Instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes for Thanksgiving 2020 that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and show how the classics can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.
Roasting yams at a low temperature for a long time gives them a cheesecake-like texture that’s soft and luscious. These lightly candied, rosemary-perfumed walnuts are a great complement to the yam’s soft texture. Toasting the nuts in butter first helps to awaken their distinct flavor, complemented classically by maple syrup and rosemary. Using plenty of lemon juice keeps the sweetness at bay, allowing the candied condiment to play up the yam’s flavor rather than overwhelm it with more sugar.
Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Place the yams in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; they should all fit with a little room around them. Drizzle with the olive oil then rub the oil all over the yams and the bottom of the dish. Season the yams liberally with some salt and pepper, then cover the dish with foil and bake until the yams’ flesh is very tender, at least 3 hours.
About 10 minutes before serving the yams, make the walnuts: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and cook, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the 1 teaspoon salt and the rosemary, and cook until the rosemary is fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the maple syrup and cook, tossing constantly, until it coats the walnuts well, about 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice; keep warm.
When the yams are ready, remove the dish from the oven and use a potato masher, metal spatula or large spoon to gently crush the potatoes so they spread out and fill in the gaps around them to create one thick layer of roasted yams (or mash and stir in the pan until smooth, then spread out in an even layer). Season the yams again with salt and pepper, focusing on the now-exposed insides. Spoon the walnuts and syrup evenly over the yams and serve while hot.
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