In the run-up to Thanksgiving, we often get calls from friends anxious for easy, foolproof strategies for the big meal. Here’s our updated tried-and-true, “best of” recipe traditions that lend themselves to tailoring and improvising.
Check out our Roast Turkey Strategies: Pre-Salting Vs Wet-Brining. If you have the bird, you still have time to wet-brine. But the pre-salt method works almost as well and is easy.
Having too few people for a turkey, or just don’t feel up to the challenge? There is nothing like a GREAT, foolproof roast chicken
COCKTAILS AND WINES
Check out Anthony Giglio’s Thanksgiving Wines to Toast the Turkey (Written a few years ago, the general categories will lead you in the right direction.)
We like to serve a chilled bone dry La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry before the meal. It goes wonderfully with the savory nibbles below.
HORS D’OEUVRES AND LIGHT SNACKS
For nibbles, we often serve roasted fresh chestnuts (see An Easy Method for Roasting Chestnuts), along with thinly sliced serrano ham or prosciutto (the greats here) to stave off hunger without filling people up before the big meal. Pan Fried Olives or Black Olives with Rosemary are a nice savory salty flavor that won’t dampen the appetite as is Warm Crushed Olives to spread on bread.
Tapas Bar Roasted Almonds are an easy way to achieve the effect of Spain’s lovely Marcona almond.
Sometimes we whip up a winter squash hummus, similar to the one food writer par excellence Aglaia Kremezi makes (We prefer to roast the squash while we’ve got the oven on for a more concentrated puree. The simple method is at the start of the recipe for Spiced Winter Squash Puree with Roasted Garlic. Or you can turn the puree into a hummus by adding a tahini and extra virgin olive oil to taste.)
In addition to our three favorite purees, below, we often serve a mess of buttered or creamed steamed mixed greens —chard, spinach, kale, whatever else is around — to provide a less rich counterpoint.
Friends often request our Roasted Fennel, Shallot, Meyer Lemon and Chestnuts side dish: We whip it up on Thanksgiving day, roasting it all ahead on sheet pans and serving it at room temperature.
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.
Our Cranberry Walnut Conserve (for the Turkey and a Midnight Snack) is a side dish unto itself.
If you need a 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.
Our Rosemary Apple Tart is a classic. But if you want to improvise, check out Tart-O-Matic…Improvising Fresh Fruit Tarts At Thanksgiving, we use this method to make pear tarts, apple tarts, and sweet potato tarts (For sweet potato tarts, 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 using dried apricots that we’ve plumped in syrup.
Too busy to make a pie? Try our super-easy, pie-like Apple or Pear Crumble with Rosemary:
On the other hand, a hit of chocolate can be great. We recommend our as-easy-to-make-as-brownies Essential Chocolate Cake
All the desserts are great with Sea Salt Whipped Cream