Supporting roles: Add to the bounty of your Thanksgiving table with three simple vegetable side dishes
I grew up in a country where everyday cooking emphasized the fact that little things mean a lot. Austria's national dish, Wiener schnitzel, literally translates as "Viennese little slice." With spicy goulash, my mother and grandmother always served the tiny homemade dumplings called spaetzle, "little sparrows." And one of my favorite desserts, the sweet souffle called Salzburger nockerl, means "little mountains of Salzburg."
This Thanksgiving, I'd like to remind you not to forget the little things, especially vegetable side dishes. Fortunately, when it comes to side dishes, I think that simplicity is the key to success. They should never call attention to themselves, instead fulfilling the same role as supporting players in a big show: making the stars shine.
So, I am pleased to share three of my all-time favorite sides featuring seasonal produce you can find easily on that last hurried shopping trip to your local market. As you'll see, each is incredibly simple, yet calls for attention to small details that ensure perfection.
In fact the first recipe, simple buttered green beans, calls for just four ingredients; and two of those are salt and pepper. (If you like, you can garnish with a classic fifth ingredient: slivered or sliced toasted almonds.) But a few small details ensure that they'll be the best beans you've ever tasted. First, I cut the beans into uniform, bite-sized pieces for a more beautiful presentation. Next, I blanch them by boiling them until barely tender and then plunging them into ice water to keep their color bright green. At this stage, they can be conveniently kept covered in the refrigerator, to be tossed in melted butter until heated through just before serving.
You'll find a similar spirit of simplicity in my recipe for wild mushrooms with fines herbes, a perfect autumnal side. Look in your supermarket for your choice of any so-called wild fresh mushrooms -- basically, anything other than white cultivated ones. All the earthy morsels need is to be wiped clean, trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces before you quickly saute them with chopped shallots and a medley of fresh herbs -- a task easily done while your roast rests before carving.
Finally there's my recipe for artichoke mousse, one of my favorite accompaniments to any kind of roast. (Try it as a flavorful bed for sliced turkey.) Though the preparation is slightly more involved, calling for trimming fresh artichokes, boiling them, and then pureeing with touches of butter, cream and lemon juice, you can make it up to several hours ahead, to be reheated briefly just before serving.
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I hope you'll try at least one or maybe even all three of these little sides that can add so much to your holiday table. Have a happy Thanksgiving!
SIMPLE BUTTERED GREEN BEANS
2 pounds (1 kg) green beans