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Entertaining the Question
Thanksgiving Side Dishes take the Main Stage
November, 2006 - Issue #25
Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta Gratin
Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta Gratin
'Tis the season of the harvest! Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Thanksgiving table. This year, let's take those side dishes and elevate them to a new status by giving them a 2006 touch!

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 to commemorate the harvest reaped by the Plymouth colony. Far from how we celebrate now, this meal was a traditional English Harvest feast with the local Wampanoag Indians, who were invited to say "thanks" for teaching them how to plant crops and hunt wild game. These crops consisted of the grains of corn and barley; fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, grapes, plums and cherries; and vegetables such as squashes, onions, leeks, beans, potatoes and sorrel. In one form or another, we see versions of these crops in our modern feasts, with Americans presenting no less than three to four side dishes for the meal. It's no wonder that the Thanksgiving feast starts midday; how else would we fit in all that eating?

Here are some of our favorite side dishes using the traditional crops. Corn was often ground into cornmeal. Today, we use this for polenta. Adding butternut squash takes it to a whole new dimension. You'll also love this new twist on green beans!

Creamed Cipiollini Onions, Mushrooms and French String Beans
1 pound Cipollini onions
1 pound fresh Haricot Verts (French green beans)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and ground pepper
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms, if large cut in half
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, cut in half
1 pound oyster mushrooms, if large cut in half
1/2 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream


In medium saucepan, boil enough water to cover onions. Boil onions until just tender, about eight minutes. Bring a second pan of water to boil, enough to cover beans, and add beans and one tablespoon of salt. When they are blanched but still crisp, drain and reserve.

In a large saute pan, melt butter and one-quarter cup oil. Add onions and cook over moderate heat until browned. Add garlic and cook an additional three minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Separately saute the different mushrooms in hot tablespoons hot oil, each. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until each are tender and brown.

Combine all mushrooms and onions in one pan, add stock and cream and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Stir gently about four minutes. Re-season and serve. Serves 12.

Roasted Butternut Squash Polenta Gratin
1-1/2 pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 quarts plus 2 cups of stock (light chicken, vegetable or water)
12 ounces instant polenta
4 ounces unsalted butter
4 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and drizzle each half with the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. On a greased baking sheet, set the halves cut-side down and bake in the lower third of the oven for approximately 30 minutes or until tender. Scrape the squash flesh into a bowl and mash with a fork.

While the squash is baking, bring a large saucepan of the stock to boil. Add two tablespoons of oil and slowly "rain" in the polenta. Whisk constantly until smooth, then reduce the heat and whisk until thickened, about five minutes. Whisk in mashed squash, six tablespoons of the butter and one ounce of cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the polenta in a greased 15-inch by 10-inch baking dish and cut the remaining two tablespoons of butter into small pieces and scatter over top. Sprinkle remaining cheese and bake in upper third of the oven for one hour or until bubbling and golden. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving. Serves 12.

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Cindy and Tamra are quite thankful that they are the owners of RSVP - The Catering Company.
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