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Home on the Range: Holiday Squash Rolls

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Squash rolls - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Squash rolls
I didn't grow up with big Thanksgiving gatherings of food and family.

Although my parents were American, I was raised in England far away from relatives. In the late ’60s and ’70s, turkey and cranberries were hard to find there, and I don't think my mother has ever baked an apple or pumpkin pie, though she is an accomplished cook.

My memories of a classic Thanksgiving meal go back to the first year that I was invited with my now-husband, Mark, to his Boston-area family for the holiday.

My mother-in-law learned to make excellent pies from her grandmother. In her house, the relish tray with cream cheese-stuffed celery, olives, sweet gherkins and pickled cauliflower is sacrosanct.

At Mark's dad's house, I love that the groaning buffet table always includes the Greek salad and spanakopita of his stepmother's heritage next to bowls of stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Thanksgiving is my husband's favorite holiday and it falls on our oldest son's birthday every few years, including this one. Over the 35 years we've been together, we've always celebrated with an assortment of family. Sometimes that involves funny overlapping circles, like the year my half-sister and her husband joined us along with my mother (who is not my half-sister's mother).

As far as the food goes, the holiday frustrates me a little because it's kind of stuck in a time warp with limited opportunity for creativity; there are so many "must-haves" already on the list. But that's a minor quibble.

My one successful permanent addition to the roster has been on the menu for more than a decade. It is a stellar, lightly sweet, golden dinner roll for which I owe thanks to Holly Miller, half of the local philanthropic power couple whose husband, Bobby Miller, passed away earlier this year.

I think it was fall 2008 when I happened to deliver a meal I had cooked for a fundraiser to the Millers' Burlington home a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Holly had her hands in a big bowl of  dough and the smell of yeast and squash filled the air. She was making the first of  several batches of squash rolls, she told me, which she would freeze for the holiday crowd.

Squash roll helpers in 2017 - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Squash roll helpers in 2017
Holly said that she often enlisted the help of her nieces to form the rolls. Over the years, I have pressed a long list of assistants into service — even my father, who was not exactly known for helping in the kitchen.

The biggest challenge is keeping those helping hands off the freshly baked squash rolls. I have learned to make extra to accommodate them.

This year, there will be no crowd around our Thanksgiving table and only one set of extra hands to help form the rolls. Our older son is living in Peru with his girlfriend and won't make it home until December. We reluctantly cancelled a planned trip to Washington, D.C. to celebrate with our younger son and see my mother and her husband. My mother-in-law lives locally and we will deliver her and one other solo friend a meal, but we will not eat in person together.

Our younger son will be cooking for himself  in D.C., but we're planning to make the squash rolls "together" via video chat the day before Thanksgiving. And this year,  he'll be able to eat as many as he wants fresh out of the oven without his mother swatting his hand away.

Holly Miller's Squash Rolls

Makes about 35 small dinner rolls. Can be doubled.

Holly Miller combines butternut and buttercup squash. I have made the recipe with butternut and with acorn squash, which I usually roast in their skins (after removing the seeds) until completely soft and then just scoop and mash, or puree in the food processor if the squash is stringy. I find that roasting keeps the squash on the drier side, which reduces the amount of flour I have to add to the dough and makes for a lighter roll.

Vegan option: Last year, I successfully made a vegan version with oat milk and vegan butter. It required the higher range of flour quantity to pull together.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus another couple sticks for filling rolls
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1½ cups cooked, mashed winter squash, such as butternut, buttercup or acorn
  • 2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry or instant yeast
  • 4- 4½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to lowest temperature setting and then turn oven off.
  2. Pour milk into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring just to the point that it is vigorously steaming and remove from heat. Stir in butter, sugar, salt and mashed squash and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then stir in yeast.
  3. Scrape squash mixture into a large heat-proof mixing bowl and add first 4 cups of flour. Stir until mixed, finishing with hands if necessary, to form a soft dough. Add more flour if needed to handle dough. It will still be a little sticky.
  4. Cover bowl with a clean towel and set in warm oven (should be about 100 degrees) for 1½- 2 hours to rise. (Although the original recipe says “until doubled,” mine never quite seems to double, but it does expand some and the rolls always come out great.)
  5. Transfer dough to a generously floured counter and knead a few times. Roll dough to about ¼- inch thickness and use a 3-inch biscuit cutter or glass to form rounds.
  6. Place rounds about two inches apart on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Put a quarter pat of butter in center of each round and fold half a round over the other to form a semi-circle, pressing down lightly to seal in butter. (This is a great job for family helpers of all ages.)
  7. Cover cookie sheets of rolls with clean towels and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for another 45 minutes-1 hour. (Again, these don’t rise in a major way, so don’t be worried.)
  8. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with shelves in the most central positions. Bake rolls, switching pans from top to bottom shelves and turning them front to back halfway through, about 15 minutes until golden. They will still look slightly moist at the fold, but they are better slightly underbaked than overbaked, especially if you’re going to re-warm them before serving.

Source: Lucille Perras and Holly Miller
Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.