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A Make-Ahead Butternut Side Dish That Every Thanksgiving Table Needs

A dish of purple and red vegetables sprinkled with green leaves and white cheese.
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).

On a cutting board, a bright orange squash sliced in half, tendrils of purple, and a chunk of white cheese.
Rocky Luten

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.

Purple onion tendrils in a saucepan.
Rocky Luten

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.

Dan Kluger’s Roasted Butternut Squash with Spicy Onions

Serves 8

Spicy Onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium red onion, sliced
• Kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 2 teaspoons honey

Roasted Butternut Squash With Spicy Onions
• 1 cup hazelnuts, preferably blanched
• 4 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, seeded, sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram (oregano is a good substitute)
• 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

See the full recipe on Food52.

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