Those of us who have chosen to prepare a local meal for our Northwest Thanksgiving feast have lots of side dish options to choose from. When it comes to sides, there are so many possibilities, I try to reign my imagination in and go for something simple that can be mostly prepared ahead of time. If you’re expected to conform to your traditional family favorites, I understand. I can remember my mother trying to veer off the path once or twice only to be met with great resistance, especially from the kids. There’s something very comforting about predictability even if sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows aren’t your thing.
I’ve been blessed with a family of adventurous eaters so I’m free to make up a different menu every year. This year, for the first in many, I’m not entirely responsible for cooking. My brother and his wife have graciously offered to host us on Orcas Island. I’ve been given my assignments, one of which is mushroom ragout. I’ll have to admit that although I’d heard the word ragout many times, I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d agreed to. After a little research I found that ragout is a well-seasoned stew made with vegetables and sometimes meat. This loose description gives me plenty of wiggle room to work with local, seasonal ingredients.
The season for wild mushrooms isn’t over yet so I started with a pile of chanterelles from the farmers market. Since I’ll be cooking for a larger group, I’ll add an equal amount of local organic creminis or white mushrooms from the grocery store to keep my costs down. I made my trial batch into a weeknight dinner by serving it on a bed of farro. For Thanksgiving, this rich dish can stand on it’s own or even become a vegetarian main dish served on top of grains or mashed potatoes. One important trick I learned is not to continually stir the mushrooms while they cook. If you do, you will have mushroom ragout but with ingredients this delicate, you want the flavors to be distinct rather than stewed. Go easy on the stirring and it will become the perfect woodsy blend.
3 or 4 minced shallots
1 1/4 lbs chanterelle and other mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth and cut into chunky pieces
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1/4 cup stock or apple cider
1/4 cup heavy cream
Fresh chopped thyme or rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large frying pan. Add shallots and saute until translucent.
Add mushrooms and saute until they begin to brown.
Add vermouth or wine and reduce until pan is almost dry. Remember, stir only occasionally.
Add stock or apple cider and reduce until pan is almost dry.
Add cream and herbs, stir just enough to combine, season with salt & pepper. Cook for an additional minute or two and then serve immediately. Serves 6-8
You can clean and slice the mushrooms, shallots and chop herbs ahead. This dish tastes best right after it’s prepared but can be reheated if you’re competing for burner space. Thanks to Chef Dennis Wasko at his blog, Beyond the Kitchen Wall for ragout inspiration.
Another simple side dish combines chunky roasted winter squash with heavy cream, sage and parmesan in a gratin that can be assembled ahead of time. Once you try it, you’ll never crave sweet potatoes and marshmallows again.
Winter Squash Gratin
1 large winter squash peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (the easiest way I’ve found to peel winter squash is to cut it in half around the middle and place the cut side down on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the peel off, down toward the board).
3/4 cup heavy cream
Several sage leaves torn into pieces
2/3 cup finely grated parmesan or other hard cheese
Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss squash with cream, sage, salt & pepper in a shallow baking dish.
Bake, covered for 30 minutes.
Stir in half the cheese and sprinkle the rest on top.
Roast, uncovered, until squash is tender and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Let it stand about 5 minutes.
Thanks to Gourmet, now at Epicurious.com.
Hopefully, planning your local Thanksgiving menu just got a little easier and you’re one step closer to being transported ‘over the river and through the woods’ once again.