Savory Side Dishes: Variations on a Theme

18 December 2008 By Victoria Allman

A famous composer once said, “Great music is all about the accompaniments.” I feel the same way about Christmas dinner. Now, don’t get me wrong, a perfectly roasted turkey that has been brined to stay tender is a juicy masterpiece. But, what brings me back for seconds…and sometimes thirds…is what goes around the turkey.

The tempo of my Christmas meal starts with a velvety oyster stew. Sage-filled stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes and crisp green beans lend harmony to flavors that build to the crescendo of sweet butternut squash that melts like cotton candy on my tongue. The finale: a single bite of warm apple pie. It is the ensemble of dishes, rather than any single note, that makes this meal stand out from any other. This Christmas, my plate will be filled and refilled with the following:

Butternut Squash Soufflé
7 cups butternut squash
¼ cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the butternut squash in half and place, cut side down, on a baking tray. Roast for 45 minutes until soft. Let cool for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. When squash is cool enough to handle, turn over and scoop out the seeds. Scoop the flesh of the squash into a food processor. Puree the flesh with the rest of the ingredients (excluding 2 Tbsp Parmesan) until smooth. Place in a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp Parmesan on top. This much can be done ahead. Refrigerate until 45 minutes before your holiday dinner. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees until light and fluffy. Alternatively, place in greased ramekins and bake for 10 minutes for individual soufflés.

The addition of homemade cranberry sauce makes turkey feel like a celebration. Here’s a fresh variation on the theme:

Cranberry Currant and Fig Compote
1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries
1/2 cup currants
4 dried figs, chopped to the same size as the cranberries
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/2 onion, diced fine
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 cups sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer on the stovetop for 10 minutes over medium high heat. The cranberries will pop and the sugar will melt. Stir frequently. Cool.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Grainy Mustard
Even diehard Brussels sprout haters will love this dish because, let’s face it, bacon makes everything taste better.

2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through core
4 slices applewood-smoked bacon (or 2½ oz. Pancetta),diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
½ lemon, juiced
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp grainy mustard
Cook Brussels sprouts in a four-quart pot of boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about six minutes. Drain in a colander. Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until browned and crisp, about two minutes. Reduce heat to moderate and stir in garlic. Sautée for one minute until golden brown. Add Brussels sprouts, thyme, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and grainy mustard. Sautée, stirring for three more minutes.

What are your favorite accompaniments? What savory side dishes will fill your plate on December 25th?