Squash Your Thanksgiving With Tips From The Test Kitchen Tired of the same old pumpkin pie or squash side dish? Morning Edition challenged Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen to shake up Thanksgiving with recipes that put a new spin on the humble gourd. His chosen recipes include barley risotto with butternut squash and maple-pumpkin stack cake.
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Squash Your Thanksgiving With Tips From The Test Kitchen

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Squash Your Thanksgiving With Tips From The Test Kitchen

Squash Your Thanksgiving With Tips From The Test Kitchen

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm David Greene. The countdown is on. Family and friends will be coming over the river and through the woods to your place for Thanksgiving. You've purchased the turkey. Now, what to do about the rest of the meal? Of course, we all want a lot of flavor, but not a lot of hassle. Perhaps this is the year to squash your Thanksgiving, like the Pilgrims did.

CHRIS KIMBALL: Of all the things they served in that first Thanksgiving, there might not have been turkey. They might have just had small birds. They might have had venison. The one thing we know they did have was squash. So if you want to go back to the first Thanksgiving, this is the item you'd start with.

GREENE: That is Chris Kimball. He's host of the PBS show "America's Test Kitchen," and he joined our colleague Renee Montagne in her kitchen in Santa Monica, California, for some recipes featuring members of the squash family.


That's right, David, recipes that are tasty and simple and won't drive you out of your gourd, especially not with Chris Kimball as our guide.

KIMBALL: We're going to do a number of pumpkin recipes and squash recipes, as well, and take it to the extreme.


MONTAGNE: On the menu today: mashed butternut squash, barley risotto with squash, and a pumpkin stack cake. We start with a mash-up. Apples and squash become one in this Chris Kimball recipe. First, though, you have to get through the armadillo-like skin of a butternut squash.

Chris, I'm looking at your implements here. There's a very big knife and a pounding implement.

KIMBALL: That's for keeping the kids in line while you're cooking dinner.


KIMBALL: You always should have it. Well, it's a mallet, and - a wooden mallet. And hold the knife, put it where you want to cut. And just use a wooden mallet on the back of the knife.


MONTAGNE: You're hammering the knife through the squash.

KIMBALL: Yeah. And that's really safe.

MONTAGNE: Continue to whack away until you've worked through your aggression, or until the squash is cut up into cubes - whichever comes first. Then roast your squash for 45 minutes. And while that's going on...

KIMBALL: Cook four tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven on top of the stove, an onion - one onion. Then we have two Granny Smith apples that are grated, peeled and grated.

MONTAGNE: An apple in the mashed squash, which I would never have thought of.

KIMBALL: Apples and pumpkin, going back to, you know, 1621 were paired all the time. So this is the standard English approach, as well.

MONTAGNE: And once the squash is done roasting, it's time to get a little more exercise.

KIMBALL: You want to help with this?

MONTAGNE: Ah, yeah. Good. I get to mash it.


KIMBALL: So, we're doing the mashing right in the same pot, Dutch oven, where we get to cook the apples and the onions, which for us on Thanksgiving, is a great idea.

MONTAGNE: Chris, I want to do this. But I have to say, I'm not making much progress. It's just patience?

KIMBALL: Yeah. There's no right way. There's no Escoffier rule about mashing.

MONTAGNE: That's looking better, now that it's woven in.

KIMBALL: Yeah, just a little more.

MONTAGNE: So it's OK to be really seeing what it is.


MONTAGNE: Little bits of onion, roughly mashed, squash.

KIMBALL: I think you've got it.

MONTAGNE: Oh all right. Great.

KIMBALL: I think she's got it. Eliza, nice job.




KIMBALL: Loverly.


KIMBALL: Mm. And it tastes like? Tastes like squash.

MONTAGNE: With a hint of - I get it. I get the apple.

KIMBALL: It doesn't taste like pumpkin pie filling, which is often what these things taste like.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I know.

KIMBALL: It tastes more vegetable than fruit.


MONTAGNE: How about we move on now to something a little more adventurous?

KIMBALL: Now we're taking a step away, into the unknown.

MONTAGNE: Risotto. I'm looking at risotto. What are you going to be doing?

KIMBALL: Well, you know, risotto for most people, they think it's one thing. They think it's Arborio rice that's cooked in a chicken stock for 40 minutes.

MONTAGNE: And they think - nobody thinks, risotto perfect, Thanksgiving, all right.

KIMBALL: No, they don't. And the other thing is they don't - you can do it with lots of different things, lots of different grains.

MONTAGNE: We'll be making a barley risotto, nice and creamy with roasted butternut squash.

KIMBALL: Barley doesn't get creamy, because it doesn't have enough starch in it. But butternut squash does, and we've roasted it. So we're using half of the squash. And we have a bunch of stock here that we've warmed up and we're going to put about three cups or so in it.


MONTAGNE: And the stock that you're putting in, that's chicken stock.

KIMBALL: Yes, it's half stock, low sodium. By the way, it's important to use low sodium, because when you reduce things down, they get salty. And this will take about 40 minutes or so, typical risotto. And then we'll finish up with some cheese and some butter and some sage.

MONTAGNE: If you were to make one change - which instead of using chicken broth, vegetable broth - this, for the vegetarians in the family, could be the main dish with all the other sides that are vegetable.

KIMBALL: Yeah, well this is you know, a couple of our kids are in-and-out vegetarians. It depends on the day. In our family it's definitely a two hurdle day. Thanksgiving morning, I start with our own bacon and then about six hours later there's the turkey, so if you make it past the bacon, you'll have to make it past the turkey.


MONTAGNE: Did you notice the sound of my cat eating in the background?

KIMBALL: Yes. Well, it's Thanksgiving for your cat too.


MONTAGNE: Time now to squash our Thanksgiving dessert. And we're not talking pumpkin pie.

KIMBALL: This is something entirely new, it's a stacked cake. This comes from a long tradition of stacked cakes, which are multilayered cakes, very thin layers. This is a four-layer pumpkin cake. And we're going to, you fill it very simply with whipped cream that's sweetened with maple syrup.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, we're starting, I see, with a very flat little round layer.

KIMBALL: And they're very thin; they're about half an inch thick. Not like a big American cake. And the little tip is, if you're doing a layer cake start with your worst layer on the bottom. It's like...

MONTAGNE: You mean the one that didn't come out of the pan quite so well.

KIMBALL: The one that's a little sad. And, yeah, there's one over there that's got a really nice even top. We'll use that for the top. So we're going to start with whipped cream, and whip some cream with some maple syrup instead of sugar.


KIMBALL: And the sugar in it, the maple syrup is going to help give it a nice texture too.


KIMBALL: Now if you wanted to test this, what you do is take the whisk, bring them up and upside down and if they were ready, there would be very soft peaks on the beaters, but it's not ready yet so....


MONTAGNE: Do you think my staring at it is keeping it from really getting to the end?

KIMBALL: I didn't want to say anything.


KIMBALL: You seem slightly impatient with this step in the process. Yes, you know what? Yeah, a watched whipped cream pot never whips.


MONTAGNE: Eventually, it does and Chris spreads the nicely whipped cream and maple syrup mixture between the four layers of our pumpkin stack cake - topping it off with some toasted pecans.

Simple as that was, and it was simple, this would be a real wow moment when you walked in to a Thanksgiving dinner.

KIMBALL: Yeah, it's a nice way to do pumpkin, but do it differently.

MONTAGNE: So, this will be a nice Thanksgiving feast when everybody gets together tomorrow.

KIMBALL: Well, I'm not done. Don't you want a piece of cake?

MONTAGNE: We're going to cut the cake now?

KIMBALL: Yeah. Yeah. We're going to cut the cake now.

MONTAGNE: See this is the thing, I almost think no, no, no we got to hold on to this one. We can't even taste it?

KIMBALL: Renee, it's your house, your rules.

MONTAGNE: All right, let's have a bite.



GREENE: How am I not able to get a taste of that right now? That is Renee Montagne cooking with Chris Kimball, host of "America's Test Kitchen." And you can find today's recipes, plus a few more at NPR.org. Good luck squashing your Thanksgiving. We do hope you have a gourd-juss(ph) holiday.



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