Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Feast Before the Feast


A version of this post also appeared in the Tennessean, here

What do you eat for lunch on Thanksgiving day? For the last several years I’ve sworn I’ll have a light bite at breakfast then save up for the big meal. I’ll have some fruit, I say, abstaining from many extra calories, so I can truly indulge in the evening. I’ll appreciate the meal so much more, I tell myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that.

Growing up, it was way easier, since we ate Thanksgiving dinner around two in the afternoon, which, I suppose, actually makes it Thanksgiving lunch. But I’d still snack. There are appetizers galore, people! For the last several years I’ve been enjoying Thanksgiving at my in-laws’. Their tradition is to eat Thanksgiving dinner around six o’clock – which I think is actually more the norm. But, that’s a much tougher schedule to keep if you’re planning to abstain from much snacking after breakfast.

It’s easy to see why it’s so hard to eat light on Thanksgiving day. For starters, the house is filled with the aromas of arguably the best meal of the year. Next, I usually lend a hand in the kitchen, and feel the need to taste this or that. Plus, the house is stocked with snacks, treats and all manner of delicacies just asking to be nibbled. (I love Thanksgiving!)

Over lunch recently, my colleague and I discussed this conundrum. What if, we toyed, there was a special lunch item planned. If this were to work, the dish must be filling enough to get through the day yet light enough to still appreciate the feast. This dish must embrace the flavors of the meal to come, but not overshadow or duplicate any part of it. It also must be easy to prepare and cleanup. It would also be nice if it felt festive in some way, since Thanksgiving is as special as it is.

As I was pondering this conundrum later that evening I pulled out my copy of “The Gourmet Cookbook,” a ten-pound thome of nearly 1,000 pages edited by famed Gourmet magazine editor, Ruth Reichl. I found my answer: Creamless Creamy Butternut Squash Soup.


This recipe fits the bill. It’s easy, quick, can be served without many dishes – one pot and some mugs for serving – and requires mostly only ingredients you’d almost certainly already be buying for the main meal. It’s also filling but without any cream or much fat it won’t weigh you down. It isn’t delicate – you can make it early and hold it till lunch, or prepare it altogether the day before. Its “wow” factor is the crumble of fancy Italian amaretto cookies on top. Amaretto cookies are also known as Italian meringues, and can be found at specialty Italian stores, such as Lazzaroli Pasta here in Nashville (Germantown). The sweet-crunch nicely complements the lightly spiced squash soup.

Warning: this dish is only the perfect pre-feast course if you purchase already peeled and diced butternut squash. In its whole form, butternut squash can be a beast, and probably not something you want to wrestle peeling, seeding and chopping when you’ve got a kitchen full of other food to prepare. This time of year you can find convenient butternut squash options, such as already-peeled and -chopped squash shrink wrapped in the produce aisle. Some grocery stores – including Costco, Super Target and the Turnip Truck – also sell it in chopped form in the frozen aisle.

As I write this, I realize how thankful I am to live in a time and place where I can actually spend energy plotting a precursor for the feast of the year. I’m also thankful for good food and good recipes, and extra thankful for friends and family to celebrate with. Happy Thanksgiving!


Creamless Creamy Butternut Squash

Yield: 6 servings

The soup gets its creaminess from the thoroughly blended starchy potatoes, silky squash and smooth carrot.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and diced
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 ½ to 4 cups hot or boiling water
1-2 amaretto Italian meringue cookies (such as Amaretti brand) crumbled


Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Saute onion, carrot and celery until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add potato, squash and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to simmering for 20 minutes, until potatoes and squash are cooked through.

Either using a stick/immersion blender or an upright blender, blend the soup for 1 to 2 minutes until very smooth. Blend in batches in upright blender if using.

Recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, January 2001


2 Responses to “The Feast Before the Feast”

  1. 1

    Beth — December 6, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

    I often forget that most people only eat one meal on Thanksgiving! For my entire life (minus the 3 years I was living in San Diego), I’ve eaten 2 HUGE feasts on Thanksgiving Day.

    For 30-something years, we’ve eaten a noon lunch with my Dad’s side of the family and a 6 pm dinner with my mom’s side. Both sides of the family are quite large and it’s potluck, so at each meal there are at least 20-30 savory dishes and 5-10 desserts.

    It’s insane but I wouldn’t want it any other way 😉

    • Annakate replied: — December 9th, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

      That sounds delish! The sides and accompaniments at Thanksgiving are what I like most about the meal, so having all of those diverse, delicious dishes sounds like heaven. Thanks for the comment!

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