Side Dishes for Holiday Meals
Photo credit: Peter Kaskons
"By fresh, buy local" is a slogan we hear and see over and over again. Myriad reasons exist as to why we should opt to purchase from our local farmers rather than supermarkets sourcing from Florida, California, and even as far away as South America and China. Purchasing our produce locally supports the North Shore economy, helps protect the environment, preserves our cultural heritage, and conserves our agricultural landscapes, and, frankly, locally grown vegetables and fruits just taste better. The North Shore is teeming with farms producing fresh organic vegetables year-round; and as the harvest comes to a close, late-season veggies become the mainstays on our autumn menus and delicious showstoppers on our Thanksgiving tables.
I spoke to two chefs recently who also appreciate the importance of buying local and fresh. Chef Carolyn Grieco of Carolyn’s Farm Kitchen was drawn to the simplicity of fresh local foods and the beauty of the farms in the area. She ended up working on a local farm, using the fruits and vegetables from the fields to create her signature recipes. She loves the fall harvest season and says it is all about slow cooking. “During the summer we are either quickly grilling burgers or making salads for our families,” she says. “November is a time for slow roasting, stews, and braising. Lazy Sunday afternoons are a perfect time to slow down and relax.” The autumn harvest is what Grieco refers to as the “big boy” veggies—pumpkins, winter squash, and root crops. Thanksgiving is by far her favorite meal of the year. For her holiday ingredients, she sources from many different local farms: Cider Hill Farm, Smolak Farms, and Long Hill Orchard, to name a few.
Chef Patrick Soucy award-winning chef of the new Applecrest Farm Bistro in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, says sourcing local food means everything to him. He lives, eats, and breathes the farm-to-table concept. Although he grew up in an inner city on Wonder Bread and government cheese, he wanted to raise his children in the country, where they could learn about growing their own food and living more sustainably. In fact, he has a 14,000-square-foot kitchen garden at his home in New Hampshire. His wife and kids participate in planting seeds, tending the vegetables, and harvesting crops throughout the season. “We grow everything organically, which means we also lose a lot [of produce], too. When you grow your own food, Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning—it’s more personal,” he notes. He is hoping for a little blanket of snow before pulling November’s carrots, which will yield a sweeter veggie.
Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Soup
Yield: 2 1/2 quarts (about 6 servings)
> Two 2 1/2 lbs. sugar pumpkins
(or 1 lg. butternut squash)
> 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
> 1/2 small onion, chopped
> 4 tart apples, peeled and cubed
> 2 c. chicken stock
> 2 c. water
> 2 Tbs. light brown sugar
> 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
> Pinch cinnamon
> 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, cracked
black pepper to taste
> 1/4 c. light cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash the pumpkins and remove the stems. Cut the pumpkins in half, scrape out the seeds (save for toasting if desired), and place pumpkins cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes or until knife-tender. Remove from the oven and cool before scraping the cooked pumpkin flesh from the outer skin into a large bowl (you should end up with about 6 cups total).
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat, add the onion, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the apples, roasted pumpkin, chicken stock, water, brown sugar, and seasonings and bring this mixture to a simmer. Half cover and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the apples are completely tender—stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Working in batches, puree the mixture until completely smooth, and add it back to the cooking pot along with the light cream and additional water as needed to develop a rich consistency. Taste for seasoning, reheat gently over low heat, and serve the soup garnished with a little fresh-grated nutmeg on top.
If no time for roasting, simply use peeled and cubed fresh pumpkin instead (add at the same point in recipe).
Bourbon Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Dried Chili, Rosemary, and Orange
Yield: Serves 6
> 1 1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
> 1/3 c. dark brown sugar
> 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
> 1/4 c. bourbon
> 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
> Salt to taste
> 2 tsp. Ground cinnamon
> 4 to 5 sweet potatoes, unpeeled, sliced into 2-inch disks
> 2 dried ancho chilies, soaked in hot water until soft, drained,
seeded and diced
> 1/2 rosemary sprig
> 10 thyme sprigs
> 2 heads garlic, whole
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the orange juice in a saucepan with the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then turn down the heat to medium-high for about 20 minutes until the liquid has thickened and reduced to about 1 cup.
Add the bourbon, olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, and salt.
Place the potatoes in a large bowl, add the rehydrated diced ancho chilies, rosemary, thyme, and garlic, and then pour in the reduced sauce. Toss together, making sure that everything is coated, and then spread the mixture out in a baking dish and cover with foil.
Place in the oven and roast covered for 25 minutes. Take out of oven and carefully remove the foil. Baste the potatoes in the liquid, and place back in the oven uncovered until soft, caramelized, and golden brown. They need to remain coated in the liquid to caramelize (add more orange juice if liquid is getting too low for your liking).
Spaghetti Squash with Kale & Walnut Pesto
Yield: 6 servings
> 1 spaghetti squash, approx. 3 lbs.
> Kale Pesto – yields 1 1/2 cups pesto
> 4 c. packed kale, washed, stemmed, and
> 2 cloves garlic
> 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
> 1 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus
extra for sautéing
> 1/4 c. toasted walnuts*, plus 2 Tbs.
extra for garnish
> Kosher salt and cracked black pepper,
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cook for 45 to 55 minutes or until completely tender throughout when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and allow squash to cool long enough to handle. Use a dinner fork to scrape out the “spaghetti,” removing all the flesh from the skin. Set aside.
Prepare the pesto by placing the kale and garlic in a food processor with a small amount of oil. Puree until smooth before adding the Parmesan cheese, remaining olive oil, toasted walnuts, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and set aside until ready to use (or refrigerate or freeze for later).
To assemble the dish, heat 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the spaghetti squash. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to warm it through before adding 2 to 3 Tbs. of the kale pesto. Toss gently, cook for another minute, and taste for seasoning. Transfer the squash to a serving bowl and sprinkle extra toasted walnuts over the top.
Both the squash and pesto can be prepared in advance. The cooked squash will hold in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and pesto can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for 3 months.
*Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently until brown and fragrant (4-5 minutes), or toast in a 350-degree oven on a baking sheet for 8 to 12 minutes.