In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you slice it, or if you brine it or stuff it, or even whether you roast it or deep-fry it. In the end, turkey is turkey and it’s the sides that will make your Thanksgiving meal. Even more so than the desserts.
Imagine a plate of roast turkey, white meat or dark, whatever you like. Now imagine that same plate, but with a sweet potato casserole sidled up to that turkey, along with some cranberry sauce and next to that a mound of creamy mashed potatoes. And of course there must be something green, maybe crispy brussels sprouts or (better yet) kaleidoscope sprouts. And something crunchy, like the cauliflower salad in the picture above. Oh, and if you’re my brother-in-law, corn pudding. Always corn pudding. Now take away the turkey. Still a pretty impressive feast, right?
When I was growing up, sides ruled the day on Thanksgiving, no matter how good my mother’s roast turkey was (it was very good). There were two in particular that stole the show at our Italian-accented table: my mom’s sweet and sour Savoy cabbage and her cauliflower with oil-cured olives and anchovies (the recipes are in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy). Both made an encore appearance on Christmas Eve, to accompany all the fish, and then they disappeared for a year. It’s not that we couldn’t make them at any other time of year. We just didn’t. In that way they kept their special status.
We still make those two dishes for Christmas Eve, when tradition rules, but on Thanksgiving, which we now celebrate with my brothers-in-law, we’ve given ourselves free rein (um, except for the corn pudding). There are simply too many choices to be confined to the same sides. A few of my favorites from recent Thanksgiving feasts include the carrot pudding from Diane Morgan’s book The Thanksgiving Table (it’s making a comeback this year); roasted Brussels sprouts (any number of versions); the butternut squash and potato gratin from November 1999 issue of Fine Cooking; and the glazed onions in cream from my first cookbook.
This year, the cauliflower salad–a crunchy mix of blanched florets, celery, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and onions garnished with a generous shower of crumbled gorgonzola cheese–makes its debut. I wasn’t planning on it, but the cauliflower in the farmers’ markets has been spectacular this fall. The purple is outrageous, with a sweet, assertive taste to match its color. Unlike other purple vegetables (such as purple green beans) purple cauliflower retains its color when cooked. And if you hit it with some acid (in this case lemon juice) it turns magenta (the pics in this post have not been doctored, I promise).
Here’s the recipe, plus links to other Thanksgiving-related recipes from the archives. I’m taking nominations for what to put on our table next year, so if you’ve got a favorite, please share it (or link to it) in the comments. Have a delicious Thanksgiving!
Although you can enjoy this salad at any time of year, I find that its refreshing crunch is especially appetizing in fall and winter, when cauliflower is at its best in the farmers' markets. It's a welcome counterpoint to the other rich, stick-to-your-ribs sides that normally adorn the Thanksgiving table, and also to the hearty stews and braises that we tend to eat in colder months. (Recipe from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, Chronicle Books, 2013.)
- 1 medium head cauliflower, or 3 smallish heads of white, green and purple cauliflower (about 1 lb), trimmed and cut into florets
- 1 large rib celery, sliced on the bias
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pitted olives (I use a mix of green and purple)
- 1 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup diced red onion
- 2 tbsp coarsely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 fresh chile pepper, very hot or mildly hot, your preference, minced
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 to 4 oz gorgonzola piccante (also known as mountain gorgonzola), crumbled
Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan and fill the pan with water up to but not touching the bottom of the basket. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Arrange the cauliflower in the steamer basket, cover, and steam until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl. Add the celery, olives, parsley, garlic, onion, sun-dried tomatoes and chile pepper and toss gently but thoroughly. Sprinkle the lemon zest and lemon juice over the salad. Season with the salt and toss again. Drizzle in the olive oil, starting with 1/4 cup and adding more as you like (I like). Cover the salad and let it marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate until chilled if you prefer it cold. Right before serving, fold in the crumbled gorgonzola.
NOTE Any or all of the following would make good additions to the salad: sliced carrots, sliced fennel bulb, roasted bell peppers, and diced salami.