I don’t know about you, but for me Thanksgiving is about everything but the turkey. Every Thanksgiving is the same. You grab a little turkey, a little stuffing, some cranberry sauce, and your essential mashed potatoes with gravy. Then, you stare at all the other sides – macaroni and cheese, perhaps some roasted brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, maybe creamed spinach – and you wonder how the heck you’re going to fit all of it in your stomach, let alone your plate. Salad is simply a waste of time, and who even has room for dessert after all that?
Sure, you can get a great fresh, young, well raised turkey from a small farm. Sure, you can brine it and roast it so that it’s perfectly juicy and delicious, but without all the trimmings, it would be really boring wouldn’t it? There is so much tradition surrounding Thanksgiving, I like to keep the turkey preparation really simple – roasted on a bed of classic mirepoix, and the cavity stuffed with thyme, sage, and bay leaves. People have such expectations and associations when it comes to Thanksgiving, I’m even nervous about messing with classic mashed potatoes. The rest of the sides though, leave room for a little fun and experimentation.
As usual I will be working and making dinner for 250 or so people on Thanksgiving day. So Buddy and I celebrated a few days early. It was good because it gave me a chance to try out some new recipes on a smaller scale (as in, dinner for two with leftovers for 4). I started by playing with different stuffing recipes. Last year I made cornbread stuffing for the first time, and this year I added some Smoky Maple Bacon, apples, and chestnuts. Every year I make an orange cranberry compote, but this year I cooked in some orange rind as well as orange juice, so it was more of a marmalade. For vegetables this year, I kept it really simple – Honey and Ginger Glazed Carrots, and Haricot Verts with Glazed Pearl Onions.
You’ll most likely want to stick to straightforward mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, but if you and your guests are feeling adventurous, try adding a little root vegetable puree for a subtle yet flavorful departure. I used parsnips, but rutabaga or celery root would work nicely too.
Mashed Potatoes with Root Vegetable Puree
INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6:
5-6 large russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large parsnips (or 1 rutabaga, or 1 celery root), peeled and sliced thinly
1-1/2 c. whole milk
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
3-4 Tbsp. butter
salt & pepper
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil, and add a large pinch of salt. Lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, place the parsnips (or other root vegetable) in a small saucepan. Add just enough milk and cream in equal parts to cover the vegetables. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat immediately. Add salt to taste, and simmer gently until the parsnips are cooked through, taking care not to burn the milk and cream on the bottom of the pot. Puree the mixture with either a blender or an immersion blender until smooth.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and immediately mash or pass through a food mill or ricer. Stir in the root vegetable puree, and butter. Add more milk and cream as needed and add salt and pepper to taste.
Other useful recipes for the Thanksgiving table: