December 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Baked Squash Gratin, and what Thanksgiving hits will you make again this season?

The jarred pesto used in this version is delicious, but go for fresh if you really want a visual pop. It especially helps the second layer stand out. (Maureen Tisdale / The Detroit News)

Man, that was a yummy Thanksgiving.

My sister Tiff and her husband, Brooks, grocery shopped Monday and had everything waiting for us when we got there Tuesday (Brooks, every time one of us asked where something was: “Was it on The List?”). And because no holiday is perfect without some minor glitch, somehow we ended up with the ingredients for Baked Ziti rather than stuffing because Tiff copied the wrong recipe for her dish and Brooks, who got that half of the list when they split it at the store, had no idea it was supposed to be stuffing.

My favorite food memories happened around the food island at our family friends’ home in Sugarloaf, Maine, when we were all together.

Wednesday, I got up early to make my slow-cooker oats and gather opinions (my brother Bill, when he saw the not-too-pretty porridge: “So I guess I’m making breakfast for everyone then?” But it was a hit with his wife Shelly and Tiff, who said the dish was “like hot banana bread” — you’ll be hearing about it upcoming, methinks). I also set up my two slow-cooker lunches for that day, then had to high-tail it out of there; Bill claimed it as the Biscuit Zone (you had to dive in quick and get out even faster if you knew what was good for you) for making sausage gravy and biscuits. Mom tried and loved the Germack cashew butter I’m addicted to (which my co-worker Leslie had loaded me up with before I left, ’cause she’s just generous like that), and the random Greek-yogurt covered almonds I’d spotted at a store in Canada and had to get for Mom.

Sugarloaf kitchen island memories included laughing watching my youngest sister Mavi and youngest two brothers Baron and Brice make a banana cream pie (word to the wise: yes, the bananas should go under the cream unless you like mushroom-looking shriveled bananas) and bonding with Baron’s girlfriend Heather, whom I met for the first time on this trip, over our food particularities.

My favorite food memory has to be my whole family gathered around as I made Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwiches, which my brother Brice will call famous when he’s trying to sweet-talk me into making them (“You know you make the BEST Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwiches, Reen.” I’m wise to him, though, ever since the year I overheard him trying to get someone ELSE to make him one with the same line; still, I can’t resist).

Let’s Talk Food even came with me a little when I gave my mom the New Yorker article about Chobani yogurt a reader had sent me to share with her (she loved it, Julie — fascinating back-story, she agreed).

But amongst all the dishes made, there’s one — Giada De Laurentiis’ Baked Squash Gratin, which Bill tripped across just searching squash recipes on — that was such a standout I am planning to make it for my husband’s work potluck Wednesday (along with his request for that Midwest favorite, cheesy potato casserole) and probably The Detroit News features Festivus potluck next week. Those on top of the one I whipped up Monday morning so I’d have a picture for this article (my previously squash-hating husband, when I told him I was planning to make the dish and kicking around options of whom to make it for: “How about just for me?” Ha! Poor beleaguered hubby, who perhaps got a little neglected in the Tisdale craze.)

The dish doesn’t sound like it would work — squash and cheese? garlicky pesto and sweet squash? — but even my squash-hating husband was muttering “This is fantastic” as he chowed down. And despite tons of competition (I imagine Bill and his fam, as the only remaining Maineiacs, still have leftovers; my husband and I still have some we brought home in coolers to polish off), that gratin was the only dish with no leftovers at the end of the big day.

So it will be revived, much like the memories I tried to tease others into capturing via email by priming the pump with my postmortem Top 10 Reen Thanksgiving Memories list emailed out Monday morning. Viva the next Tisdale get-together!

What Thanksgiving winners will you revive before the year’s out? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below the recipe. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!

Giada De Laurentiis' Baked Squash Gratin

Adapted from

I remember watching my brother Bill make pesto from scratch and wondering why he’d bother, when the recipe called for the simpler jarred kind. Well, when I made mine Monday I saw why: the jarred variety just can’t compete visually with the vibrant green of fresh pesto. If, unlike me, you’re a true eat-with-your-eyes/nonlazy foodie, you might find it worth your while to bust out a pesto from scratch. They’re not too hard, especially if you, unlike me, have a normal-sized food processor (I so rarely use mine I stick with the mini one Bill gave me years ago, which meant I had to puree the squash for this one layer at a time).

1 (3-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

1/4 cup basil pesto

2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter an 8-inch baking dish and set aside. Steam the chunks of squash under fork-tender; the original recipe called for using a steamer rack over a pot, but I just used the steam-tray in my trusty rice-cooker, in which it took about 30 minutes.

Transfer the squash to a food processor and blend until smooth and creamy. Season the squash to taste with salt and pepper. (I forgot to season the second layer of squash, then used salted butter where the original recipe called for unsalted; next time I’ll be more careful, the pepper really is nice to help pull together the sweet and savory elements.)

Spoon half of the squash evenly over the prepared baking dish. Dollop half of the pesto all over the squash in the dish then smooth it to cover; it will be a very thin layer. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the squash. Repeat layering with the remaining squash, pesto, and cheese. Dot the top with butter (Bill took the time to make smaller chunks than mine, and it came out more even, I believe) and bake until the gratin is heated through and golden brown around the edges, about 40 minutes.