Roasted squash, homemade croutons, delicate greens, and blue cheese make a perfect salad for Thanksgiving.
This goes against most experts’ advice, but I like breaking the rules for Thanksgiving, including the cardinal command: Thou shalt not try anything new for the big feast day. I understand the logic behind this, but this can lead to boring holiday spreads. Especially when it comes to the side dishes, what’s wrong with mixing things up?
There’s space in the kitchen for experimentation; I once cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner from new recipes taken out of a magazine. Mom, who was in camp traditional for Thanksgiving, supported my efforts, and stayed close should I need some help. In the end, I stretched my family’s comfort zone (along with their pants) and we had a lovely Thanksgiving.
However, many cooks might grow anxious with change on the biggest feasting day of the year, so let’s take a baby step together. Let’s start with a new salad.
The queen of Thanksgiving, Martha Stewart, says only 1 percent of Americans serve salad on Thanksgiving, so the fact you’d consider such a thing marks you as a culinary rebel. Why not make something special? Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad, I think, would make an ideal first course (or a side) to your Thanksgiving. Each bite says “autumn” to me, plus it’s a cinch to make. You could even start it the day before to save some of that precious oven real estate on the big day.
Now, I’m not hating on sweet potatoes—65 percent of you serve these spuds on Thanksgiving—but roasted butternut squash has a similarly sweet and tender bite that’s comforting but just different enough to wake up your table mates. The salad is perfectly balanced; soft squash, roasted mushrooms, and blue cheese are offset with the chew of giant homemade croutons, fresh mixed greens, and crisp sliced almonds.
Traditional Panzanella is an ancient Italian dish that first surfaced in the 16th century. It uses the best from our summer gardens—tomato, cucumber, basil—plus stale bread. The rustic dish works because of its versatility, and we're bringing a mix of autumn flavors into its story.
To make Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad, which yields eight servings, you’ll need these ingredients:
4 cups day-old French bread cut into large cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Salad and dressing
4 cups peeled and cubed (1½-inch size) butternut squash
1½ cups fresh sliced white button mushrooms
½ cup olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
6 cups mixed salad greens of your choice, washed and dried
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup sliced almonds
6 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
Directions to make Butternut Squash Panzanella Salad
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the bread cubes with oil, chili powder and salt. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake 5 minutes or until golden. Transfer to another pan or bowl to cool. (I didn't have chili powder in the pantry—guess I used the last in my chili last month—so I substituted with classic Tajin, a spice blend of chili peppers, salt and lime.
In a large bowl, combine cubed squash and sliced mushrooms; don’t go too thin on the mushrooms or they'll shrivel to nothing. Add 2 tablespoons oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes, at 400 degrees F. Cool on a plate and set aside.
Add salad greens, squash, mushrooms, and croutons in large serving dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, shallots, and remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you don’t have shallots, finely slice half a small yellow onion. Drizzle over salad and toss gently. Top with almonds and blue cheese and serve immediately.
If you prefer another cheese (goat cheese works) or different nuts, substitute per your taste. It's an easy and versatile recipe for a winner of a salad.
This is a large salad. Can it be eaten the next day?
I don’t recommend it. The greens in my leftovers were soggy and kind of gross the next day, probably due to the moisture in the mushrooms. If you think it’s more salad than you or your family can eat at one meal, I suggest not tossing everything together, but keep the ingredients separate until you’re ready to enjoy the salad.
Comment below if you’d try this for your Thanksgiving meal. It would also brighten up those turkey sandwiches for the next day.
Looking for more recipes to compliment your Thanksgiving table?
Jalapeño and Cheddar Cornbread Dressing was one of the dishes I made years ago when I shook up my family's Thanksgiving menu. I've gone back to it a number of times since. Want a slight twist for your cranberries? Try Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples for Thanksgiving. The leftovers are wonderful the next morning on French toast or oatmeal, too.
About the blog
Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.