It’s impossible to even think “Thanksgiving” without thinking “turkey.” But I have a confession to make: I don’t really care about the Tom that’s supposed to be the star of my table.
Borderline blasphemy? Perhaps, but maybe I just can’t fully get behind a main course that came about as a matter of convenience.
It’s true: Colonial Americans ate turkey because it was a bird that wasn’t of much use to us otherwise.
Beef was more valuable alive, and not widely available in those days. Chickens that laid eggs were also valuable, while roosters were a bit too tough for a celebratory dinner. Wild game meant that you needed a hunter in the family to procure your holiday feast. And geese were a bit too expensive.
Thanks to their low cost and ability to feed a crowd, those first Thanksgiving turkeys could’ve helped coin the phrase “bang for your buck.”
And once Charles Dickens had Scrooge gift the Cratchits with a turkey in his classic story “A Christmas Carol,” we were done for; turkey had won our holiday hearts.
Still, my stomach is loyal to the side dishes, not the star attraction. And I don’t mean those gelatinous cranberry cylinders, with their can lines still visible, or the onion-topped green-bean casserole, swimming in cream of mushroom soup sauce.
Instead, I like to make dishes like The Five B’s, from the chef Walter Pisano, of Seattle’s Tulio Ristorante. His dish is a Baked rigatoni with Butternut squash and Burrata, topped with sage Buttered Breadcrumbs — in other words, a rich, fancy mac’n’cheese.
Joining his dish on the table should be broiled Fuyu persimmons, their delicate perfume pumped up with honey and brandy, served warm with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts and a dollop of creamy goat cheese.
Traditional spuds are elevated to the next level when mixed with golden rutabaga — whipped and topped with sweet caramelized onions and creamy Gruyère cheese.
Last but not least, I like to get a few more greens in with an escarole and Belgian endive salad, tossed with thinly sliced fennel, crisp-sweet apple, walnuts, and slivers of salty bacon.
These four side dishes are true Thanksgiving stunners. With them, you might not even need a turkey.
Based in Eugene, Oregon, Jackie Varriano is a writer who loves tackling kitchen projects big and small. Keep up with her at SeeJackWrite.
Related recipe: Broiled Persimmons; recipe: The Five B’s; recipe: Creamed Rutabaga and Russet Potatoes; recipe: Escarole and Belgian Endive Salad with Walnuts, Fennel, and Apple
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