This has been a challenging year on so many fronts with tremendous loss. Yet when we gather together on November 26, we still have much to be grateful for, including the rich cultural melting pot that comprises our nation.
To celebrate a taste of Europe at the Thanksgiving table, three New England chefs share with you the Mediterranean flavors they bring to this traditional feast, either at home or in their restaurant. They each have even shared a favorite holiday recipe.
“Normally, I don’t offer Thanksgiving in the restaurant because I want the staff to be with their family on that day,” says Barry Edelman, chef-owner of the Mediterranean-French bistro, 5 Corners Kitchen in Marblehead. “However, our tradition for the past several years has been to make a Thanksgiving meal for the staff and their family and friends the day before.”
As in previous years, Edelman’s feast will begin with a selection of charcuterie and the staff favorite, chicken liver mousse. For the turkey, Edelman plans to confit the legs and then sauté the meat until “crispy, salty, crunchy, and moist.” He’ll serve these golden bits alongside roasted turkey breast with an orange-sage cranberry sauce and hearty gravy made from all the turkey bones and trimmings.
For the sides, Edelman plans to make his stuffing with Pain au Levain from A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem. “It’s a traditional French sourdough with a very dark crust and some of the best bread I’ve ever had,” he says. “I’m going to toss it with pine nuts, golden raisins, celery, onion, and some of my gravy.”
Other dishes he’ll offer include butternut squash seasoned with brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, and sage, a beet salad with shaved fennel and Ricotta Salata and garlicky mashed potatoes. To invigorate fatigued palates, he’ll serve pungent Thai-chili Brussels sprouts that he admits are hardly French.
But his dessert is. “I am going to make Far Breton,” says Edelman, referring to the French custardy cake stuffed with Armagnac-soaked prunes that hails from Brittany. “It’s delicious warm and you can serve it with vanilla ice cream.”
Come November 26, Edelman doesn’t plan to cook. “The night before Thanksgiving is hectic, so I’m going to just chill with my family and eat leftovers,” he says. And what is he most grateful for this year? “I am thankful that my family and I have been able to remain healthy during the pandemic and for our guests, who have been supporting us through all of this. We’ve experienced hardship and it’s been a lot of work, but we’re still in the game.”
Petros Markopoulos, chef-owner of Ipswich’s Greek-Mediterranean restaurant Ithaki, also closes his restaurant on Thanksgiving to give his staff a break. “But every year around Thanksgiving, I make a turkey or roasted chicken dinner for senior citizens,” he says. (This year, recipients will receive packed meals.)
“I also bring a bit of the holiday onto our restaurant menu the week before Thanksgiving by offering a barley mushroom soup, confit leg of turkey, turkey medallions with cranberry sauce, shallot mashed potatoes, and pumpkin cheesecake.” It’s at home with his family that Markopoulos taps into his Greek heritage for the Thanksgiving feast.
“In Greece, we have turkey or pork with stuffing for Christmas. But here, I serve turkey with stuffing for Thanksgiving,” says the chef, who traditionally kicks off the meal with roasted pork sausages and Greek egg-lemon soup (Avgolemono) plumped up with rice and chunks of turkey. For the bird, Markopoulos simply roasts it, but toward the end of cooking stuffs the cavity with his paternal grandmother’s rice stuffing—a crowd-pleasing blend of ground beef and pork, brown rice, chestnuts, dried fruit and sweet spices, like cinnamon and cloves.
“For side dishes, I’ll do my traditional roast potatoes with lemon, olive oil, and oregano, and Brussels sprouts, cooked very simply, just with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I’ll also make a mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a pumpkin or butternut squash puree with butter, salt, pepper, Asiago cheese, and Amaretto liqueur. Now, you know all my secrets!” he jokes. Dessert will be pumpkin baklava and apple pie.
Despite this year’s hardships, Markopoulos still feels incredibly thankful for all that he has. “I so appreciate my family’s health and feel so grateful to my friends, as well as the country that has allowed me to have a good life and a passion for what I do.”
Douglass Williams, chef-owner of the Italian restaurant Mida in Boston, also shutters his restaurant on Thanksgiving Day to give his staff time with their family. However, this year because of the pandemic, he’s decided to offer a Thanksgiving meal as takeout. “It’s ideal for those who are not having a huge gathering and it’s also a way to support a local Black business,” he says, excited about the prospect.
“As a starter, I’m going to offer our antipasto because it’s so convivial,” says the chef, referring to the cornucopia of cured meats, cheeses, marinated and pickled vegetables, olives, fruit jams, crackers, and breads. “I’ll also offer Insalata Supremo,” a mix of cool lettuce, tangy citrus, grated Parmesan and fresh herbs all bound in a bracing red wine vinaigrette.
“I know you don’t often see a big beautiful salad at Thanksgiving, but when you start with an unctuous, cheesy, crunchy, saucy salad, it gives the cook time to get everything else ready.”
For the turkey, Williams plans to offer it brined and marinated in a bright chimichurri, made Italian by swapping parsley for the cilantro, with directions for how to cook the bird at home. He’ll offer gravy and cranberry sauce, along with mashed white potatoes, tender escarole, and a stuffing made with different breads. Dessert will be Amaretti cookies and freeform pumpkin pie with mascarpone mousse and crumbled pie crust. He’ll even offer some cold-weather themed cocktails to go.
As for how Williams plans to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it will be low-key. “It’s just me and my wife this year and I know I’ll be pooped, so I’ll probably just get some of the takeout for us,” he says, laughing. And, despite the difficulties he’s faced this year, what does he feel most thankful for? “Definitely the health of myself and the people around me, including my customers. And, honestly, I am so grateful that we still get to operate—to host birthdays and weddings, no matter how small, and be a part of people’s lives.”
Petros Markopoulos’s Greek Rice Stuffing
Please note, this recipe calls for 2 cups of slightly undercooked brown rice (it will continue cooking in the bird), which you can make in advance. Also, if you plan to serve the stuffing on the side, Markopoulos suggests garnishing it with chopped parsley and fresh pomegranate seeds.
1/2 stick (4 tbsp. ) Sweet butter
1/4 cup Olive oil
4 fresh Sage leaves
1 sprig Thyme
2 medium Carrots, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium White onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup Chopped fresh fennel
2 pounds 85% lean ground beef
1/2 pound Ground pork
1 tsp. Tomato paste
1/2 cup Dry sherry
1 cup Chopped roasted chestnuts (jarred)
1/2 cup Pine nuts
1/3 cup Golden raisins or snipped dried dates
2 cups Chicken stock (plus another 1/2 cup if serving stuffing separately)
2 cups Slightly undercooked brown rice
1/2 tsp. Ground cloves
1/3 tsp. Ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper
1. Heat the butter and oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted. Add the sage and thyme and cook for 1 minute.
2. Add the carrots, onion and fennel and sauté until soft, about 6 minutes.
3. Add the beef and pork, stirring often to break up the meat, until it browns, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add the sherry and cook until it all but evaporates, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chestnuts, pine nuts and raisins and cook mixture for another five minutes.
5. Stir in the chicken stock and undercooked brown rice and continue cooking the stuffing until the stock has been absorbed. Add the cloves and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper. At this point, the stuffing is ready to tuck into your turkey (add it when the bird has cooked halfway). If you prefer to serve the stuffing on the side, add the additional 1/2 cup of chicken stock and cook the mixture for approximately 10 minutes more.
Barry Edelman’s Far Breton
Edelman, like most European pastry chefs, prefers to weigh his ingredients for accuracy. However, since most home cooks do not own a scale, you’ll find approximate conversions to standard measures below. If possible, use European butter in the recipe, since it contains less water than American brands. Please note, the batter rests for 4 hours at room temperature before baking.
About 24 Pitted prunes
1/2 cup Armagnac
3 cups Whole milk
4 large Eggs
Scant 1/2 cup Granulated white sugar
2 tbsp. Melted lightly salted butter
2 1/2 tsp. Pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. Sea salt
scant 1 cup White flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting baking pan
3 tbsp. Lightly salted butter for greasing the pan and drizzling over the cake
1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover the saucepan, turn off the heat, and let the prunes plump as they cool in the Armagnac.
2. In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt. Cover and blend. Add the flour, cover, and blend until the batter is smooth, scraping down the blender’s sides as necessary. Transfer the batter to a lidded container and let rest for 4 hours at room temperature.
3. Using approximately 1 tablespoon of the solid butter, grease a decorative baking dish that is approximately 10 inches wide (for a round one) or long (for a rectangle or oval one) and 2 inches deep. Lightly flour the dish.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
5. Gently stir the rested batter (the flour will have settled to the bottom) and pour half into the prepared dish. Drain the prunes, saving the soaking liquid for another use, and evenly distribute the plumped prunes around the batter. Slowly pour in the remaining batter, trying to avoid displacing the prunes.
6. Place the Far Breton in the oven and reduce the heat to 365 degrees. Bake the cake for 45 minutes; it will be golden brown on top.
7. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of solid butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour the melted butter over the cake. Enjoy warm or let cool and dust with confectioner’s sugar before cutting into pieces.
Douglass Williams’s Insalata Supremo
(Serves 6, as a starter)
Williams likes to use blood oranges in this salad, but navel oranges are a fine substitute.
1/2 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup Red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Granulated sugar
Salt and pepper
1 Pound Salad greens
2 Oranges, peeled, segmented and each segment halved crosswise
1/4 cup Freshly grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese
1/4 cup Torn fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup Chopped fresh dill
1. Place the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small jar. Cover and shake well to blend. (You may have more dressing than you need.)
2. Place the lettuce in a large salad bowl, along with the orange pieces, Parmesan, mint and dill. Pour some of the dressing over the salad and toss until combined. Season with salt and pepper, adding more dressing as desired.