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  Most people want to eat the same things  on Thanksgiving. The kids clamor for the canned cranberry sauce. Aunt Hilda brings her green bean casserole made with mushroom soup.  And Uncle Bert bakes up a sweet-as-corn-syrup pecan pie.

     My family comes from New England, where change does not come easily.  Everyone vacations at the same lake every year, so when it comes to Thanksgiving, tradition reigns. Yet my brother , who just got back from a hunting trip with his son, has decided to serve pheasant this year. Imagine that.

    When you think about it, improvisation is really at the root of the Thanksgiving tradition.  The  first settlers  had to  forage for all kinds of strange foods for that first feast,  and much of it was probably outside their comfort zone.  So I would argue for serving up at least a few dishes   – wild game, a gratin of sweet potatoes,  celery-root-and-parsnip mashed potatoes – that offer some  new and surprising twists.

    I’m thinking of making a bread salad this year that will marry the rustic crunch of the bread stuffing with the sweet, earthy flavor of winter squash.  This recipe comes from the “Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden” cookbook.   The chef, who co-founded the Lark Creek Restaurant Group,   brings  together the best of Italy and Wine Country in this flavorful  dish.

 Winter Panzanella

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Assorted winter squash (butternut, acorn, hubbard, kabocha) peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 2 cups altogether)

½ cup olive oil, divided

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cups ciabatta or French bread, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped (about ¼ cup)

1 small poblano pepper, seeded and chopped (about ¼ cup_

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)

1 red Bartlett pear, cored and finely chopped

1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

8 pickled white anchovy fillets, for garnish

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the squash with ¼ cup of oil, 3 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast in oven until squash is golden brown and tender, about 1 hour.

While the squash is roasting, heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 1 minute. Add the remaining butter, bread, red pepper, poblano and garlic; toss to combine and transfer to a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until the bread is lightly toasted, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the squash mixture, bread mixture, pear, parsley, capers, vinegar and sage; toss to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Transfer to a serving platter and lay the anchovies over the top. Serve immediately.

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