The country can come together at the Thanksgiving table

By Lisa Abraham
Beacon Journal food writer

sides_02
Eat your way across America this Thanksgiving with a tasty Pear Salad side dish from Washington State. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

After a particularly divisive fall, will we be able to put aside our differences and come together around the Thanksgiving table?

Will the “to stuff” or “not to stuff” debate keep us at odds with family members?

Will the continuing battle over sausage versus chestnuts in the stuffing find us in opposing camps from our friends, neighbors and co-workers?

Not to worry.

No matter how different our tastes may be at the ballot box, the dinner table is one place where we can embrace each other’s differences and still find plenty of good eating to keep us all happy.

As much as it would seem the American Thanksgiving dinner is common ground, what we’ll be dining on next week will vary widely as we travel across the red and blue states of our nation’s culinary map.

In the South, there will be cornbread dressing and sweet potato pie, while the Southwest will add a bit of chili pepper to the corn, and New Englanders will pop cranberries into the stuffing and the salad.

And because we’re always moving from place to place, Southern pecan pie will find its place on the buffet table next to the Midwestern staples of apple and pumpkin.

While the turkey will always take center stage at Thanksgiving, the side dishes put our personal stamp on the meal.

That’s what chef Tony Aiazzi of the Workshop Kitchen set out to investigate when he put together The Sides Project, Thanksgiving: 25 Regional Recipes. The ebook (www.the
sidesproject.com, $3.99) looks at the U.S. from five regions: Northwest, Midwest/Great Lakes, Northeast, Coastal Southeast and Southwest, and explores Thanksgiving side dish recipes from each.

“Brined, basted or deep-fried, turkey is turkey. Everyone knows it’s the sides that make Thanksgiving memorable,” he writes.

Aiazzi, a native of Nevada who currently resides in Philadelphia, said there is so much information already available about roasting turkeys that it seemed more valuable to write about sides, which are more diverse.

“It’s such a commitment to cook a 20-pound bird, people can play around a little more with the sides and they are relevant for a longer amount of time,” he said.

While folks look forward to the annual dinner, for many, the stuffing and gravy is as important as the turkey itself. “Be it sweet or savory, bread pudding takes no prisoners,” Aiazzi said.

The way regional side dishes developed over time had plenty to do with the ingredients that were available in a particular region, which is why oyster dressing was eaten in coastal areas and chestnuts were used in the East and Midwest where the trees were abundant. Wild rice stuffing became prevalent in Minnesota where the grain is grown.

Regional dishes often reflect the basics of local eating. But as Aiazzi noted, the development of regional favorites also had a lot to do with immigration patterns and where various ethnic groups settled in the country.

Lauren Salkeld, senior editor for www.epicurious.com, said taking into account all of the regional favorites was just a part of the work that went into producing the 17-year-old website’s first-ever cookbook, The Epicurious Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $27.99 softcover).

The editors pulled together more than 250 recipes from the site, including some submitted by readers.

Salkeld said editors looked at recipes from seven different regions across the country to make sure the book was reflective of all tastes.

“The book has lots of regional eating. … Seasonality is important to us, so there is that, too,” she said.

For example, while oyster stuffing was popular in the Southern Gulf area, the time of year when Thanksgiving takes place, late autumn, also is one of the better times of the year for harvesting oysters. Oysters harvested in colder months are smaller and saltier and considered to be better for eating than other times of the year, Salkeld said.

“We wanted to provide a diverse mix of things. For Thanksgiving and stuffing, it made sense for us to do a cornbread, a wild rice, and a bread stuffing with sausage and apples,” she said.

While certain patterns are easy to define, like Southern cooking, other areas can be more difficult because the food traditions have had so many influences, Salkeld said.

Apples and pears, for instance, figure prominently in cooking from the Pacific Northwest area, where the fruits are grown, but also in upstate New York, another apple-growing stronghold.

Here are a group of recipes that will help you eat your way across the map this Thanksgiving.

SOUTHWESTERN CORN SAUTE

4 tbsp. butter (2 oz.), softened to room temperature

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

⅔ cup half-and-half

1 tsp. ground cumin or dried oregano

1 tbsp. high quality chili powder (chipotle chili powder is preferred)

4 cups thawed corn kernels

¼ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

½ cup crisp bacon crumbles (optional), for garnish

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic and chopped onion, and saute about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, half-and-half, cumin or oregano, and chili powder; simmer 3 minutes.

Add the corn and simmer another 3 to 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with cilantro and bacon (optional).

Makes 8 servings.

So Easy to Preserve: Freezing, 2005, National Center for Home Food Processing and Preservation and the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Georgia, Athens.

NORTHWESTERN PEAR SALAD

½ lb. mixed salad greens

1 large Bosc or Bartlett pear, cored and sliced thinly

½ cup hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans

¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

¼ cup chopped red onion

5 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in oven until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool and set aside.

Whisk together oil, vinegar and salt and pepper.

Toss salad greens with dressing. Top with pear slices, cheese, nuts and onions. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

— Lisa Abraham

NEW ENGLAND SAUSAGE,

APPLE AND DRIED CRANBERRY

STUFFING

14 oz. white bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 12 cups)

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed or bulk

¼ cup (½ stick) butter

6 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 3 large leeks)

1 lb. tart green apples, peeled, cored, chopped (about 2 large apples)

2 cups chopped celery with leaves

4 tsp. poultry seasoning

1 cup dried cranberries (about 4 oz.)

4 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

⅔ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 eggs, beaten to blend

1⅓ cups (approximately) canned low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide bread cubes between 2 large baking sheets. Bake until slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Sauté sausage in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Pour off any drippings from skillet. Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks, apples, celery and poultry seasoning to skillet; sauté until leeks soften, about 8 minutes. Mix in dried cranberries and rosemary. Add mixture to sausage, then mix in bread and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

When ready to stuff the bird, mix the eggs into the stuffing.

Fill main turkey cavity with stuffing. Mix enough chicken broth into remaining stuffing to moisten (about ¾ to 1 cup chicken broth, depending on amount of remaining stuffing). Spoon remaining into a buttered baking dish. Cover with buttered aluminum foil and bake alongside turkey until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover stuffing and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

To bake all stuffing in pan, butter a 15 x 10 x 2-inch baking dish. Mix 1 cups broth into stuffing. Transfer to prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil and bake at 350 degrees until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes

Makes 14 servings.

— The Epicurious Cookbook

PUMPKIN PUDDING WITH

GINGERSNAPS AND MAPLE

CREAM (MIDWEST)

For the pudding:

2 tbsp. cornstarch

½ cup milk

4 large egg yolks

½ cup sugar

2½ cups milk

1 tsp. pumpkin spice

1¼ cups pumpkin puree

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, diced and cold

For the maple cream:

1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp. maple syrup

½ tsp. vanilla extract

About 20 gingersnaps (enough to equal 2 cups coarsely ground)

Whisk cornstarch, ½ cup milk and yolks together, and set aside. Bring sugar, 2½ cups milk and pumpkin spice to a simmer in a medium-sized saucepot over medium heat. Remove saucepot from heat. Slowly whisk 1 cup of the hot liquid into egg mixture, slowing raising the temperature of the eggs to prevent curdling. Now slowly whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the hot milk mixture and return to stove over a low- to medium-low heat.

Using a heatproof rubber spatula, continuously stir mixture, scraping the bottom of the pot, until mixture begins to thicken and comes to a boil. The cornstarch keeps the eggs from curdling. Remove from heat and add pumpkin puree, continuing to stir until there is no longer a danger of the pudding scorching on the bottom of the pot.

Add the cold butter, and either whisk to incorporate it into the pudding, or for the best effect, give the mixture a few short blasts with an immersion blender. Pour pudding into a shallow container, and cover with plastic film, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming during cooling. Refrigerate and let cool and set up for at least 6 hours or overnight.

To prepare the maple cream, add cream, maple syrup and vanilla to a large cold bowl. (Ice-cold tools help cream whip up faster.) Whisk to medium stiff peaks.

Break gingersnaps into large chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse just until coarsely ground (pieces about the size of peas).

Layer into glass jars or cups in this order: crushed gingersnaps (tamping down lightly to remove excess air), pudding, cream. Repeat, slightly pressing gingersnaps into pudding to remove air and finishing with maple cream.

Makes 6 servings.

www.thesidesproject.com

WILD RICE STUFFING

Nonstick cooking spray

1½ cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup uncooked wild rice

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1½ tbsp. chopped fresh sage

1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice

½ cup dried sweet cherries

½ cup chopped dried apricots

½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add celery, onion, wild rice, and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in broth and sage; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes. Stir in brown rice, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook for 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 10 minutes.

Stir in cherries, apricots, pecans and season with salt and pepper.

Makes 12 servings.

— Cooking Light magazine

CORNBREAD STUFFING WITH

SWEET POTATO AND SQUASH

1 cup frozen diced onion, red and green bell peppers, and celery

2 small garlic cloves, pressed

1 tbsp. canola oil

1½ lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch cubes

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

3 tbsp. melted butter

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage

2 tsp. Creole seasoning, divided

2 (14-oz.) cans low-sodium fat-free chicken broth, divided

1 (8-oz.) package cornbread stuffing mix

1 large egg, lightly beaten

⅓ cup chopped pecans

Fresh or dried sage leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté frozen onion mixture and garlic in 1 tablespoon hot oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat 2 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stir in squash, next five ingredients, 1 tsp. Creole seasoning, and ¼ cup water. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes or until squash and potatoes are tender. Stir in one can chicken broth.

Remove from heat; cool 15 minutes. Stir together stuffing mix, egg, remaining one can chicken broth and 1 tsp. Creole seasoning in a medium bowl. Fold into cooled squash mixture. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with pecans; bake 20 minutes or until dressing is thoroughly heated and pecans are toasted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish, if desired.

Makes 10 servings.

— Southern Living Home Cooking Basics

Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at labraham@thebeaconjournal.com. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit my blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/lisa.


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