Side Dishes That Steal the Show

When Thanksgiving rolls around, I'm often the odd one in that I am busy looking forward to homemade stuffing, a tangy cranberry-orange sauce and rolls so soft they almost melt in your mouth. Sure, the turkey is great too ... but it's the wide array of special sides that make the holiday special and each table a little unique.

With so many families gathering around a table this Thanksgiving with a roasted turkey as its centerpiece, I thought it important to pay tribute to the side dishes that will round out and truly define the meal that we sit down to as a group. Whether it's the traditional dishes of green bean casserole and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows or more themed dishes like wild rice stuffing or cayenne baked sweet potatoes, the side dishes add depth and character to this special meal.

In honor of these special dishes, I'm sharing two of my favorites that add a touch of Italian heritage to our Thanksgiving table. Enjoy them this holiday or any special day! Happy Thanksgiving!

Goat Cheese with Roasted Peppers and Pecans

  • 4 red bell peppers
  • 1/4 c. walnut oil
  • 1/2 c. pecan halves
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • 6 oz. goat cheese
  • Salad greens
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice

Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers under the broiler until the skins turn black. Remove them and seal them in a resealable plastic bag for 5 minutes. Remove the peppers and peel off the skin. Core and seed the peppers and cut them into strips. Toss the pepper strips with the walnut oil.

Place the pecans and half of the thyme sprigs in a skillet coated with vegetable oil and sprinkle them with salt. Cook until the nuts are toasted, about 2 minutes.

Carefully cut the goat cheese into 4 horizontal rounds. Arrange them on an oiled sheet of foil and broil for about 3 minutes or until they are lightly browned and melting.

Arrange the salad greens on four salad plates. Remove the pepper strips from the walnut oil, reserving the oil. Add the pepper strips and pecans around the edges of the greens. Place a goat cheese round in the center and top each with a small thyme sprig. Drizzle with the reserved walnut oil and lemon juice and serve warm.

  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes
  • Yields: 4 servings

Orange, Nut and Raisin Risotto

  • 1/3 c. golden raisins
  • 1 c. white wine
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 c. Arborio rice
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 3 c. hot chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted)
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese

If possible, soak the raisins in the wine for 30 minutes prior to preparing the dish.

Melt the butter in a heavy pan. Add the shallots, walnuts, garlic and spices. Sauté them for 4 minutes or until the shallots are soft. Add the rice and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes to toast the rice.

Add the raisins with half of the wine and all of the orange juice. Stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining wine and repeat.

Add the hot chicken broth a half cup at a time, stirring each time until the rice absorbs the liquid. When only one addition remains, test the rice. It should be creamy and firm, but not hard. If softer rice is desired, add the remaining broth and stir until it is absorbed.

Stir in the cheese and warm slightly before serving immediately.

  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
  • Yields: 4 servings