Stuffing has always perplexed me. By definition, shouldn’t it be inside of something? The dictionary uses ambiguous terms, like “material used to fill,” be it cotton batting inside a teddy bear or beans inside a burrito. Please explain to me why, then, when Thanksgiving rolls around, we lose all sense of spacial relationships and present so-called stuffing as a standalone, completely exposed side dish?
Granted, I never grew up with the stuff, so my confusion stems from inexperience. My family was never much for casseroles or any sort of hotdish to begin with, which is why our festive holiday table followed suit. Separate rolls, roasted vegetables, and plenty of gravy their own distinct dishes? Of course. Combined together? On the plate, sure, but not in the oven.
Devotees might be aghast at my unstuffed childhood, but I actually consider it advantageous in my later years, as I have no frame of reference to constrain my reckless creativity. That’s why I connected the dots between stuffing and… Cheeseburgers.
Before you click away in horror, hear me out. This is no White Castle fast food abomination, but a humble celebration of Americana. You’ve got your classic aromatics and seasonings, enriched with meatless grounds for protein, and bulked up with a bit of bread. Beefy broth soaks in to bind it all together, and a quick sprinkle of cheese on top seals the deal. Now, that doesn’t sound so crazy, does it?
The end results are a little bit Thanksgiving, a little bit backyard BBQ, and 100% comfort food. It’s a dish you could serve as a side for your grand feast, or simply make as the main feature any day of the week. If you had to go and put a dab of ketchup and a pickle on top, well… Who am I to judge?
No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a pumpkin pie on the menu. Over 50 million of the crusted custards meet their demise on this fateful day, despite the fact that the pilgrims didn’t serve a single slice at the first harvest celebration. Somehow, the American love affair with the warmly spiced, sweet and simple pastry blossomed into an obsession spanning the generations. Everyone has a secret recipe that their grandma made, or a special twist that no one can replicate.
My enthusiasm for pumpkin pie is admittedly a bit tepid at best. It’s just so predictable, so plain! Every bite has the same flavor, the same texture, the same sugar overload. That was, until at a friend’s behest, I tried topping tradition- Literally.
Crisp, buttery streusel, the best part of crumb cake and bakery muffins, turns ho-hum pumpkin pie into the legendary dessert that everyone will crave all year long. The creamy filling itself is still the main attraction, sweetened with a balanced hand and highly aromatic, redolent of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
Considering its popularity, there’s no need to give the classic pumpkin pie a gut renovation. Just a light touch-up, once in a century or two, may help win over some new fans.
For many years, my family would threaten to skip the traditional spread for Thanksgiving in favor of plain pasta, sauce on the side. Gathering a dozen or more picky eaters around one table led to inevitable conflict and strife, because most people wouldn’t touch cranberry sauce with a three-foot spatula, green vegetables are akin to the devil for some, and even the omnivores generally turned up their noses at turkey. The only thing we could all agree on was the universal charm of good old fashioned noodles. We’re not talking about fancy herb-infused, handmade coils or twirls; no elaborate gluten-free blends. Just basic, white flour, dried pasta was always the first dish to empty at my grandma’s dinner table, no matter the intended accompaniment. In hindsight, I wish someone actually called that bluff and skipped the annual feast of discontent.
Realizing this concept in much grander fashion, a supposedly “rustic” starter of crispy butternut squash ravioli knocked me off my feet this Thanksgiving. Indeed, the ingredients are as ordinary as they come, but the time, effort, and love that goes into each individual pasta pillow is not. Longtime friend and erstwhile food blogger Jenn pulled out all the stops this year, balancing tradition with innovation, lavishly accommodating all guests with more food than a small mob could possibly consume in a week. It was that first dish that struck me as the very best though, if I had to choose, for finally hitting that satisfying promise made so many years ago.
Butternut is mashed into creamy submission and bundled up in homemade sheets of delicate dough, extraordinary for their apparent austerity yet rich depth of flavor. Owing to the skill of the cook, only some inconceivably magical process could possibly explain it otherwise. That, and a whole lot of vegan butter. Infused with a handful of bright, aromatic holy basil, sage might be more expected here but any tender herbs are welcome to this party.
In the spirit of giving, Jenn had the patience to not only swaddle those tender morsels of homemade butternut delight in handmade pasta to feed a crowd, but to endure the added chore of writing out every single step in painstaking detail on my behalf. At this point, I must acknowledge that I’m a terribly demanding guest.
Plain pasta, it is not; it’s something to be much more thankful for.
Butternut Squash Ravioli
Here’s a quick “no measure” recipe for a rustic ravioli dish that will make any occasion seem super special. You don’t need any special equipment — just a rolling pin though I prefer to use my Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachment to save time.
1-2 cups of fine semolina flour
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
water, as needed
1 butternut or kabocha squash, roasted and seeded
chopped fresh herbs (your choice), quantity as needed
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
DIRECTIONS – FILLING:
To make the ravioli filling, Just mash the roasted butternut (or kabocha or pumpkin) and blend with the finely chopped herbs and spices. You don’t want this to be too fine a puree, you want to be able to drop it by the spoonful onto the pasta.
DIRECTIONS – PASTA:
1. Make the pasta – mix the dry ingredients and start adding the olive oil and mix well. Add cold or ice water in a thin stream, in small amounts, until the semolina starts getting a sandy texture. Check it periodically to see if you can clump it by smashing some inside the palm of your hand with your fist. If it is too tacky and wet — add more semolina (easy, right?). I prefer to use my stand mixer but you can do this by hand.
2. Use a flexible spatula to scrape out of the bowl onto a work surface. Work it with your hands to press, squeeze and smush it together into a ball that starts to really stick together. You want to develop the gluten. Get out the rolling pin and work it flat, fold it and repeat.
You can continue to work it with the rolling pin or you can get it thin enough (about 1/4″ for the widest setting on your pasta roller) to start putting through the pasta roller. I start out at “0” on my KA attachment and after a couple passes, narrow it a few more times until I get to 4 or 5.
Get the pasta sheets as thin as you can without them being transparent, developing holes or tears when you try to stretch a bit (since you’ll be doing that to make the ravioli) but not so thick that you just have a super squishy dumpling.
Get a small bowl of water and maybe a brush to keep at hand. Once you roll out your sheet of pasta — put it on the form or lightly mark it with your cutter, then use a measuring spoon to scoop a small ball of your cool filling onto the center of that mark.
Dab a bit of water all around where the edge of the ravioli will be using the brush or your finger tips. Lay another sheet over top (or just fold a very long sheet) and then use your cutter (or rolling pin) to score the raviolis. Check to make sure the edges are sealed the first few times and then lay them out in a single layer on cutting board or cookie sheet to rest.
Freezing the ravioli before you cook them yields better results. You can drop them into boiling water and then scoop them out and cover them with sauce, but for this thanksgiving treat — we browned some of Miyoko’s vegan butter and crisped up the ravioli on both sides with some holy basil out of the garden, and then sprinkled with vegan parm.
You can’t eat just one!
Oh yeah – and – if you have more pasta than energy to make ravioli — you can slice the sheets up into linguine or fettuccine, or make farfalle (butterfly or bowtie pasta) just by cutting squares and pinch in the middle. In all cases — leave pasta on a cookie sheet to rest and freeze or dry. You can also tightly wrap leftover pasta ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate to roll out later.
At their bare essentials, all holidays are based around eating and drinking to some degree, but none more so than Thanksgiving. In fact, it’s the main event! Without the gluttonous, butter-soaked spread, it would be just another family meal. Our excuse is that we’re merely celebrating the great bounty we’re so fortunate to receive, but somewhere along the line, it becomes a battle between man and sweatpants, seeing which will give under the pressure first.
Today, I would like to offer you the antidote to that over-the-top indulgence, in the form of a persimmon. Elegant simplicity defines this plate; more of a procedure than a full recipe, the most essential step is one not written in the instructions. Start with only the very best fruit, or don’t bother starting at all.
I would never suggest that such a humble dessert, delicious as it may be, could ever replace the traditional slab of pumpkin or pecan pie. Rather, consider each one a sweet little snack that’s something extra special for the occasion. Serve these dainty orange orbs midday to stave off that familiar, gnawing hunger while dinner slowly roasts to prevent the inevitable frenzied binge. Alternatively, save them for the following day when those sticky, crumbly, half-eaten pies aren’t nearly so appealing.
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