It’s that time of year again when we start planning our Thanksgiving meals. For us, it means putting an Italian spin on the traditional American holiday. It means just getting together with family and enjoying a no pressure meal without the running around or trying to find the perfect gift. It’s a pretty easy holiday. Until you plan a menu that you are proud of but one person is a vegan, another gluten-free, another doing a paleo diet and somebody else who is simply a picky eater, and so on, and so on.
All that hard work of planning and cooking only to see plates stacking up in the sink with plenty of food left one them. To an Italian, it’s the lowest feeling imaginable when you see that people didn’t eat your food!
It doesn’t have to be a disaster, though. When cooking the Mediterranean diet, it is easy to cook simple and delicious foods that will please that picky eater. You don’t need to compromise with the vegan by cooking everything with tofu and fake meat which then disappoints everybody else. And, there doesn’t need to be gluten in many dishes either. When cooking the peasant food of the Mediterranean, it’s almost automatic that many of the recipes will not have any meat or dairy in them. And the ones that do, can also do without. Over the years when people got a little bit of money they added those ingredients since they could afford them.
Red kuri squash confit is a perfect Thanksgiving side dish that will have a place on any table no matter who is seated and whatever their diet. There’s no meat or dairy and there’s no gluten. It’s very easy to make and can be eaten even when it isn’t a holiday. It doesn’t even have to be a side dish, add a salad and some crusty bread and you have a light meal.
Cooking confit means to kind of cure it and cooking it covered in oil or fat and then storing it in a cool place will preserve it. I’m not trying to preserve the red kuri in this side dish, but it will stay in the fridge well up to a week if it’s covered in the cooking oil. Cooking anything confit gives it a wonderful richness and is a good way to add tons of flavor to what you’re cooking. Think confit duck legs or confit potatoes. It isn’t the same as frying it though, as it is done at a low temperature. It’s more like poaching it in oil.
You can add lots of flavor besides the richness of the oil to the squash. In this recipe, I salted the red kuri squash and then covered it with 2/3 extra virgin olive oil and 1/3 canola oil. To that I threw in some whole garlic cloves with the skin on, some bay leaves, some whole peppercorns and fresh thyme. I made sure the squash was mostly covered. You want the squash submerged, but don’t worry if the pieces stick out a little at first. When they begin cooking, they will shrink down a little and become covered. My wife walked into the house when I had just pulled it out of the oven and exclaimed how wonderful the house smelled! All the flavor from those ingredients bathed the squash to make it really irresistible.
Cover and pop into a 35o degree oven. After about 15 minutes I checked them by poking them with a sharp paring knife. They were still a little firm but soft enough that they would continue to cook in the oil, so I took them out of the oven. You might need to leave them in for a few more minutes depending on how firm they are still. Make sure they are soft, but not totally falling apart. And I like to serve this room temperature instead of hot out of the oven. It gives the red kuri time to absorb all the flavors of the garlic and herbs.
The squash itself has a pleasant sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm. It is almost nutty in flavor, though, oddly it smells exactly like fresh cucumber when it is raw! It is in the Hubbard squash family which is often substituted for pumpkin. Most times when you get canned pumpkin for pies, it is actually a Hubbard squash since the texture is much better than most pumpkins. This red kuri squash is really creamy in texture and the best part is that you can eat the skin so no need to peel it.
As I mentioned already, this can be on the rich side since it is cooked in the oil, so I like to add a bit of brightness. I took the roasted garlic when it was cool enough to handle and squeezed them out of the skin into a small ramekin. Then I added about 2 teaspoons of good vinegar and some of the cooking oil and blended it up with a fork. I left it on the side, but it is meant to be served over the squash. You could even squeeze a bit of lemon over the top. If there are any leftovers, put them into the container and pour the oil over it.
When the squash is eaten, however, don’t throw away that oil! It is great to use for a salad dressing or even to cook with for added flavor. Just a few minutes ago I finished up a spinach salad with a dressing made from the red kuri confit oil and some vinegar.
I’m sure most of you are looking for some inspiration for something different to serve up for Thanksgiving. I think you will agree that this side dish is a keeper. And it is so perfectly seasonal, too. If you do try it, please let me know what you think! And don’t forget to pin it to Pinterest or Yum it for Yummly!
I sincerely hope that you and your family enjoy this coming Thanksgiving. Remember the things you are thankful for. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor that doesn’t have any family and would appreciate if you fixed up a plate of food to bring over just to make sure they have a home cooked meal, too. That’s the beauty of food. It brings people together and shows how much you care. When you cook from scratch, you just want to share it with everybody! That’s why I love to cook and am so glad that I know how and can share these recipes with you.
- 1 red kuri squash sliced into 1 inch wedges
- 5-6 whole garlic cloves with the skin on
- 4-5 bay leaves
- 4-5 sprigs of thyme
- 1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
- 1½-2 cups of extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1½ cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons of vinegar (optional)
- Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees
- Line a baking pan with the sliced, seasoned squash and cover with oil
- Add the garlic, bay, thyme and pepper corns and cover the pan
- Cook for about 15 minutes then check the doneness.
- If a paring knife slides right in, then take it out of the oven and let it come down to room temperature before serving.
- Squeeze the garlic out of their skin and mix with a tablespoon of the cooking oil plus the vinegar and mix with a fork.
- Serve the garlic mix over the squash if desired.