For some, Thanksgiving is about grand parades, football or even annual 5K morning runs. But, for the Clayton family – it’s always been about the favorite foods that draw our family together. Like many, we celebrate with the traditional dishes, but through the years we’ve updated our favorites with new flavors, hints of spice and unexpected twists. The traditional sweet potato dish was the first to get a Thanksgiving meal makeover. While a sweet staple, you won’t find candied sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on our table. We gave this dish a savory update by combining yams and butternut squash with sausage and cheddar cheese. Nutmeg and pecans give the dish a decidedly modern update.
This recipe has become a Clayton family Thanksgiving tradition, and has been adopted by many other homes that I have taken it to as part of a potluck dinner. We don’t like yam dishes that are too sweet and haven’t been able to find another recipe we like as much as this one. Another bonus? You can make it ahead and freeze it, reducing holiday stress.
Sausage, Butternut Squash and Yam Casserole Recipe
1 3/4 pounds yams, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1/2 cup chopped green onions (or more to taste)
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 or 3-quart shallow baking or gratin dish.
Steam the yams and squash until tender enough to mash, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Mash into large chunks, add the butter and nutmeg. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Cook the sausage in a skillet over medium heat, stirring and breaking up. After 5 minutes (when the sausage is about half browned), add the green onions and sauté until the sausage is cooked through, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up into bits, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat, strain off the fat and set aside.
Spread half the yam/squash mixture in the prepared baking dish, top with half the sausage and half the grated cheese. Repeat the layers, and top with the chopped nuts.
Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through and the cheese is bubbly and the top is brown.
Make ahead: The casserole can be prepared earlier in the day, covered and refrigerated, or frozen for up to a month. Return to room temperature before baking.
For years, we’ve been arguing over the pronunciation of the plain ol’ potato. But, there is a bigger discussion at hand in root vegetable world – what’s the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? There’s been a lot of confusion perhaps due to how they’re used, how they’ve been marketed and where they come from. As it turns out, the yam and the sweet potato couldn’t be any more different. Let’s get to the root of the matter.
This yellow or orange tuber is elongated with ends that taper to a point. There are two types. One is a paler-skinned potato that has a thin, yellow skin. The flesh is also pale yellow which is not very sweet in taste. The other variety has a darker skin and has a thicker, dark orange to reddish skin. The flesh is sweet and it has a moist texture. The darker variety is often referred to as a “yam” in the United States. This technically incorrect naming originated in the American South, where slaves called the sweet potato “nyamis” (or “yam” in English) because of its similarity to a vegetable of that name that they were familiar with in Africa. In order to differentiate between the two types of sweet potatoes, producers and shippers adopted the African name for the sweeter variety. To prevent confusion, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that sweet potatoes labeled as “yams” also be labeled as “sweet potatoes”.
A real yam comes from a tropical vine and is not related to the sweet potato in any way. A popular vegetable in Latin America and Caribbean markets, the true yam is slowly becoming more common in the U.S. In fact, they can often be found in local Whole Foods markets. The yam is prized for its sweet flavor as the flesh has more natural sugar than the sweet potato as well as a higher moisture content. You can recognize a yam by its brown or black skin which resembles the bark of a tree. A true yam’s flesh may be off-white, purple or even red depending on the variety.