The 1970 Sweet Potato Surprise is a Boughton family Thanksgiving side-dish tradition.

When preparing the list of menu items for Thanksgiving, our family always reaches for the familiar and well-loved dishes that make Thanksgiving, well, Thanksgiving. The traditional and comforting tried-and-true foods that have been handed down from our parents and grandparents are so comforting and, of course, they always bring back memories of Thanksgivings past. Memories. My YiaYia’s giant kitchen table was the official kid’s table at holidays and all of us cousins scrambled for our usual seats next to our favorite cousin. Once seated, the 12 of us began our laughing, yelling, joking around and, of course, a couple of us threw in unexpected shenanigans that usually got us, Alice and I, into trouble with the Greek grown-ups in the dining room. Grown-ups and kids alike always enjoyed the foods that overflowed our kids’ kitchen table as well as the adult’s table in the main dining room. We all enjoyed the exact same menu. We made our own entertainment while trying to listen to what our parents were talking about. And our parents, enjoying dinner and visiting, were desperately trying to ignore our loud gregarious laughs and talks in the other room to no avail. One thing that never changed was the menu and we were never disappointed. Even though it was the same every year, we looked forward to every dish. Once we grew up and had families of our own, a bit of menu adjustments was made. I married a non-Greek and his family brought to our feasts fantastic Boughton family recipes dating as far back as the 1800s. We now had a wonderful merging of traditions and foods at our holiday tables.

Moving 1,000 miles from our families was hard, especially during the holidays, but I continued to serve both family dishes and a few new and different dishes every year. It was and still is a surprise for our kids as to what new dish I am going to spring on them. One was my “Sweet Potato Surprise.” That dish was a real winner, so much so it has been on our Thanksgiving table every year since the late ‘70s and now is the dish our oldest daughter makes every year for Thanksgiving. So “Please Join Our Thanksgiving Table” as we include you in our traditional and new holiday dishes.

Farro and Kale Stuffed Pumpkin (or Butternut Squash)

This was my new dish a few years ago. I love the chewy nuttiness of the underappreciated grain, farro. Adding it to the sweet flavors of pumpkin or butternut squash and topped with smoky Gruyère cheese makes it a real crowd pleaser. Even those who normally would not indulge in baked squash seem to really enjoy this Thanksgiving side dish.

2 2-pound baking pumpkins or 4 1-pound butternut or acorn squash

3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, first press is best

1 1/2 teaspoons jalapeño salt, seasoned salt or sea salt, your choice

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 medium white onion, diced

1 bunch Tuscany kale, middle vein and stems removed (massage the leaves before rough chopping)

3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes in oil, rough chopped

1 cup farro, cooked to package directions

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme or 3 teaspoons fresh (no stems)

2 cups organic chicken bone broth

1/2-1 cup shredded, smoked Gruyère cheese for topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash and cut in half horizontally the pumpkin or squash and remove seeds using a large spoon. Trim a bit of the outer shell off of the bottom of each so they will lie flat on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place the pumpkin or squash hollow side up on the baking sheet and rub one tablespoon of oil on the outside and into the flesh of each. Sprinkle all the pumpkins or squash evenly with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake until insides are fork tender, about 20 minutes, ensuring the inside is cooked. While it's baking, make the farro in a medium 4 quart-size pot. Start by heating one tablespoon oil in the pot over medium heat and sauté the onion until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add the farro and stir to coat. Add the thyme, jalapeño salt and broth. Stir and cover the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, turn off heat and add the kale and sun-dried tomatoes, stir again. Remove from heat, top it with a lid and let it sit covered for 5 minutes. Then remove the lid, fluff the farro and adjust seasonings. Carefully remove the pumpkin or squash from the oven, stuff with the farro mixture, top with Gruyère cheese and a bit more of the thyme. Return to oven to keep warm at 200 degrees; the cheese should melt in about 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

Our 1970 Sweet Potato Surprise

This isn’t really a squash dish, but you can substitute cooked cubed pumpkin or squash for the sweet potatoes. It’s now our daughter Julie’s dish; she makes it every year and there are never any leftovers. She makes it for our family as well as her husband Tre’s family and always gets rave reviews! And no, she doesn’t top it with marshmallows. The bonus of making this is that you can make it up to eight hours ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until it is time to bake it. Add the topping just before baking.

3 15-ounce cans whole sweet potatoes (If you can’t find whole potatoes, cutup potatoes will do or use 2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes that you have baked and peeled)

1 1/2 cups organic dark-brown cane sugar (reserve 1/2 cup for topping)

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder (If you can’t find arrowroot, use 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch)

2/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1-2 teaspoons grated orange peel

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 cans apricot halves in heavy syrup (reserve syrup)

1/3 cup butter (reserve half of it for topping)

1 cup pecan pieces

Drain syrup from potatoes, cut in half lengthwise. Put in greased 10x6x2 inch casserole dish. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon, cardamom, orange peel and orange juice, stir in 1 cup reserved apricot syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off heat, add apricots and 1/2 of the butter, mix well and carefully pour this over the sweet potatoes. Top with additional brown sugar, butter and nuts. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Makes 10-12 servings

Note: For a crunchier top, zap it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes before removing it from the oven.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for Amana.in studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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