by Ashley Rodriguez
food blogger