Today’s Recipes: Garlic-Chive Mashed Potatoes, Maple Ginger Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping, and Creamy Parmesan Polenta.
Sometimes I think the side dishes are even more important than the turkey on Thanksgiving. What would we do without the dressing, gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce, potatoes and sweet potatoes? Today we’re going to focus on the starches – the potatoes!
Creamy, luscious whipped potatoes really make this Irish gal’s heart sing! And for me, the creamier the better. But I am a potato purist, I like mine with just a little butter, salt and pepper. Lots of people love them covered with sour cream, cream cheese, shredded cheese, and other ornamentation, but I am perfectly happy with a big bowl of mashed potatoes and a spoon!
Garlic mashed potatoes are on every menu these days and most of them are not made well. People think if they throw in a handful of raw chopped garlic that it makes potatoes taste great – but the garlic overpowers the delicate flavor of the potatoes and you bite down on harsh, raw bits. There are two ways to make garlic mashed potatoes that are perfectly balanced. You can use roasted garlic or you can infuse the cream. I prefer infusing because most of the time I don’t have roasted garlic on hand. This method imparts the flavor while leaving the potatoes smooth and creamy.
The other type of potato that is always present at Thanksgiving is of course sweet potatoes. On a trip to Las Vegas I had dinner at Prime, Jean-George Vongerichten’s restaurant at Bellagio. It was an experience I will never forget. Everything was stunning, the decor, ambiance, and of course the food. The entire meal was incredible, but the dish that captivated me was the whipped sweet potatoes. They were unlike any I had ever had. Unbelievably creamy with a hint of ginger, they nearly melted on my tongue. I will probably never be able to make them as well, but my recipe is pretty close.
This is a slightly more adult version of the typical sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Those are just too cloyingly sweet for me. This dish is sweet enough to satisfy everyone, with maple for complexity, lemon for balance, and a touch of ginger in homage to Jean-Georges. I have served it plain and with the topping and love it both ways. I hope you do too.
And then for a little fun, I thought that I would throw in an unusual side dish – Polenta – for those who want to try something totally different this year. Creamy and rich, it is a soul satisfying side dish. Not the first thing that comes to mind for Thanksgiving, but absolutely delicious – especially if you use Italian herbs in your dressing and turkey!
If you have never made polenta before, don’t let it scare you. It really isn’t as difficult as many people make it out to be. Just don’t walk away or answer the phone while it is cooking so you can stir it regularly. If it does stick to the bottom of the pan, don’t scrape it. Finish cooking and pour it into another container, leaving the burned part behind. No one will ever know!
One thing that drives me crazy at big dinners is that the food gets cold before you can eat it. You can help keep that from happening with a simple technique … always warm your serving dishes before putting the food in them. If the dishes are cold they will pull the heat out of the food. Or you can follow my lead and leave everything on the stove or in the oven on low. People can help themselves to seconds and everything stays nice and warm.
- 1-1/2 to 2 lb Russet (Idaho) potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 cups heavy cream, half and half, or milk
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 5 whole chives plus 3 tsp minced fresh chives
- Salt and white pepper
- Cook potatoes in boiling well-salted water until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain in a colander and then return to the now empty pot to dry out slightly.
- While the potatoes are cooking, warm cream in a small saucepan with smashed garlic and whole chives. Scald lightly (bring to just under a boil) and then turn heat down to low. The garlic will infuse the cream for a subtle, delicate flavor. Let it steep while the potatoes cook.
- Remove the garlic and whole chives from hot cream and discard.
- Mash the potatoes either by hand or with an electric mixer (never use a food processor), beating them until there are no lumps remaining. Start adding the cream, 1/2 cup at a time, using enough for very soft, not stiff potatoes, because they will firm up as they stand. Stir in minced chives. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Once whipped you can keep mashed potatoes warm by setting them in a bowl over a pan of simmering water with the heat turned off. Cover the bowl (I use a dinner plate) and place on the back of the stove until ready to serve. If the potatoes have stiffened up too much, beat in a little more milk until creamy.
- Yield: about 4 to 6 servings
- Topping (optional)
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
- 6 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes (4 to 8 potatoes)
- 6 cups apple cider or apple juice
- 4 cups water
- 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 1 stick (4 oz) butter, cut into pieces
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9x13-inch baking dish.
- Make the Topping: Combine butter, sugar, and flour and mix until evenly blended. Stir in the pecans. Set aside.
- Cook the Potatoes: In a large saucepan, place the sweet potatoes, apple cider, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain in a colander, shaking to remove excess liquid. Discard ginger.
- In the same saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, reduce heat slightly and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in cooked potatoes. Toss to coat thoroughly.
- Transfer to the bowl of an electric stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, beat until smooth. Mix in the eggs and milk. Change to the whisk attachment and whip until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Transfer potatoes to prepared baking dish, spreading into an even layer. Sprinkle with the topping mix (if using) and bake in preheated oven about 30 minutes or until hot.
- Yield: about 10 to 12 servings
- MAKE AHEAD: You can assemble the casserole, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The following day let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes to warm up before baking until hot.
- 2 cups fine-grain polenta (cornmeal)
- 4 cups cold water
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cup heavy cream
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the top
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Ground white pepper
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or chopped fresh rosemary, optional
- Fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs for garnishing
- Combine polenta, water, stock, and cream in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring nearly constantly. Be careful that it doesn’t sputter and burn you. Remove from the heat and stir in butter and Parmesan. If you like a creamier polenta add a little more stock or cream. Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust as needed. Stir in thyme or rosemary.
- Keep warm on low until ready to serve. Add more stock or cream if it has gotten too firm. Spoon into a warmed serving bowl and sprinkle additional Parmesan over the top. Garnish with fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs if desired.
- Yield: about 8 servings