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Discerning Diner:
It's early: Dare we mention the 'T' word?
By Elan Head

November 5, 2005

This is a column about Thanksgiving side dishes.

Not that I’m trying to get you worked up about Thanksgiving earlier than you have to.

It’s just that my next column will be about Thanksgiving leftovers, so I’m trying to think ahead.

Anyway, none of these dishes is exclusive to Turkey Day — they’re good on any fall or winter menu.

And if yours is the kind of family that is hidebound to holiday tradition, Thanksgiving is not the time you’ll try something new.

When my husband and I go home for the holiday, we pretty much know what to expect.

Every year, the same people make the same signature dishes — mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing — and for the most part, that’s really nice.

Three years ago, however, we spent Thanksgiving stuck in an extended-stay motel room in Colorado Springs. Not so nice.

But I took advantage of the circumstances to mix up the menu a little. For example, since there were only four of us eating, I ditched the turkey in favor of duck.

I don’t expect you to do the same, but here are a few ideas for at least shaking up your side dishes.

Green beans: Instead of steaming or boiling your green beans, try sautéing them very slowly. Here’s what you do: wash your beans (one to two pounds) and tip and tail them as usual.

Use a large, shallow sauté pan that can accommodate the beans in one jumbled layer. Add enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the pan and place over medium heat.

While the pan is preheating, peel two or three garlic cloves and slice them in half. Add them to the oil.

When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the beans. Stir to coat with oil. Allow to cook at a brisk sizzle for a few minutes, then lower the heat to medium-low and add a quarter cup of water.

Cook at a low sizzle for 25 minutes, stirring and adding more water as required. The beans and garlic should blister and turn brown in spots — delicious. Be sure to evaporate any excess water before removing the pan from heat.

If you’re making a lot of beans, you can use two pans or cook them in batches; they can be made a few hours ahead and reheated in one pan (with a little water) just before serving.

Sweet potatoes: This is my mother-in-law’s specialty, though she hasn’t made it for Thanksgiving (yet). Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. (If you only have one oven, and you need to use it at low temperatures for the turkey, make this Thanksgiving morning and reheat before serving.)

Wash and peel enough sweet potatoes to go around. Cut small sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and again widthwise to make chunky quarters. Cut large sweet potatoes into eighths.

Put the potatoes in a large shallow pan and toss with olive oil and salt to coat thoroughly. Roast, stirring frequently, until the sweet potatoes are spotted brown on the outside and soft all the way through, about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your chunks.

You can also make this with a mixture of white potatoes and sweet potatoes; roast the white potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes on their own before adding the sweet potatoes.

Winter squash: Savory winter squash dishes make great Thanksgiving sides. The secret, for me, is high-quality Parmesan cheese.

Here’s one idea: Cut a large spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Roast cut sides down until the flesh is soft and the shell begins to collapse — 400 degrees is a good oven temperature but you can use another temperature if it’s more convenient.

Remove the squash from the oven and allow it to cool. Now scoop out the flesh and mix it with generous quantities of salt and heavy cream. Transfer to a gratin dish and pat flat.

Cover the top with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Just before serving, return the dish to the oven and heat until the squash is hot and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Happy November!










































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