When I plan my Thanksgiving menu, I keep its complementary fall colors in mind - the russet and bronze of a roast turkey, the distinct greens of string beans, Brussels sprouts and kale, and the flame oranges and golds of winter squash.
There is great variety in squashes, my favorite fall shape shifter. They pair with curry in one dish and cinnamon streusel in another. For the holiday, I have transformed winter squash into soups, souffles and stews, but this year I will use it to fill a savory slab pie. It can feed a crowd, be made a day in advance and is served at room temperature. In other words, it is a formidable addition to the side-dish arsenal.
While this vegetarian pie could be made with kabocha or Cinderella or Hubbard squash, I choose the humble butternut. Look for heavy, unblemished specimens, seeking out those with long necks and bulbous ends that are on the small side, because the bulb's flesh surrounding the seeds tends to be watery and/or stringy. The cylindrical, seedless neck is denser and easier to peel and cube. Because this recipe calls for a quantity of puree, the smaller and adorably named buttercup squash is too petite to fuss with for this pie.
I am aware that some cooks avoid working with winter squash because its prep can be daunting. Rather than succumb to the pre-cut and often tasteless shrink-wrapped cubes at the store, I have a solution: Poke the squash with a sharp knife in a dozen spots then microwave it until it is fork-tender. Let it cool for a few minutes, and the skin will be easy to remove. The flesh emerges ready to mash and tuck into a pie.
There's no need to make pie dough and wrestle with a rolling pin here. I press in a quick cookie-crumb crust instead. I like gingersnaps for this purpose, but graham crackers work well, too. The crust can be baked and refrigerated for a few days before you fill it.
Because savory is the intention, I was determined to veer away from any filling that smacked of pumpkin pie spice. Instead, I turned to miso to add a rich, sultry undertone. Maple syrup balances the salty with sweet, woodsy notes, and the flavor profile is finished with a whisper of toasted sesame oil and a generous amount of black pepper. This will not be mistaken for your great aunt's pumpkin creation - especially with a tangy topping of plain yogurt.
I've scaled this pie to fit in a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet, otherwise known as a quarter-sheet pan. It is shallower than a brownie pan, which makes it a breeze to serve from, and its size makes it handy for transport and refrigerator storage. There is no need to line or spray the pan; the crust is buttery enough to release intact.
To round out my Thanksgiving color wheel, I'll add the crimson of cranberry sauce and the earthy browns of rolls, stuffing and gravy. The tricolor hues of this savory slab pie fit right in.
SAVORY SESAME BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Makes 12 to 15 servings.
For a big crowd, this pie may be made in an 18-by-13-inch baking sheet by doubling the recipe.
Make ahead: Microwave or steam the squash up to 3 days in advance. Bake the gingersnap crust up to 1 day in advance. Both should be kept refrigerated.
From columnist and cookbook author Cathy Barrow.
For the crust:
10 ounces (about fifty 1 1/4-inch cookies) gingersnap cookies, crushed into crumbs (about 2 cups)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
3 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1 1/2 cups canned or home-cooked butternut squash puree from one 15-ounce can or a 3-pound squash (see note)
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the topping:
1 cup plain full-fat or Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons toasted/roasted sesame seeds
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet (a.k.a. quarter sheet pan) at hand.
Stir together the cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a mixing bowl until the crumbs are thoroughly coated. Press them across the bottom of the baking sheet and slightly up the sides using a metal cup measure or the flat bottom of a glass. Bake for 17 minutes to form the crust, which will darken a bit. Let cool.
For the filling: Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer, or a balloon whisk and some elbow grease); beat the egg whites on high speed long enough to form stiff, tall, somewhat dry peaks.
Whisk together the egg yolks, butternut squash puree, coconut milk, maple syrup, butter, miso, ginger, toasted sesame oil, pepper and salt in a large, deep bowl, until smooth. Stir in one-third of the beaten egg whites to lighten the mixture, then swiftly and gently fold in the remaining egg whites; it's okay if some white streaks remain.
Use a light touch to spoon the filling evenly over the crust, encouraging it into the corners. It will just fit. Bake (middle rack) for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling has browned in spots and a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes.
For the topping: Use an offset spatula to gently spread the yogurt over the pie, from corner to corner. Sprinkle the sesame seeds generously across the surface.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers, then allow them to return to room temperature before serving.
NOTE: To make the butternut squash puree, pierce the entire squash with a sharp paring knife in a dozen places. Place in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 20 to 25 minutes, until a knife plunges easily into the neck of the squash. Let the squash cool, then peel away the skin and scoop out the seeds and strings. Mash the squash until smooth using a potato masher or a sturdy fork. There may be more than what is needed for this recipe; the extra may be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days. Mix it with ricotta and stuff pasta shells, stir it into soups, or add to muffins or scones. No microwave? Roast at 375 degrees on an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet until fork tender, about 1 hour; then peel, scoop out the seeds and mash.