Tampering with tradition is dangerous business. Leave off a traditional Jell-O salad or that tureen of canned cream corn and someone in the room will complain. Count on it.
The way to shut up the naggers is to offer awesome alternatives. Subvert tired ingredient traditions -- who's going to whine about not getting pecan pie when you've dropped Hazelnut Maple Pie on them?
Give your guests dishes that will provoke demands for repeat performances, and you're well along the way to establishing new must-have ingredients for Thanksgiving.
Here's four suggestions:
Pancetta. Cured pork belly that offers more flavor without bacon's dominating smokiness.
In a skillet, diced pancetta transforms into savory nuggets that'll help make a heap of salad disappear. It's prized in stuffings too.
Give the cucumber salad a rest this time around. Here, pancetta anchors a celery root and apple salad, a crisp, tangy palate cleanser of a dish. Or, replace the bacon lardons in your sauteed Brussels sprouts with pancetta, with a splash of basalmic vinegar.
Hazelnuts. Almonds are so mild that they border on outright blandness, offering little more than crunch, but hazelnuts offer a more distinctive flavor once they're baked.
Here, paired with Grade B maple syrup, they make a dessert that'll give pecan pie an inferiority complex. Consider toasting some chopped hazelnuts and using them to replace the almonds atop your green beans. Sprinkle them across bowls of your curried cream of squash soup.
Balsamic vinegar. Adds flavor to steamed and roasted vegetables without piling on the calories.
Save the sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows for Christmas if you have to. Here, we're glazing roasted acorn squash with a balsamic-honey mixture with thyme. Reduced balsamic vinegar and chicken stock, sweetened with a bit of honey, maple syrup or brown sugar, makes a distinctive alternative to gravy.
Vanilla ice cream. Popular weekday dessert serves as foundation for other pleasures. Use it instead of cream for your traditional eggnog.
Here, it serves as the base to the locally renowned John's Flaming Hearth Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie, the "pumpkin pie for people who don't like pumpkin pie."
The recipe takes a quart or less, so there'll be leftovers -- the easiest leftovers ever. Why not drizzle with some of that homemade caramel syrup from the pie, and a few toasted hazelnuts?
>Celery, Pancetta & Apple Salad
4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4 -inch dice (have pancetta sliced 1/4 -inch thick at purchase)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound celery root (celeriac), trimmed and peeled
4 tender inner celery ribs, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup slivered celery leaves
1 crisp apple, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup water
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, preferably Chianti
4 tablespoons sparkling water
Salt and pepper
Combine pancetta with 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta has rendered its fat and crisped, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
In small bowl, mix water and lemon juice or cider vinegar. Submerge apple slices in liquid so they don't brown.
Coarsely grate celery root into a large bowl with box grater. Add sliced celery and leaves.
In a medium bowl, mix vinegar and sparkling water. Whisk in 4 tablespoons oil, drizzled in thin stream.
Drain apple slices and add to salad. Add about half of vinaigrette and toss gently.
Season with salt and pepper. Add pancetta and oil from pan and toss again. Serve immediately.
Source: inspired by Mario Batali's "Molto Gusto."
>John's Flaming Hearth Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie
1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon (or 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice)
1 cup heavy cream
1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream for garnish
Spread about 1 inch of ice cream in cooled pie shell. (If your pie plate isn't deep, you'll use less than a quart. Leave room for the filling.) Place in freezer to harden.
Blend pumpkin, sugar and spices. Whip cream until stiff and fold into pumpkin mixture. Spoon into frozen pie shell over the ice cream. Return to freezer until ready to use.
Meanwhile, make syrup by combining corn syrup, hot water and brown sugar in small saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer until it thickens, and bubbles get bigger, 8-10 minutes.
If desired, when serving, cover with additional whipped cream. Drizzle syrup abundantly, and serve.
>Maple Hazelnut Pie
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten to loosen
1 cup hazelnuts, husked, coarsely chopped (about 5 ounces)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring maple syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling 1 minute, reducing heat as needed to prevent mixture from boiling over. Remove pan from heat. Add bourbon, then butter; whisk until butter melts. Let cool to lukewarm, whisking occasionally, about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish with nonstick spray. Unroll pie crust. Line dish with crust. Crimp edges decoratively. Brush crust with enough egg white to coat. Scatter hazelnuts over. Whisk eggs and vanilla extract in medium bowl until blended. Whisk cooled maple-sugar mixture into egg mixture. Pour mixture over hazelnuts in crust. Bake pie until filling is set and slightly puffed, about 50 minutes. Cool completely on rack.
DO AHEAD: Best if made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep at room temperature.
Source: via Epicurious.com, by Tori Ritchie for "Bon Appetit."
>Balsamic Roasted Acorn Squash with Thyme
2 acorn squash, about 4 pounds total
8 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut each squash in half and scrape out seeds. With 1 tablespoon oil, coat squash, inside and out, and place on baking sheet.
In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, honey and 2 tablespoons oil. Divide vinegar mixture between squash halves, brushing it over cut surfaces. Let the rest stay in the bottom of the squashes, and add 2 sprigs thyme to each.
Season with salt and pepper, and put squash in oven. Baste inside of squash and cut surfaces with liquid in squash every 15 minutes. Roast until tender, starting to caramelize and easily pierced with knife, 60 to 75 minutes.
Cut squash into wedges, add salt, pepper and more balsamic as necessary, and serve.