With Thanksgiving looming, I’m always keen to come up with a side dish to replace the ubiquitous green beans and canned mushroom soup topped with canned fried onions – and that most bewildering of side dishes, lime-flavored jello (jelly) enhanced with mayonnaise and chopped fruit cocktail from a can.
I was served these gastronomical marvels at the first Thanksgiving dinner I was ever invited to in the early ‘90’s in Florida and to this day, I’ll never forget the taste shock and greasy texture of what was euphemistically referred to as ‘Jello Salad’.
Good manners prevented me from reacting as I’d have liked, so I made a hasty retreat to the bathroom where I could spit without guilt. When I inquired about the ingredients, it was explained by the host that this was “…a Traditional mid-western side-dish that they always served with Thanksgiving Turkey” – even though it remained untouched by anyone but me.
The following year and just to be on the safe side food-wise, I hosted my own Thanksgiving dinner for a group of friends. When I’m hosting, its common knowledge that nobody is required to bring anything other than wine.
But that didn’t deter the wife of an important business colleague from ostentatiously presenting me with a large dish that “must be served with the turkey!” This gracious offering consisted of fluffy pink marshmallows sitting snugly atop a layer of mashed candied yams, laced with lashings of extra corn syrup.
With instructions to “broil it until the marshmallows are toasty” and in a state of confusion coupled with the need to be polite, I did as she directed and watched as it slowly congealed. It too remained untouched – another die-hard tradition, apparently.
Since then I’ve done my best to inject a little variation into the Thanksgiving menu, with suggestions like roasted Brussels sprouts with walnuts and bacon or buttered Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, spiced red cabbage & apples – and a pear and garlic aioli; all designed to bring a little European influence to the table and that I hope will replace any lingering longings for jello-mayo ‘salad’ (which, I’ve decided, was created by a mischievous, bored person who had some power and influence in their midwestern town, back in the 1950’s).
So – here is something completely different that combines the very essence of fall, roasted butternut squash – and with soft polenta, Parmigianino Reggiano, sage and roasted garlic, it makes a delicious side dish to serve with turkey at any time.
Note: This can be made ahead which makes it easy on the cook. Vegetarians can omit the chicken stock and make the polenta entirely with water or vegetable broth.
POLENTA with BUTTERNUT SQUASH and SAGE
A 3 lb / 1.362g butternut squash, halved and seeds removed
6 large, unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons of extra-v olive oil
¾ teaspoon of rubbed dried sage
2 ¾ cups / 650ml of organic chicken broth
1 ¾ cups / 414ml of water
1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt
1 ½ cups / 355ml (in a measuring jug) of polenta
1 tablespoon of fresh sage, minced finely
¾ cup / 177ml (in a measuring jug) of grated Parmigianino Reggiano
Pre-heat the oven to 375F / 190C
Place the butternut squash cut side up in a roasting pan. Put 3 garlic cloves into each cavity, sprinkle with the dried sage; give each a good grind of black pepper and salt and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 1.5 hrs or until tender.
Set aside to cool then scoop out all the flesh, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and puree together (can be made ahead to this point).
For the polenta:
Combine the broth, water and 1 ½ teaspoons of sea salt in a large pan – bring to a boil and pour in the polenta. Reduce the heat and stir vigorously with a long handled spoon. It will thicken quickly but you’ll need to keep stirring it until its soft; about 15 minutes (test a little on a spoon and wear an oven glove – it can spit and burn). Remove from the heat.
Stir in 3 cups / 710ml of the squash puree (reserve any remainder for a soup or risotto) and the minced fresh sage. Heat through gently then add the grated cheese. Check the seasoning.
Serve right away – or to make ahead, spread into a shallow ovenproof dish, dot with a little butter and cover with foil. Reheat in the oven, covered and at a moderately low heat.