Why is it that a few outstanding dishes are unforgettable? Often they are nothing fancy--a fragrant soup, or a salad of fresh tomatoes with just the right touch of olive oil and herbs.
The following recipe collection adds up to a menu of memorable first and last courses to surround the Thanksgiving turkey, with a couple of vegetable accompaniments.
Dinner opens with Cream of Oyster Soup, a chance to taste oysters apart from the turkey stuffing.
Never would I suggest deviating from plain roast turkey on the Thanksgiving table, but accompaniments are another matter.
This squash pie with its underpinnings of leek, Parmesan cheese and garlic evolved during summer, after a talk with the proprietor of the roadside fruit stand near our cabin in West Virginia. I've always found squash to be bland, but not Chambers' version. Canned pureed pumpkin is an easy alternative to fresh squash.
Perfumed Vegetable Ragout
From the sophistication of San Francisco comes a perfumed vegetable ragout created by Jeremiah Tower, one of the stars of the new California cuisine (his restaurant is called, appropriately, Stars). Recently when Jeremiah and I were demonstrating cooking side by side, he extolled the virtues of simple butters like this one, musky with wild mushrooms. How right he is--the combination with roast turkey is sublime.
Lastly we take a supersonic flight to Australia for Cranberry Pavlova--a giant crisp meringue with a melting heart of marshmallow. Pavlova was introduced to our family by Australian Prue McCoy, who for one happy summer sustained our table with similar delights. McCoy filled her Pavlova with tropical fruits and cream, but here I've added tart creme fraiche and a compote of cranberries, the crowning festive fruit.
BEST OF EVERYTHING FOR 10
Cream of Oyster Soup
Roast Turkey With Gravy
West Virginia Squash Pie
Vegetable Ragout With Wild Mushroom Butter
Suggested wine: Sparkling Burgundy, red or white
All time-consuming preparations for dinner are completed ahead, so dishes need only to be reheated before serving.
Up to 1 week ahead make Pavlova.
Up to 2 days ahead make soup, but do not add oysters. Make mushroom butter for vegetables. Cook cranberries for Pavlova.
Up to 1 day ahead bake squash pie. Chill wine.
About 2 hours before serving cook vegetables for ragout. Add cranberries to Pavlova.
About 10 minutes before serving reheat oyster soup. Add oysters, cream and parsley.
Just before serving warm squash pie in low oven.
After serving soup reheat vegetable ragout and add butter.
CREAM OF OYSTER SOUP
1/2 cup butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup flour
3 cups light chicken stock
1 bottle clam juice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
1 pint shucked medium oysters, cut in half, with liquor
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Melt butter in large saucepan. Saute shallots until tender. Add flour and cook until foaming. Add chicken stock and clam juice. Bring soup to boil, stirring constantly. Add thyme, tarragon, bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes. Soup can be prepared to this point up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.
To finish, bring soup to boil, stirring. Add oysters with their liquor. Cook 1 minute. Add cream and parsley. Bring soup just back to boil. Discard bay leaf. Makes 10 servings.
Note: Fresh mussels, cooked in covered pan over high heat until open, then removed from their shells, can be substituted for oysters.
WEST VIRGINIA SQUASH PIE
2 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, white and tender green parts thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds winter squash, cut in cubes, peel and seeds discarded
3 cups whipping cream
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 (9-inch) unbaked pie shells
Melt butter in saucepan. Add leeks and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Press piece of foil on top. Cover with lid. Cook very gently, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. Do not let brown.
Put squash in large pan of boiling salted water. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes until very tender. Drain thoroughly, then crush with fork. Stir together squash, cream, eggs, cheese and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spread leeks in pie shells. Pour squash mixture on top. Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking 40 to 50 minutes longer until filling has set.
Squash pie can be refrigerated up to 1 day. Warm it in low oven just before serving. Makes 10 servings.
VEGETABLE RAGOUT WITH WILD MUSHROOM BUTTER
1 ounce dried mushrooms (cepes, morels or Chinese black mushrooms)
1 cup butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
20 pearl onions, peeled
2 bunches broccoli, flowerets separated, stalks peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
2 sweet red peppers, cored, seeded and cut in strips
1 head radicchio, shredded, optional