Genius Recipes

The Genius, Colorful (Make-Ahead!) Butternut Side Thanksgiving Needs

The cure for later winter blahs, too.

November 14, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by Rocky Luten

When I say “make-ahead butternut squash,” you might picture a dependable soup or casserole—something that will hold its form, maybe even slowly, invisibly improve with age. “Make-ahead” usually defies fleeting contrasts in texture and bright, ephemeral flavors. But it doesn’t have to.

Not when it’s Chef Dan Kluger’s roasted butternut squash with spicy onions. If any bright, colorful food in deep fall is a rare sparkly gem, then this particular make-ahead side is a treasure chest bursting with them, a slot machine stuck on jackpot.

What exactly makes the recipe so pulse-quickening? Kluger, now the chef of Loring Place, has a way with vegetables, even the sleepy ones. When he first shared this recipe with Bon Appetit in 2014, he was still the force behind ABC Kitchen’s famously bold and beautiful dishes (you’ll remember this carrot and this kabocha, for example).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“To previous posters: Maybe try toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds in place of nuts. And marjoram is a relative of Greek oregano if that’s any help. Or maybe try sage or rosemary? Definitely going to try this as a side for thanksgiving since it can be made ahead, and served at room temp.”
— Better T.

Here, the most crucial perker-upper is the spicy onions, which are just sliced red onions, quickly sautéed and then doused in lime juice and zest, honey, and red chile flakes. As they cool and lightly pickle, they turn a glowing ombré purple. You should make a triple batch of these every time, so that you can put them on every sandwich, salad, or bowl of rice that needs a jump.

But every other ingredient Kluger chooses does its part in the spectacle, too: the earthy crackle of toasted hazelnuts; cold, creamy pops of goat cheese; and many more chopped herbs—here parsley, mint, and marjoram—than you would normally think to pile into anything that isn’t a pesto. All of them play rather nicely on a sweet bed of roasted butternut squash.

Too much of any one of these ingredients without the others would dominate and grow tiresome, but in joining, they both balance and hype each other up. They’re altogether at their most delicious at room temperature, which is why they’re able to sneak into the staid category of make-ahead as their group coup d'état. The making ahead is simple: Simply make all the parts...ahead (ta-da!), be sure they’re generally room temperature when it’s time to serve, and toss.

Though this recipe will thrill on the Thanksgiving table—right next to all the beige sides that we can’t part with, but wouldn’t mind de-beiging just a little—remember it in the dull moments of winter. Whether you’re making ahead or making right this second, it will throw open the curtains and pull you out of the dark.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to Jessamyn Conell-Price for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Robin Maria DeLugan
    Robin Maria DeLugan
  • Jeanne
  • hollises
  • Renee B
    Renee B
  • Sandy Pister
    Sandy Pister
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Robin M. October 16, 2023
Can another squash be substituted for the butternut squash?
Nicole D. October 19, 2023
I could see Kabocha squash working well! Curious if anyone else here will weigh in. Do you not like butternut?
Jeanne October 17, 2019
Why not substitute a vegan cheese? There are many recipes made with soaked cashews, garlic, a bit of lemon juice and brewer's yeast that make a delicious product that you would never know was dairy free! You could make it yourself in a short time, or you could buy it ready made from any number of different companies. One that comes to mind that I have used is As a culinary professional for over 30 years I can recommend their products as very tasty. Happy holidays!
hollises October 17, 2019
I'd like to try this recipe for Thanksgiving, but one of my guests is dairy free. Thoughts on how this would be without the cheese? Is there something else that might do well in its place, or okay without?
Jeanne October 13, 2019
Yes, butternut squash becomes MUCH easier to peel when tossed in the microwave - simply prick the skin all over with a fork, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes and allow to cool slightly so you can easily handle it. Then peel as usual (my favorite is a french peeler). You will be so delighted at the relative ease you have peeling a previously difficult squash!
Renee B. December 27, 2018
I read somewhere that if you zap the squash in the microwave before peeling, it’s much easier. Haven’t tried it yet but I makes sense.
Renee B. December 27, 2018
Here’s a how-to link.
Sandy P. November 18, 2018
I made this a few weeks ago, but instead of nuts — because one of my dinner guests was allergic to nuts— I used toffee chips, and it was fabulous. I will make it again for Xmas, using half toffee chips and half pecans.

pamelalee November 14, 2018
I love it that you’ve started including more videos with your recipes. Nice job, Kristen! I’m much more inspired watching someone cook the dish than simply reading the recipe. ( I do, though, miss the videos of Amanda and Merrill cooking in Amanda’s kitchen.)
Kristen M. November 15, 2018
Thanks, Pamela! I miss them, too—but I guess we had to give Amanda back her kitchen at some point...
Better T. November 14, 2018
To previous posters: Maybe try toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds in place of nuts.
And marjoram is a relative of Greek oregano if that’s any help. Or maybe try sage or rosemary?
Definitely going to try this as a side for thanksgiving since it can be made ahead, and served at room temp.
Kristen M. November 15, 2018
Thanks, Better T—great answers!
Jennifer M. November 14, 2018
I’m going to try this but Marjoram is a bit scarce. Anything I can sub in for this?
Kristen M. November 15, 2018
Jennifer—one tip: sometimes I find marjoram in those bundles of poultry herbs (and then you get the bonus of some sage, thyme, rosemary, whatever!). I suggested fresh oregano as a great substitute in the recipe and, in case you missed the helpful note above, Better T. also suggested Greek oregano, sage, or rosemary.
Marcy S. November 14, 2018
This looks fantastic! Due to a nut allergy, I cannot use the hazelnuts; however, I think the salad needs a crunch. Any suggestions on a substitute for the hazelnuts?
Kristen M. November 15, 2018
Marcy, in case you missed Better T.'s note above, toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds would be fantastic if seeds work for you. Pomegranate seeds/arils, while adding a bit of extra tartness, would also be crunchy and refreshing (and pretty!).