If you're putting together a more elegant Thanksgiving meal this year, consider these appetizers. They are a great conversation starter. The appetizers connect familiar holiday ingredients--roasted butternut squash and corn--in a wholly unique way.
The primary ingredient in the appetizer is a mash of butternut squash and fromage blanc. I nested the spread in a roll of grilled zucchini on top of pan-fried polenta medallions. For a nice contrast of texture and color, I garnished the elegant appetizers with honey-roasted nuts and a sprinkling of Italian parsley.
I'm planning on serving 5 or 6 appetizers on Thanksgiving and will be sharing them as I make them throughout the month.
Servings: 18 appetizers
1 (24-ounce) package pre-cooked polenta
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon dried sage
¾ cup fromage blanc (cream cheese or goat cheese), at room temperature
4 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
2 tablespoons honey-roasted nuts (your favorite kind), coarsely crushed
Prepping the butternutsquash:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the seeds and the strings (if any). Place the cubes of butternut squash on a greased baking sheet with the sprig of thyme in the center. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with dried sage and 1 teaspoon salt. Roast for about 30 minutes until soft. Let cool.
Coarsely mash the butternut squash with the back of a fork and mix with the fromage blanc. You could also blend the mixture into a smooth paste in a food processor. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Grilling the zucchini:
Trim and slice the zucchini lengthwise, about ¼" thick. Sprinkle with salt. Let sit, then pat dry with paper towels. Brush a griddle pan with vegetable oil. Add the zucchini slices and cook on both sides until grilling marks are visible. Let cool. Cut the zucchini into 3-4" pieces.
For the crispy polenta:
Cut the polenta into 18 slices. (I used a circle cutter to shape smaller-sized medallions; but you could keep them larger if you like).
In a pan, heat the remaining vegetable oil. Add more oil if necessary. Pan-fry the polenta pieces until slightly golden and crispy. Transfer to a plate.
When you're ready to serve, transfer the polenta medallions to a serving platter. Roll zucchini pieces on top of each polenta appetizer. Add a dollop of butternut squash spread. Cover with crushed honey-roasted nuts. Garnish with Italian parsley.
If you decide to serve the polenta rounds as an appetizer, it's preferable to serve them in serving spoons (Chinese porcelain spoons); the look is more elegant and they're easier for your guests to manage.