And just like that, Thanksgiving is upon us! I am here today with a simple, delicious starter that will serve you well for the holiday. But I also wanted to take a moment to encourage you to take a lot of deep breaths, do some yoga, go for a hike in the woods, drink a nice glass of wine and/or otherwise take care of yourself so that you can enjoy the celebration in all of its glory—even if you over-whip the cream (which I did for my last dinner party) or your quirky uncle gets drunk before the meal begins and loudly spouts extreme political views that are directly contradictory with your own, whatever those may be, or you burn the turkey (I don’t eat meat—is this something to worry about?) or you realize at the last minute that you don’t have enough place settings for thirteen or nothing is ready on time and so everyone fills up on cheese.
Now, I should say that this whole take a deep breath message is as much for me as it is for you, as Ben can confirm. I love celebrations with all my heart, and I even love planning. But I am also anxious and a perfectionist, and my expectations often come back to kick me in the shins. To my credit, I am finding that the more self-aware I am on this front, the better things get. I am making slow but steady progress, so check back when I’m eighty; I will be a zen hostess with a shock of white hair and excellent collections of both muumuu and wine.
I’m also going to disagree with Bon Appétit‘s assertion in the November magazine that “it’s not Thanksgiving unless there’s more food than you know what to do with.” I find that a little annoying, and also not true. While leftovers are glorious, staying sane and actually enjoying your feast are better. Even if that means you don’t have six vegetable dishes on the table. To this end, I have a strategy: make a plan (whether for food, activities, house cleaning or all three), and then cross two things off the list. It’s not so hard! And you are like me, you still have plenty more to do!
I’m more excited for Thanksgiving than I’ve been in some time, as my parents are making the trek to California to spend the holiday with us, and to celebrate my dad’s 60th and Ben’s 30th birthdays. (Is it bad form that I just shared their ages with the internet? Hope not.) I am therefore battling with both the Thanksgiving menu and our plans for the week as I endeavor to not be a crazy person. We will eat good food and drink good wine and go outside in the sunshine and be together, and it will therefore be amazing. At least, this is the sort of thing Ben says to me, to which I reply that yes, that’s true, but I would like it to be the best of the food and wine and experience, ever, in the world! But since I’m trying to keep my over-ambition in check, let’s stick with the it will be amazing mantra.
To start our Thanksgiving meal, I’m taking a cue from my pal Celia, who is an amazing cook and hostess. Last year, we had no plans for the holiday until Ben bumped into Celia’s husband, Joe, at the grocery store mere days before Thanksgiving. Because they are incredibly generous and apparently not stress cases like me, he invited us to join their family’s feast on the spot. It was a great gift to have somewhere so special to go for the holiday and quite the treat to sit in on someone else’s family dynamic. Also, everything was delicious. I loved how Celia kicked off the meal with a simple delicata squash soup, served in little espresso cups. What follows is my rendition.
Here’s to soup, sanity and actually enjoying the big day!
Gingered Delicata Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche & Fried Sage
Serves 6 – 8 as a starter, or 3 – 4 as a main
This is a simple recipe, and one that takes well to variation. You could make a lovely version with butternut, kabocha or acorn squash. The toppings are flexible, too, of course. If you find yourself without sage to fry, as I did on the day I took these photos, top your soup with a bit of parsley and some toasted sunflower seeds or pepitas. Heavy cream and yogurt make great substitutes for the crème fraîche. You could also take a hint from Thomas Keller and doctor up the dairy with a dash of nutmeg.
Since this soup takes well to freezing, I’m going to make it several days ahead of time and tuck it away until Thanksgiving, when I will be grateful for my foresight.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for frying the sage (or butter)
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
Pinch of cayenne (for a kick that won’t bother the heat-averse, I use about 1/8 teaspoon)
White wine (or dry vermouth)
3 medium delicata squash, peeled, halved, seeds removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups vegetable broth
Apple cider vinegar
Freshly cracked black pepper
Crème fraîche, for serving
Fried sage, for serving (recipe follows)
In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Once hot, add the chopped onion and a big pinch of salt. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften but not brown. If it starts taking on some color, turn the heat down slightly. Add the garlic, ginger and cayenne and cook for a few minutes more, until fragrant. Add a generous splash of white wine and cook until the liquid is gone.
Add the squash to the pot and stir. After a few minutes, pour in the broth, starting with 3 cups and adding until the liquid just covers the squash. Reserve any additional liquid. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, until the squash is very tender, about 25 minutes.
While the soup cooks, make the fried sage. Warm a thin layer of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add several leaves of sage to the pan in a single layer, keeping them from touching one another as much as possible. Fry until crisp, then transfer to a paper towel to cool.
Once the squash is tender, turn off the heat. Transfer the soup to a blender in batches and purée until very, very smooth. Blend longer than you think necessary—you’ll be glad you did.
Return the soup to the pot over very low heat. Add the reserved broth (or water) if you’d like a thinner soup. Taste and add vinegar, salt and cracked pepper as needed so that the soup is flavorful and bright.
Serve in small jars or espresso cups, topped with a swirl of crème fraîche and fried sage.