Many cooks tend to serve the same Thanksgiving side dishes year after year after year. In my house, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, my Dad’s creamed spinach, oyster and bread stuffing, and my “famed” cranberry sauce. But I also feel the need to always include at least a few new side dishes to keep things fresh.
I recently returned from teaching a food writing class in Italy and found so much inspiration there. The first new recipe is for green olive breadsticks, which are perfect to serve before the meal accompanied by a bowl of good olive oil for dipping. But these breadsticks, which are really so much easier to make than you might think, are a great substitute for dinner rolls or bread.
For me, salad is a crucial element of the holiday meal. Everything tends to be so rich and heavy, and a good salad really lightens things up and refreshes. This one uses radicchio, a bitter chicory, topped with buttery roasted pears, crunchy and salty pistachio nuts, gorgeous watermelon radishes, and a lemony vinaigrette.
And finally a chestnut and apple stuffed winter squash with an apple cider glaze. You fill the cavity of acorn or other wine squash with a simple filling of sauteed onion, sage, chestnuts, apples and breadcrumbs, and bake the squash with a splash of cider. It’s an ideal side dish or can be a main course for a vegetarian guest.
I smelled it before I saw it. Walking down the street in Milan, I saw a long line of people leaving a little bakery with bags of rolls and ciabatti. The yeasty smell of just-baked bread and wood smoke poured out of the bakery’s front door. Despite the line, of course, I went inside, and once I spotted the old blackened wood-fired ovens, I knew it would be worth the wait. There was a good variety of crusty, beautifully browned loaves of bread, but it was the long, thick olive breadsticks that called to me. I bought two and then went back the next morning for more. The day after I got home, in my jet-lagged haze, I tried to recreate the breadsticks.
These breadsticks are ideal for Thanksgiving dinner since they’re lighter than dinner rolls or bread and way easier to make. Prepare the dough the night before and let it rise in the refrigerator. When the turkey comes out of the oven, you can cut the dough into breadsticks and pop them into the still-warm oven for a quick 15-minute bake. The crunch on top and the briny olives studding the dough make this a welcome addition to any holiday table.
Makes 18 breadsticks.
*Don’t add more salt if your olives are particularly salty
So much of holiday meals involve rich, heavy food. I crave a bright, colorful, healthy salad to break up all the cream and butter and turkey. This salad hits all the marks; it has bright, vibrant colors, great texture and a refreshing lightness. Bitter radicchio is thinly sliced. Watermelon radishes are placed around the outside. Pears are wedged and roasted. And the salad is then topped with pistachio nuts, chopped fresh chives and a mustardy vinaigrette. You can roast the pears and make the vinaigrette a full day ahead of time.
The roasted pears:
You can use any type of winter squash you like with this dish, but acorn and kabocha, delicata and buttercup work particularly well since they have deep, large cavities for the stuffing. The stuffing can be made a day ahead of time, and the squash can be filled several hours before baking.
This makes a beautiful side dish, but it also would be ideal for any vegetarians at your holiday table.
Serves 2 to 4.
Other Thanksgiving favorites:
This segment aired on November 14, 2023.
Kathy Gunst Resident Chef, Here & Now
Kathy Gunst is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and the author of 15 cookbooks.