Saturday, January 19, 2013

Thanksgiving Sideshow

Published in The Sanford Herald on November 7, 2012.

Prepare thyself: potential heresy ahead.  The Thanksgiving dinner, for me, is about much more than just turkey.  In fact, I find that when incredible sides are present, turkey just becomes the official Wearer of the Gravy, the Companion of the Stuffing.  But the star, it is not.  At least not when you make sides that steal the show like these: rosemary and garlic mashed sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts with a pancetta red wine sauce.  I do realize that, upon uttering that dreaded b-word (brussels), I may have lost several of you.  But I promise you, as a woman of the cloth, that one word will forever change how you feel about this oft-loathed vegetable: bacon.  When those wee cabbage cousins are roasted to crispy delight and tossed with an Italian bacon sauce, rich with red wine, you may just find yourself converted.  You might even begin embracing all those things you were predisposed to despise (spinach, lima beans and daytime talk shows, to name a few).  As for those glorious mashed sweet potatoes: their incredible texture, vibrant color and earthy sweetness will leave that old bird in the dust.  They have the elegance of a fine meal and the ease of a quick preparation, which is a blessing when you have a hungry hoard to feed.  Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.  Let the sideshow begin.

Rosemary and Garlic Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 6 (Can be made a day ahead and re-heated.)

4-5 large sweet potatoes (preferably North Carolina potatoes), peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 sprig fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup mascarpone cheese (a soft, slightly sweet Italian cheese)
¼ cup ( ½ a stick) butter, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add rosemary, garlic and sweet potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.  If you’ve never added whole garlic cloves to boil with your potatoes when making mashed potatoes, you’ll be amazed at the deep flavor it adds.  Drain, return to pot and place back on the heat for a couple of minutes.  This allows excess moisture to steam off of the potatoes, ensuring a creamy and not soggy texture.  Mash potatoes, add the butter and mascarpone and season with salt and pepper to taste.  When making any mashed potatoes, I always find the need to be generous with seasoning.  Top with a fresh sprig of rosemary when serving and a pat of butter, if desired.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta Red Wine Sauce
Serves 6

1 ½ pound of fresh brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and outer layer removed.  Larger sprouts should be halved.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ lb pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon) or regular bacon, diced
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Toss brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of freshly grated pepper.   Roast until tender inside and caramelized outside, tossing twice during cooking, about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepare the pancetta sauce.  Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat.  Add onion and pancetta and cook until onion is translucent and pancetta is crisp, about 10 minutes.  Drain off all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease.  Return pan to heat, sprinkle the flour over the bacon and onion mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Add wine, scraping up bottom of the pan to deglaze it.  Season with pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until the wine has reduced and the sauce has thickened.  Adjust seasoning as needed, only adding salt at this stage (as the sauce reduces and the flavor concentrates, the saltiness of the bacon intensifies as well).  Finish the sauce with the tablespoon of butter.  This will add a luxurious sheen to your sauce.  Add roasted brussels sprouts to the sauce and stir to combine.  Serve immediately.

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