Every year in the days before Thanksgiving, we get calls from friends asking for recommendations for the Thanksgiving meal: the best way to cook the turkey, what side dishes to make, what to drink. Since for us, Thanksgiving thrives on much-loved recipes that have become traditions, we usually give out our tried-and-true.
Here’s our round-up of favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with a few notated improvisations we’ve done here and there; you could easily forge a perfect menu from them. And since we view recipes as rough formulas and idea generators, we encourage your to take them in whatever direction you want.
Cocktails, Wines and a Swell Little Snack
For nibbles, we often serve roasted fresh chestnuts, along with thinly sliced serrano ham or prosciutto and olives to stave off hunger without filling people up before the big meal. We liked our recent improvisation of Pan Fried Olive Rescue so much, we might make them on purpose.
Since we find a lighter side dish works well to balance the usual starchy ones, we often whip this up to put into the mix:
Roasted Fennel, Shallot, Meyer Lemon and Chestnuts: Cut the tops off a few fresh fennel bulbs and discard. Quarter the bulbs and but out the core. Thinly slice the fennel quarters and scatter them onto a large flat baking sheet slicked with olive oil. Peel and thinly slice a handful of shallots and add to the fennel. Quarter a couple of Meyer or regular lemons lengthwise and slice crosswise as thinly as possible; add to the fennel. Drizzle over extra-virgin olive oil and toss in a few handfuls of peeled, roasted chestnuts (we use the imported bottled or vacuum-packed ones, OR peel them ourselves using the An Easy Method for Roasting Chestnuts.) Season with salt and pepper and toss until all the vegetables are coated; spread them evenly over the sheet pan. Bake at about 400′ (the temperature doesn’t really matter), tossing occasionally, until the fennel is tender and the vegetables are beginning to caramelize.
Sauces and Condiments
Quick Cranberry Sauce: Add about 1 cup of red wine to a medium saucepan and a few tablespoons sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce to about half. Add a package or cranberries, cover, turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries are tender (you’ll hear them pop as they burst). Add more sugar to taste and stir until dissolved. Remove the lid and stir until the sauce achieves the thickness you like. If you like, stir in a tablespoon or so of finely slivered lemon, orange or Meyer lemon zest. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge, then serve at room temperature.
Tart-O-Matic…Improvising Fresh Fruit Tarts At Thanksgiving, we use this method to make pear tarts, apple tarts, and sweet potato tarts (in these we peel sweet potatoes, quarter them lengthwise, then slice them as thinly as possible. Toss them with lemon juice, brown or turbinado sugar spiced with clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon or orange zest. Then proceed as directed. We haven’t tried it with pumpkin but imagine the approach would work just fine). We also make a surprising apricot tart by using dried apricots that we’ve plumped in syrup