Simple Thanksgiving Sides
Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals. I just love the savory, sweet, buttery, nutty flavors that we shield ourselves from all year long. I decided a long time ago that I would always make my families’ traditional favorites on Thanksgiving and not worry (too much) about calories and carbs on this one special day, where we celebrate bounty and family and friends.
In my kitchen, the key to a fun and stress-free Thanksgiving is planning. Pre-planning. And realistic expectations. I cringe just a bit when I hear folks talk about how stressed they are and how they dread the holidays. The holidays were not created to cause stress. They were created to bring us together. So this year, let’s not get caught in the trap of trying to live up to some unrealistic ideal. Make this holiday your own. Use your individual strengths to make this a happy, joyous day of thanks. Plan ahead. Focus your efforts on the things you enjoy, and work to share them with others. If tablescapes are your forte, go ahead and spend 3 days creating a table they’ll never forget and have others bring the desserts. If you’re the fabulous family baker, take the time you need and make your gorgeous cakes and pies and keep the sides simple. Or make amazingly intricate gourmet side dishes from scratch if that’s your thing, and buy everything else. The joy disappears when we try to reach beyond our limits. And if you do decide to do it all yourself, the key to a truly happy Thanksgiving is in the planning. I promise.
My sage : ) advice to help keep your workload down is to select side dishes that can be made in advance, have relatively short prep times, and are amazingly delicious alongside that succulent brown bird. I’ve been making my Grandma Peparata’s turkey stuffing recipe my entire life, as did my Mom and my aunts, and now my sister and brother do as well. It includes what some might consider “unusual” ingredients for stuffing, including a good bit of sliced hot capacola, (or as Tony Soprano would say, “gabagool”) which is a red pepper-spiced, pork-derived Neopolitan salumi, some diced hard-boiled eggs, and lots of Romano cheese. If you prefer, you can substitute any kind of ham for the capacola, but please try it just once with hot capacola before you decide. It’s not easy to find, but they typically carry it at Central Market.
My sweet potato casserole is a warm buttery, nutty gratin that pairs beautifully with the turkey. In this recipe, you can reduce the calories and sugar by completely omitting the sugar in the potato puree. The brown sugar and nut topping is a must though. Use as much or as little as you like.
And we keep the holiday green with a side of crunchy, savory Brussels sprouts made on the stovetop to conserve oven space. This dish includes crisp Granny Smith apples, mild sliced shallots and toasted walnuts, and should be made fresh on Thanksgiving day and not a day in advance.
Try these three easy sides on your Thanksgiving table this year. And remember, with a little practice, you too can be a Chef Impersonator.
THREE SIMPLE THANKSGIVING SIDES
ITALIAN TURKEY STUFFING
1 loaf sliced white bread, torn into 1” pieces (just tear it into small pieces, shape doesn’t matter)
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup Romano cheese, grated
5 hard boiled eggs, cut into small chunks
Giblets, cooked in boiling water and cut into small pieces
½ – ¾ lb. capacola, torn or cut into 1” square pieces
1 or 2 raw eggs to hold it together
Salt and pepper to taste (add salt sparingly, as the cheese is already salty)
Boil giblets in a small pan for about 5 minutes, and cut into small pieces. Set aside. Tear each slice of bread into 1” pieces and put into large bowl. Add onion, celery, hard boiled eggs, giblets, capacola, cheese and salt and pepper and mix well. Add one raw egg to bind it together and mix well by hand. If needed, add a second raw egg.
Place stuffing into a greased casserole dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees 20–25 minutes or until top is golden brown. Or fill turkey cavity with stuffing and cook according to directions. Serves 4.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE WITH BROWN SUGAR TOPPING
2 ½ cup mashed sweet potatoes
¼ cup butter, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla
½ tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
½ cup chopped pecans
3 Tbsp. flour
¾ cup brown sugar
Peel and cut potatoes into large slices. Boil for 20 minutes or until very tender, and drain. In mixing bowl add potatoes, butter, eggs vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Mix with electric mixer until smooth (or partially chunky if you desire) and pour into greased casserole.
In small bowl, mix together topping ingredients and stir well. Cover potatoes with the topping mixture, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Serves 4.
SAUTEED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH SHALLOTS, APPLES AND WALNUTS
16 oz. Brussels sprouts, halved
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 Granny Smith apple, diced into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely cut
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
Heat a non stick skillet and add butter and oil. Remove course end of each Brussels sprout (discard) and cut in half. Add shallots, Brussels sprouts and garlic to skillet and sauté for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes until Brussels sprouts are slightly tender, but still crunchy. Raise the heat and cook for an additional 2 minutes until Brussels sprouts are nicely browned. Add apple and cook for 2 minutes. Add toasted walnuts and cook another minute. Place into serving dish and enjoy. Serves 4.
And many thanks to Central Market for supplying all the groceries for my monthly column in Fort Worth Magazine.