Every restaurant is touting farm-to-table ingredients (we hear about the growers right on the menu) and all of us appreciate the sentiment. But when it happens in your own kitchen — when your counter is filled with poultry and produce and fruits that were raised or grown nearby — it’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s a wonderful way to cook. And it all tastes so much better than the food from afar that we’re about to spend the winter eating.
Many people eat locally all summer, and it’s easy if you grow a few things and stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to get the rest, or participate in Community Supported Agriculture. But something about the fall harvest, the last gasp before the hard frost, is a little more gratifying.
It all comes together in this rustic farmhouse menu, which fits nicely into an informal Thanksgiving afternoon. Shop at a market that tells you where it sources produce, and you’ll find apples and sage for a sheet-pan stuffing that’s cooked separately from the turkey so you get more crunch. We’ve got nothing against stuffing a bird, except for the extra time it takes for it to roast. While cubes of country white bread are toasting in the oven, simmer fresh cranberry sauce with orange rind and fresh ginger (yes, yes, we know citrus and ginger don’t grow nearby, but we’re taking some liberties here to make a pleasing menu).
Make-ahead mashed potatoes are mixed with a combination of starchy russets and creamy gold potatoes. You boil and puree them them up to several days ahead and reheat them in hot milk, half-and-half, or cream, stirring the smooth puree into the hot liquid a little at a time. Don’t let anyone tell you that mashed spuds can’t be prepared in advance.
Mashed potatoes appear again, though no one will know it. They’re the secret ingredient in fluffy buttermilk biscuit dough, which is stamped into rounds, and set touching on a rimmed baking sheet so they rise beautifully with soft sides.
Delicata squash, a favorite of many cooks because the skin is tender and edible, gets a very pretty treatment, thickly sliced into rings, seeded, and roasted with red chiles and Parmesan.
For dessert, nothing is more farmhouse than pie. And few are easier than slab pies, which are sometimes baked on a sheet pan, but here formed in a rectangular baking dish. You need to prepare pastry for the pie but it’s very forgiving and doesn’t have to look perfect. This combination mixes apples and fresh cranberries (more cranberries, but you’ll get no complaints from your guests), which makes a thin double-crust pie that has more crust-to-filling ratio than a regular pie. The top must be golden. Pastry tastes better after a few extra minutes in the oven.
As for timing, unless you’re working in a catering kitchen, you’ll have to juggle things to serve everything hot. Keep things warm on the radiator or on an old-fashioned hot plate, or cover dishes and wrap them in a towel, or use any other clever jury-rigged system you can dream up.
But since when has anyone ever served an entire Thanksgiving dinner where everything was right?
In next week’s Food section, you’ll find instructions for how to roast a turkey, and recipes for giblet gravy and dishes for the holiday weekend.