Thanksgiving side dishes can be a challenge for the host who wants to serve an impressive meal. It’s tempting to get carried away and choose something too complicated when a simple dish, such as a straightforward mashed butternut squash, can make a Thanksgiving dinner elegant.
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Sometimes the too-complicated culprits are regional specialties such as the western favorite, frog eye salad, or the Midwestern Snicker salad. New Englanders turn each year, though, to mashed butternut squash to make a Thanksgiving dinner complete.
Frog eye salad, popular in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, is a kind of pudding-based sweet pasta fruit salad made with the small soup pasta known as acini di pepe, pineapple chunks, orange pieces, sugar, mini marshmallows, milk and cornstarch. A Snicker salad is, you guessed it, a mix of Snickers bars, Granny Smith apples, whipped cream and often pudding or whipped topping served in a bowl as a potluck and party staple in Iowa. If these two dishes are an indication of anything, it seems that these Midwesterners retain a fondness for 1950s-style sweet sides.
A mashed butternut squash dish seems like a less-sugary and simple side perfect for Thanksgiving. It also is so easy you can have a 5-year-old child make it or at least do the mashing part.
For a little extra I suppose you could sprinkle some walnuts and maple syrup on top, but even that isn’t necessary. There’s a great temptation for even moderately experienced cooks to want to try something fancier on Thanksgiving, something more involved and appealing sounding. Trust me, simple is the way to go, and this is as simple as it gets.
Massachusetts-style Mashed Butternut Squash
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place the squash cubes in a 12 x 9 x 2-inch or similarly sized baking casserole. Season with salt and pepper. Pour water in to a depth of about 1 inch. Dot the surface with butter and cover the casserole tightly with foil.
3. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Crush the squash to a chunky consistency with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Stir and taste to check seasoning.
Main photo: Butternut squash and pumpkins make a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wynne Everett