Once Thanksgiving rolls around — it's a mere week away — something happens to cooks. They gear up to churn out the mandatory players — turkey, gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes — for that show-stopping meal of the year.
And then they start to worry about what else to place on the table. It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without all those extra side dishes that add interest and flavor. They play as important a role as the big bird.
Thanksgiving is a holiday of side dishes, in fact. There's no other time of year when ideas and recipes for add-ons take up more pages in food magazines.
Side dishes can be as simple as a plate of roasted vegetables, or you can pull out the stops and create richer concoctions.
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If you're stuck in a side-dish rut, here's your chance to start a new tradition or try a new ingredient.
There are no rules for the number you should have. One or two can be plenty. We advise keeping it simple. You're already making a huge meal, so don't stress yourself out with complicated sides.
Today's recipes feature gratins — a casserole-type dish topped with bread crumbs mixed with cheese or bits of butter.
One is a take on the traditional green bean casserole, but made with fresh green beans, mushrooms and a creamy sauce. You can do all the prep and assembly two days in advance. Add the final topping on Thanksgiving Day and bake it while the bird is resting.
The potato and celery root gratin with leeks is a rich, creamy dish similar to scalloped potatoes. If you're not familiar with celery root, also known as celeriac, it's a knobby root vegetable prized for its bulbous end, not its stalks and leaves like celery. In this gratin, celery root adds a nutty, parsley-like flavor that's a good match for potatoes and leeks. You can make this gratin several hours in advance and reheat it in a 300-degree oven.
Brussels sprouts are either loved or loathed, but at Thanksgiving they show up on many suggested menus. Pan-roasted Brussels sprout gratin with shallots and rosemary is a good recipe for those who typically shy away from the tiny cabbage-like vegetable.
Don't be put off by the number of ingredients or the length of the recipes. They're easier than they look. The best advice is to have a plan, delegate if you can and prepare ahead.
Green bean gratin
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the baking dish
2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
¾ cup sliced shallots
1 red bell pepper, seeded, finely diced
8 to 10 ounces mixed sliced mushrooms such as shiitake (remove stems) and cremini Kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup dry sherry
2 cups whole milk or 2 percent milk
1 round (5¼ ounces) Boursin cheese (regular or light)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
¾ cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
¾ cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans, then plunge them into the ice bath to stop the cooking. When beans are chilled, drain and set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and mushrooms and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and the mushrooms have given up their liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in the sherry, mixing well, then add the milk while whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 1 minute, then cook for 3 minutes longer.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the Boursin cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, lemon zest and tarragon. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Add the reserved green beans and toss to combine. Transfer to baking dish. (The recipe may be prepared up to this point 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
To finish: In a small bowl, stir together the panko, Parmesan and almonds. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over the bread crumb mixture and toss to combine. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the green beans. Bake until the topping is golden and the bean mixture is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes 12 servings.
Adapted from The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook
Pan-roasted Brussels sprout gratin with shallots and rosemary
1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 large shallots, halved
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1¼ cups heavy whipping cream
1¼ cups (about 3 ounces) finely grated Gruyere
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne, or less to taste
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, slice the Brussels sprouts and shallots.
In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue to cook the butter until it begins to brown and smell nutty. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the browned butter in a medium bowl.
Add the Brussels sprouts, shallots, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper to the pan, and toss to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the Brussels sprouts and shallots begin to soften and brown in spots, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, Gruyere, nutmeg, cayenne and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Heat until the cheese is melted, whisking occasionally, about 4 minutes. Do not boil. Add the sauce to the Brussels sprouts, carefully stirring to combine.
Add the panko, Parmigiano, rosemary and a pinch of salt to the reserved butter, and mix thoroughly. Top the sprout mixture with the panko mixture.
Bake until the crumbs are browned and the Brussels sprouts are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
From Fine Cooking magazine, November 2011 issue.
Potato and celery root gratin with leeks
3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 sprig thyme plus 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced crosswise (1⁄8-inch thick)
1 pound celery root, peeled, very thinly sliced crosswise (1⁄8-inch thick)
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat heavy whipping cream, garlic and thyme sprig just until bubbles begin to form around edge of pan. Remove from heat; set aside to steep.
In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add leeks; season with salt and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Butter a 3 -quart gratin dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Layer 1⁄3 of potato slices and 1⁄3 of celery root slices evenly over bottom of baking dish. Cover with 1⁄3 of leeks, then 1⁄3 of Gruyere. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon thyme leaves. Repeat layers twice more. Strain cream mixture into a medium pitcher and pour over vegetables.
Set gratin dish on a large rimmed baking sheet and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour. Carefully remove foil; continue baking until top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 10 servings.
From Bon Appetit, November 2011 issue.