For Nicholas Panagos, the executive chef of L’Andana in Burlington, Turkey Day has always been a grand affair.
“My Thanksgivings were always more about quantity than quality,” the chef admits with a laugh. “My mother was one of 13 children, and I grew up going to her parents’ house in Topsfield, where 50-60 family members would gather.” As Panagos tells it, his aunts would bring the birds, at least six in total, along with all the trimmings. And although he is a self-described meat-and-potatoes guy, those side dishes were always his favorite part of the meal.
“I know kids don’t like Brussels sprouts, but I loved the ones my aunt made,” says the 27-year-old chef. “She roasted them and then topped them with bacon, which added this great fat and smokiness. I also loved my aunt’s squash, which she roasted in brown sugar and glazed with maple syrup.”
Years later, having washed dishes and cooked in his father’s four restaurants in Providence, Rhode Island, attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Boston, and worked in area restaurants such as Sorellina, Panagos began contributing his own Thanksgiving dishes to the family meal.
“I would do my own Brussels sprouts by making my own bacon and adding an apple cider glaze. I would make kabocha squash with mint and pomegranate. For the past couple of years, I even brined a turkey with brown sugar, garlic, and herbs like sage. My aunts were fascinated, because they’d never tasted such flavors,” says Panagos.
“The Italian side of my family,” he continues, “made sausage and fennel stuffing, which was awesome.… They also brought tiramisu for dessert and cannoli from Mike’s Pastry because they lived in the North End.”
This year, for the first time in his life, Panagos’s Thanksgiving family will be the 400 guests at L’Andana. And while that’s a lot of mouths to feed, Panagos is used to cooking for crowds. “I think I’ve gotten a good start with my family,” he says, laughing.
As in the past, L’Andana will serve a three-course Thanksgiving meal with a la carte options. For the first course, guests can choose between a soup, homemade pasta, or salad. For entrees, Panagos will prepare the ever-popular turkey plate heaped with roasted turkey breast, a wood-grilled turkey thigh, olive oil whipped potatoes, grilled squash, stuffing, and gravy. The steak option will be an 8-ounce filet mignon, while the fish special will be salmon with a cranberry glaze. For the pasta entrée, Panagos will channel his Italian cousins’ stuffing by preparing homemade orecchiette with house-made spicy sausage, broccoli rabe, and Parmesan. And then there are the side dishes.
“We’ll offer typical sides, like the truffle fries,” says Panagos, “but then I’ll offer my own recipes, like grilled kabocha squash with mint-pomegranate pesto, a savory smoked sweet potato crème brûlée, and Brussels sprouts with homemade bacon and apple cider glaze.”
For Thanksgiving dessert at his grandparents’ house, Panagos would always choose the apple pie. “It’s a classic—and with vanilla ice cream, you can’t go wrong.” Ergo, L’Andana’s pastry chef will craft mini apple crostatas topped with cinnamon crumble, vanilla gelato, and apple cider caramel. She also will make a pecan tart with salted caramel vanilla gelato, along with chocolate crema (like mousse) with Chantilly and espresso biscotti.
To help home cooks avoid the crazy “running around” that Panagos saw his aunts do every Thanksgiving Day, he has some professional advice.
“Prep things, like we do in restaurants,” he says. “Peel and cut veggies in advance. Utilize water baths to stop vegetables from cooking,” like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, so they can be cooked earlier in the week and then heated and seasoned at the last minute. Panagos also suggests brining the turkey.
“Don’t worry about space. Everybody has a beach cooler. Use it. Fill it with the brine, add the turkey, and leave it in a cold place overnight. You can really tell the difference when a turkey has been brined. First, the meat is seasoned through, versus just the skin being seasoned, and the salt [from the brine] tenderizes the meat and makes it juicier.”
In the end, no matter where you are—in a restaurant, in someone else’s home, or at your own table—Thanksgiving offers a chance to gather with loved ones and give thanks for the season’s bounty. “It’s the one holiday that everyone consistently came to, and always in the same spot,” says Panagos. “It’s the tradition that’s most special—the chance to see extended family.” Well, then “there’s the food, of course,” he adds. landanagrill.com
Grilled Kabocha Squash with Mint Pomegranate Pesto
(Adapted from Nick Panagos, 6 servings)
1 medium kabocha squash (or red kuri squash), about 3 lbs.
1 c. chopped mint
1 c. olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp. (for squash)
1/4 c. pomegranate seeds
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 tsp. lime zest
1 tsp. pomegranate molasses
1 garlic clove, minced
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds. Place squash halves with cut side down in a baking dish. Add 1/4 c. water, cover dish with aluminum foil, and roast for 35 minutes. Remove foil and let squash cool. Cut each squash half into three wedges. (Can be made up to two days in advance; simply refrigerate covered and bring to room temperature before using.)
2. Combine mint, 1 c. olive oil, pomegranate seeds, Parmesan cheese, shallot, lime zest, pomegranate molasses, and garlic in a medium bowl. Mix to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made up to two days in advance; simply refrigerate covered and bring to room temperature before using.)
3. When ready to serve squash, preheat grill or a grill pan over medium heat. Brush squash wedges with remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill squash wedges until slightly charred on sides. Transfer to a serving dish and top with some pesto (you may have more pesto than you need).
Apple Cider Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
(Adapted from Nick Panagos, 8-10 servings)
½ gallon sweet apple cider
3 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
8 oz. thick-cut bacon
1. Place cider in a soup pot over medium heat. Simmer cider until reduced to 2 c. (Can be made up to two days in advance; simply refrigerate covered and bring to room temperature before using.)
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and season with salt. Fill a large bowl with ice water to create an ice bath. Add Brussels sprouts to boiling water and cook until tender, approximately 3 minutes. Drain Brussels sprouts and immediately transfer to ice bath to stop cooking. Drain Brussels sprouts from ice bath and transfer to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to dry. (Can be made up to two days in advance; simply refrigerate vegetables covered and bring to room temperature before using.)
3. Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp, draining each piece on a metal rack lined with paper towels. Reserve 2 Tbsp. bacon fat; discard the rest. Cut bacon into small squares. (Can be made up to two days in advance; simply refrigerate covered and bring to room temperature before using.)
4. When ready to serve Brussels sprouts, heat 2 Tbsp. reserved bacon fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place Brussels sprouts, cut side down, in skillet and sauté until golden brown. Add some cider glaze and toss Brussels sprouts to coat. Transfer contents of skillet to a serving dish and top with cut-up bacon.