Thanksgiving is getting closer and I am starting to think about the menu. As we have not been living in the U.S. for the last ten years, Thanksgiving has been an excuse for us to give a big party, rather than the family event it is here. We have had a couple of really memorable ones. One year, when we lived in Stockholm, we borrowed a greenhouse which was part of a cafe in the summer, only a few minutes walk from our house. Peter spent hours filling the greenhouse with candles, and lit the snowy path from our house to the greenhouse with torches. It was really beautiful. The guests had drinks at our house and then walked in the dark, following the torches up the road to see a glowing greenhouse in the white snow. Meanwhile, my friend Marybeth and I furiously cooked in the cafe's kitchen...we got to use their industrial ovens and potato peeler; which was a good thing because we had about 50 guests. The next morning, we staggered back to the cafe, after having had about 4 hours of sleep to clean up the whole thing. We had a plane to catch to Brussels in the afternoon, so there was no sleeping in. After that experience, I always try to remember to hire someone to clean up after a big party...a luxury, yes, but it makes it so much nicer! Another excellent Thanksgiving was in London a few years back. My friend Nancy came and we cooked up a really fantastic spread, with about a million side dishes, two kinds of cranberry sauce, a gorgeous cheese plate, and 3 desserts, including a lemon rose cake. That feast was probably the pinnacle of food excellence for any of our Thanksgivings.
Judging by all the articles in magazines about turkey, people seem to focus on the bird. But for me, Thanksgiving is all about sides. Who cares if the bird is dry? Smother that baby in Madeira mushroom gravy and eat it with potato squash gratin and brussel sprouts with chestnuts, and who is going to notice a little dryness? I like to cook up new sides every year, while still keeping the same categories of potato, squash, and something green. Here are some side dishes that I really like, mostly from that gourmet Thanksgiving in London.
Spicy Sweet Potato (serves 4 to 6)
I do this quite often. I like to serve it with roasted pork belly. The sweet spiciness tastes great with pork. This is really easy to do, but the spices make it a bit dramatic. You could also do the same thing with squash, like pumpkin or acorn squash. It won't be as rich or sweet, but still it will be nice.
2 large sweet potatoes
1 floury potato (you can just use another sweet potato here, as I have often done, and nothing bad happens, but the spiciness is a bit less pronounced)
1/2 stick butter
some fresh rosemary
1 fresh red chili (heat of chili according to taste)
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
Peel and boil the potatoes until tender. Mash. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan. Lightly chop the rosemary. Peel the garlic and slice. Finely slice the red chili. Add spices to melted butter. Cook until butter is golden brown. Add hot butter and spices to mash. Stir it in and serve hot. The mash can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator. To serve, heat up the mash in the microwave, remember to stir to make sure it is evenly hot, make the butter spice mixture, and mix.
Antonio Carluccio's Savoy Cabbage with Pancetta (serves 4 to 6)
Bacon and cabbage always taste great together. Actually, bacon tastes good with most things, I find. Anyway, this is really easy and really nice.
1 large Savoy cabbage (this is the medium colored green one with really crinkly leaves)
4 tablespoons olive oil
100 grams unsmoked bacon or pancetta, cut into matchsticks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 dried red chili, crumbled
300 milliliters water
salt and pepper to taste
Quarter the cabbage, core and slice thinly. Heat oil, add bacon, garlic and chili. Fry for two minutes. Do not brown the garlic. Add the cabbage and water, season to taste. Stir and cook covered for 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid is largely evaporated and cabbage is cooked tender. I like to leave a little bit of bite in the cabbage, but others like cabbage very soft. Do it as you like.
Lemon Green Beans
This is from Nigella Lawson's cookbook called Feast. Simple and tasty. I love the freshness of the lemon in contrast to all the other heavier, creamier, side dishes.
1 kg fine green beans, topped and tailed
75 grams butter
few drops olive oil
Sat and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to the boil, throw in some salt, and blanch the beans for about 6 minutes after the water comes back to the boil. The beans should have lost their raw taste but retain crunch. Strain them and put them back in the pot on stove on low heat with. Throw in the butter and olive oil. While the butter melts, prepare the lemon. Peel the lemon, making sure to take off all the white pith (the easiest way is put the lemon on the cutting board, and slice off both ends. Then set the lemon on one end, and slice off the skin downwards, turning it as you go). Slice the peeled lemon, letting it fall apart into bits. Push the sliced lemon bits and any juice into the pot of beans. Stir the pan and add salt and pepper to taste.
Truffle Potato Gratin
I made up this recipe because I had a bottle of gorgeous truffle oil, and I needed something to do with it. What could be yummier than cream, potatoes and truffles? The recipe below isn't actually how I did it. I just sliced the potatoes, layered them with salt, pepper, cream and truffle oil, then I baked the whole thing until the potatoes are tender. However, I have always felt that my potato gratins don't have the right lucious texture and it is often a hit or miss thing. I have recently read a couple of recipes that do this pre-cooking and I bet that is the trick to a really good dish. So, I am giving you the recipe that I am going to make NEXT time I do this dish, based again on one of Nigella Lawson's recipes.
500 ml mil
500 ml heavy cream
2 to 3 bay leaves
4 peeled cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoon salt
2 kilo floury potatoes
truffle oil to taste
butter for greasing the dish
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (about 450 F). Put milk and cream into a large pot that will be able to fit in all the potatoes. Cut onion in half, put in pot along with bay leaves, garlic cloves and salt. Bring the cream mixture nearly to the boiling point. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the onion and bay leaves infuse.
Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into slices (about 1 cm thick, or a bit more than 1/4 inch). Put the potatoes in with the cream in the pot and brink back to boil with lid on. Lower the heat to simmer, taking off the lid if necessary to avoid milk overflowing the pan. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, but not dissolving into mush. Fish out onions and bay leaves. Season with truffle oil, pepper and salt, to taste. Grease a large roasting pan with butter and pour in the potato mixture. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until the potato is bubbling and brown on top. Sprinkle some more truffle oil on the top. Let stand for a bit before serving.