Pre-pandemic, many American families ate meals on the go, bringing in takeout or defrosting frozen meals in the microwave. All that changed as COVID-19 spread — with more spending a lot of time at home with their families and becoming instant home cooks.
America's Test Kitchen, the cooking publisher and popular PBS cooking show, confirmed that many more people are now cooking at home, with their user engagement skyrocketing during the pandemic.
Weekend TODAY co-anchors Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander, along with their loved ones, decided to try out one of America's Test Kitchen's new recipes themselves. This delicious fattoush, a bread salad filled with veggies, is one of the many recipes being tested for a yet-to-be-released Mediterranean cookbook.
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"Such a good recipe from an upcoming @testkitchen book," Jack Bishop, chief creative officer at America's Test Kitchen posted on Instagram. "Best thing I’ve made in 2021. A veggie-rich salad inspired by Fattoush but with butternut squash, apples, and radicchio. The sumac vinaigrette is everything. Oh, same for those homemade pita chips."
Bishop told Kristen on Weekend TODAY that recipe testing is an important part of the cookbook publication process. "We want to make sure it's going to work for people at home and the only way to know that is to enlist the help of 83,000 volunteers who've agreed to test our recipes at home."
Kristen and her husband, John Hughes gamely became recipe testers, making the butternut squash and apple fattoush recipe. And while Kristen and John followed along with the recipe, they said they initially had no idea what the finished product was going to look like.
Over in their own home kitchen, Peter and his family were busy prepping the pita chips by brushing them with oil and tossing butternut squash cubes with apples.
They also marveling at how well-organized Kristen's kitchen looked. "If only that counted toward how it tastes!" joked John.
Kristen told Bishop she was unsure whether or not to roast the apples in the recipe, but Bishop said she ultimately made the right call to leave them raw.
"More than 100 recipe testers have been making this recipe and sending back feedback," said Bishop.
"The responses from recipe testers help make the published recipes easier to follow for novice cooks," explained Kristen.
"We've really seen during the pandemic, so many people who are new to the kitchen," said Bishop. "Everything from, 'What's the difference between a pairing knife and a chef's knife?' which I would say is a fairly basic question."
Ready to try the recipe at home? You can test out the recipe with your family and then submit feedback in a survey that will help America's Test Kitchen improve its recipes for home chefs just like you.
Butternut Squash and Apple Fattoush
Servings: 4-6 people
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cook time: 40-50 minutes
Swap option: Sumac is a commonly used spice across the eastern Mediterranean and traditionally lends its citrusy punch to this salad. Kristen and Peter substituted sumac for lemon zest, salt and pepper.
2 (8-inch) pita breads
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
⅛ plus ¾ teaspoon table salt, divided
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons ground sumac, plus extra for serving
1 garlic clove, minced
1 apple, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces (preferably a sweeter crisp apple like Pink Lady or Fuji to compliment the bright lemony dressing)
¼ head radicchio, cored and chopped (1 cup)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
4 scallions, sliced thin
- Adjust oven racks to middle and lowest positions and heat oven to 375°F.
- Using kitchen shears, cut around perimeter of each pita and separate into 2 thin rounds. Cut each round in half. Place pitas smooth side down on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Brush rough side of pitas evenly with 3 tablespoons oil then sprinkle with ⅛ teaspoon salt and pepper. (Pitas do not need to be uniformly coated with oil.) Bake on middle rack until pitas are crisp and pale golden brown, 10 to 14 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
- Increase oven temperature to 450°F.
- Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread in even layer on rimmed baking sheet and roast on bottom rack until tender, 20 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Whisk lemon juice, sumac, garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt together in small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in remaining ¼ cup oil.
- Break cooled pitas into ½-inch pieces and place in large bowl. Add roasted squash, apple, radicchio, parsley, and scallions. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve, sprinkling individual portions with extra sumac.
All of it comes down to a new way of making memories together — and hopefully something good for dinner!