Like many families, we have a number of “must-have” dishes at our holiday gathering—Thanksgiving being a time for traditions. There would be outcry if sage roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry-walnut relish, and sweet garlic smashed potatoes didn’t make their annual appearance on the table.
But I’ve come to realize that it’s good, here and there, to break from tradition, enliven the usual players, or introduce something different to the menu.
Three years ago we spent our most exotic Thanksgiving in the lakeside town of Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. On that sunny Thursday, Bill and I met up with daughter Madeleine at her work, and took a long walk to an old resort hotel on Lake Tana. There, we dined outdoors in a tropical-like setting: flora in full bloom, trees full of brilliantly colored birds, some clustered with sleeping bats.
For the area, it was a lovely, yet pricey hotel, frequented mainly by Europeans, and offered unremarkable food. Bill had eggs and dabo–a crusty yeasted bread. Madeleine, the more seasoned diner of our troupe, piled her plate from the buffet with lamb tibs, lentils, and a beefy wat. I had been battling a “stomach thing” and recall having penne with tomato sauce, injera with cooked greens and carrots, some sort of melon.
As it resembled Nothing of the big T-Day of our heritage, the three of us laughed and called it the “Anti-Thanksgiving.” Nevertheless, there we were, together, and happy.
Since that extreme Thanksgiving, I have become mindful of the significance of family traditions—and how sometimes it’s worthwhile to bust them up a bit.
This year, along with the traditional faves, I added a couple of new things. A Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap-pecan crust and cultured whipped cream. (post on this very soon!)
And this chard-butternut squash gratin, which was especially relished.
I was inspired by a Smitten Kitchen post that similarly paired sweet potatoes and chard in a gratin. Recognizing that while oh-so-different, there’s a great interchangeability of sweet potatoes and winter squashes in recipes. I chose to use my butternuts in the casserole.
The colors from the ruby chard and roasted squash were vibrant.
The green onion bechamel richly brought the chard heat and butternut sweet together.
Overall Delectable–worthy of repeating—holidays and any days.
And, tricky. My mom thought that the cheesy spinach-potato casserole was awesome. And so different! I kept mum. My dad wouldn’t have touched the dish had he known that it contained no cheese, spinach, or potatoes.
Here’s to traditions: the cherished knowns, and those in the making.
Mostly, here’s to being together.
Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin
2 medium Butternuts, peeled, sliced thin
1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, stemmed. Chop stems, and
Coarsely chop leaves. As cooking times vary, these will be cooked separately
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
Red Pepper Flakes (used in pinches–you decide how hot!)
Lightly oil and roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, sautÃ© the chopped chard stems in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet or saucepan for 7 minutes. (I used my now-beloved Fig LeCreuset! What ever did I do without it?)
Add minced garlic, and sprinkle with sea salt and red pepper flakes.
Add chopped chard leaves.
Stir well, then pour in white wine and vegetable stock.
Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, folding the leaves throughout the mix.
When the leaves are “cooked down” and tender, remove from heat.
Make bechamel sauce. Then, follow directions for the gratin assembly.
Green Onion-Chive Bechamel
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Green Onions (scallions) chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Chives
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 cups lowfat Milk
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan on medium heat, sautÃ© green onions in butter until softened, about three minutes. Add chives, then rapidly stir in flour, allowing it to slightly cook and coat the onions. Pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Gradually the flour-cooked onions will incorporate smoothly into the milk, and the sauce with form. Simmer as it thickens, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel.
Cover with a layer of roasted butternut squash rounds.
Then, add a layer of sauteed chard.
Top with bechamel.
Repeat–squash, chard, and top finish of bechamel.
Note: this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point.
Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, slightly longer, if it’s coming out of refrigeration–until sauce is bubbly and brown-edged.
Madeleine, Bill, and I at Tis Abay, where the Blue Nile, after exiting Lake Tana, plunges over a 45 meter rock gorge.