Leave it to a resourceful cook to improve on tradition. For the past eight or 10 years, Lisa Jorgenson has taken a layered approach to stuffing a big squash for Thanksgiving. No sugar pumpkin or cheese pumpkin will do. She tracks down a big-bellied Hubbard, whose lovely blue-green color deepens after hours of low heat.
The Kalorama resident and mother of three grown children is an international water specialist. Her job requires quite a bit of travel, but that only increases her desire to cook a meal for her husband, David Doniger, and friends when she returns.
“I love having people at our house,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll try to make what I had wherever I was. I can be experimental, or we can throw steaks on the grill and bake potatoes and make a salad. It’s important to connect with people — especially, that’s good here in Washington.
“Cooking at home makes everybody feel good — including me,” Jorgenson sums up as her expressive hands outline a small universe in front of her.
A dear family friend who puts on a Thanksgiving feast for 75 at her family’s mountain cabin told Jorgenson about the pumpkins she stuffs with ratatouille each year. Intrigued, Jorgenson tweaked the recipe to make it her own. It’s a project, she admits, but one with benefits. A filled squash covered with clean towels will stay hot for several hours. In the Thanksgiving prep kitchen, that means a side dish or entree is out of the way so a la minute items can be cooked and other foods can fit in the oven. It’s also a relatively inexpensive way to serve a crowd.
With years of carving experience behind her, Jorgenson can hollow out a 23-pound Hubbard in under 10 minutes, leaving a five-inch access hole and reserving its “lid.”
“It’s kind of pleasant work, actually,” she says.
Jorgenson seasons the 3
4- to 1-inch-thick squash walls with garlic salt and white pepper because they will be the edible base of a beautifully layered portion.
She makes her own simple risotto with chicken broth and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or uses a good-quality boxed mix. About six cooked cups of it constitutes the most substantial layer, which firms up in the oven and later takes on the role of tasty insulation. Next, she adds a layer of just-roasted eggplant slices; overlapping is okay, but it’s crucial to make sure the eggplant reaches all the inside edges. Then comes a sprinkling of fresh thyme, followed by a layer of roasted zucchini or golden squash slices. That layer gets its own herb garnish: fresh oregano. Pressing and compacting each layer during the process ensures a good result at serving time.