Squash casserole, in El Cerrito, Calif., Oct. 23, 2015. Casseroles can be a great addition to a Thanksgiving meal, especially for cooks who are in a hurry.
Photo: JIM WILSON
Photo: JIM WILSON

Thanksgiving for all cooks

If you’re a novice, stick to the essentials: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, gravy and a vegetable. To tamp down any anxiety about multitasking, think of yourself as making a simple roast chicken dinner with a couple of extra sides. There is no need to bake a pie. Ask someone to bring one, or buy a good one the day before the feast. (If you feel the need to make one, though, ask a guest to bring a side dish of some sort, making sure that it fits into your overall menu.)—SAM SIFTON

The inexperienced cook should consider the casserole.

Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a high-stakes race among the cook, the guests and the turkey. In this sprint, the casserole is your greatest friend. It does not have to include cream soup or canned vegetables. It does not have to be layered or topped with a crust. It can be messy in the pan and still look and taste great on the plate. Just think of a casserole as a roasting pan where almost anything can be assembled and even cooked well in advance, then left in the refrigerator until you remember its existence about an hour before dinner.

Starchy vegetable purées (celery root, carrot, potatoes, squash) work especially well, but almost any baked or braised side dish can fit this model: mashed potatoes with plenty of butter and sour cream; red cabbage with apples, which can be braised in the oven instead of on the stove, then refrigerated; diced squash with fresh rosemary and garlic, which keep their pungency.

Just leave plenty of time to reheat the casseroles at 400 degrees before the meal. Many casseroles (except very dense ones like mashed potatoes) can go into the oven when the turkey comes out. Remove them from the fridge first thing Thanksgiving morning so they are not completely chilled. — JULIA MOSKIN

Skilled cooks should pick a dish or two each year that will stretch their skills. The payoffs in terms of flavor and self-satisfaction are worth their weight in gold.

The highest-impact change you can make may be mastering a new recipe for turkey. But because smoking, spatchcocking and deep-frying all require at least one test run, here are some alternatives: a more sophisticated vegetable side, a fancier pie crust or a snappy modern touch like an herb salad.

It’s fun to mess around with mashed potatoes, if your family will allow it. Pipe them into puffs that can be baked at the last minute. Top them with whipped cream and broil to make pommes chantilly, or make patties and pan-fry for garlic-potato cakes, crisp rounds that taste like supersize Tater Tots. — JULIA MOSKIN

Rosemary-Roasted Winter Squash Casserole

Adapted from “Cold-Weather Cooking” by Sarah Leah Chase

Time: 3 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 medium-size winter squash (such as butternut, delicata, Hubbard or a combination) peeled, seeded and cubed (about 8 cups cubes)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, more to taste

4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place squash cubes in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and cornstarch, then whisk in ginger, salt and pepper. Add half the dry ingredients to the squash and toss gently but thoroughly to combine. Add remaining dry ingredients and toss again until evenly coated. Add garlic, parsley, rosemary and 1/3 cup oil. Toss gently but thoroughly to coat.

3. Transfer squash to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender. Uncover and bake until very soft, another 45 to 60 minutes. (The casserole can be cooled and refrigerated at this point for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before resuming.)

4. To finish, brown the top: Turn oven to 350 degrees. (Alternatively, turn oven to 325 degrees with convection, or use the broiler.) Heat squash until sizzling on the bottom and crusty on the top, about 10 minutes. (If reheating from room temperature, it will take longer, 20 to 30 minutes.) Serve immediately.

Garlic-Parsley Potato Cakes

Adapted from “Recipes from Home” by David Page and Barbara Shinn

Time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour’s chilling

Yield: 8 servings (can be doubled)

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 pounds medium-starch potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and quartered

12 whole garlic cloves, peeled

Kosher salt

1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 tablespoon olive oil, more for frying

Black pepper

Preparation

1. Place potatoes, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in a pot and add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are just tender all the way through, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, return to the pot, and shake over medium heat for 1 minute to dry them out.

2. Add 3 tablespoons cornmeal and the parsley and mash everything together with a potato masher, leaving the mixture chunky.

3. Whisk together egg, egg yolk, milk and 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl. Stir mixture into potatoes and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Form potato mixture into rounds about 3/4-inch thick. Put remaining cornmeal in a shallow dish.

5. Working in batches, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat potato cakes on each side in cornmeal, brown on both sides in the skillet and transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining potato cakes, adding more oil as needed between batches. (At this point, cakes can be set aside at room temperature for up to 4 hours.)

6. Bake until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.

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