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Thanksgiving Inspiration from the Heart of the Plate

Freshen up your holiday repertoire with some new recipes from a best-selling author's latest cookbook. Plus, recently rated Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs

Laurie Woolever
Posted: November 15, 2013

On my family's Thanksgiving table, a few things are non-negotiable: a roasted turkey, basic bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. (This year, because of the concurrence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, potato latkes will also join the party.) Beyond that, the side dishes vary depending on who is cooking, and for how many.

One year, after a Thanksgiving eve trip to a local farmers market, a pan of Swiss chard braised with garlic and chicken stock stood in for the green bean casserole; another time, at the home of a particularly diet-conscious family member, heaps of roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts and a sesame-tinged cabbage slaw replaced the usual array of starchy sides. For some fresh inspiration for this year's selection of side dishes, I turned to cookbook author Mollie Katzen.

Katzen, perhaps best known for the classic Moosewood Cookbook, has just published her 12th title, The Heart of the Plate. In it, she makes a gently compelling argument for casting vegetables in the meal's starring role—not the bit players around a piece of animal protein or its vegetarian equivalent.

"On Thanksgiving or any other day of the year, I'm personally not a fan of meat substitutes, where a processed soy product is shaped and flavored to resemble a turkey," says Katzen. "There is often much head-scratching about what to serve vegetarians on Thanksgiving. But if you give it further thought, you'll realize that vegetarians are very well-positioned to have their best feast of the year! Of all the holiday feasts, Thanksgiving offers the largest number of delicious side dishes—so much so that turkey lovers often have trouble fitting that drumstick or sliced breast meat onto their already groaning plates."

Below are two of Katzen's new recipes—one starring beets, the other cauliflower—that will add some interest and variety to the Thanksgiving table. To pour, we have recommended recently rated Chardonnays, whose body and fruit profile make a good foil for the holiday's flavors, and Pinot Noirs, with moderate tannins and notes of spice and fruit to complement a wide variety of Thanksgiving menu items. As befits the historic origins of the holiday, all of the wines are produced in the United States.

Citrusy Beets

Recipes from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Katzen advises, "Prepare the beets at least an hour ahead of time. I like roasting them for maximum flavor. However, you can simmer them in water if you don't feel like turning on the oven. In either case, wait to peel them until after they are cooked and cooled. Prepare the other ingredients while the beets are cooking. If you choose to add zest, remove it before juicing the oranges. This dish keeps well and can be made up to a day ahead if covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator. If you are adding mint leaves or avocado, lay these items on top at the last minute, so they can be at their best."

• 1 pound beets (3–4 medium), any color
• 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
• 1/4 heaping teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon agave nectar or light-colored honey
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned, sections removed from membranes
• 1 large ruby grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, sections removed from membranes, sections halved, if large

Optional enhancements:
• Long strands of orange zest (cut with a zester or a sharp knife)
• Thin strips of fresh mint
• Avocado
• Fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries as garnish

1. Remove the beet greens (save them to cook separately if they're nice) and trim the stems to within an inch of the beet. Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, either in simmering water until fork-tender (30 to 40 minutes) or by roasting. To roast them, preheat the oven to 400° F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay the beets on the foil, add a splash of water (a tablespoon or two), and press the edges of the foil together to form a packet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender. (Be careful to avoid the steam when opening the packet.)

2. Cool the beets completely, then peel them with a sharp paring knife and cut into bite-sized chunks or elegant half-circles.

3. Combine the vinegar, garlic, salt and agave or honey in a medium bowl and whisk until the sweetener is dissolved. Drizzle in the olive oil, continuing to whisk until it is incorporated.

4. Add the beets to the dressing and stir gently until coated. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour before adding the fruit. (Cover and refrigerate if it's going to sit for longer—up to a day is fine—and/or if your kitchen is hot and you like things cold.)

5. Add the orange and grapefruit sections and stir gently until coated. Serve cold or at cool room temperature, plain or topped with any or all of the optional enhancements. Makes 4 modest main-dish servings.

Cheese-Crusted Roasted Cauliflower

"Cauliflower offers the broadest textural range of just about any vegetable," says Katzen. "When spanking fresh, it's delightful raw: Its crunchy white puffballs make satisfying crudités. And at the other extreme, cauliflower is also brilliant when boiled to oblivion and mashed. In this recipe, the high-temperature roasting process allows the cauliflower to become simultaneously fork-tender and chewy, with delicately crisp surface points (helped along greatly by the cheese) surprising you at random."

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
• 2 cups minced onion (1 large)
• 1/4 cup grated Italian Fontina, sharp cheddar or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or more to taste
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Black pepper

Optional enhancements:
• Roast a sliced carrot along with the cauliflower; try this same process using broccoli instead of, or in addition to, the cauliflower.
• Sprinkle some toasted bread crumbs over the cauliflower after it comes out of the oven.

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and slick it with the olive oil. (You can use a chunk of cauliflower to spread it around.)

2. Arrange the cauliflower pieces on the sheet and sprinkle them with the minced onion. Roast for 15 minutes, then shake the baking sheet and/or use tongs to loosen and redistribute the pieces—gently, so they won’t pop off the baking sheet.

3. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is becoming uniformly golden. Then, push everything together in the center of the baking sheet, keeping it a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese.

4. Roast for 10 or so minutes longer, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted, forming an irresistible golden crust. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and season with the salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

RECOMMENDED AMERICAN CHARDONANAYS

Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

BERINGER Chardonnay Napa Valley Private Reserve 2011 Score: 92 | $37
An elegant style, this is sleek in body and rich and layered in flavor, with a subtle display of ripe spice, baked apple, citrus, pear and honeysuckle flavors. Ends with a tapered finish that shows fine toasty oak. Drink now through 2018. 13,000 cases made. —J.L.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Chardonnay Columbia Valley Indian Wells 2012 Score: 90 | $17
Vivid, polished and distinctive, with an apricot tinge to the pear and cream flavors, lifted by delicate acidity. Comes together smoothly on the finish. Drink now through 2016. 52,500 cases made. —H.S.

CHEHALEM Chardonnay Willamette Valley INOX 2012 Score: 90 | $19
A refreshing style, offering lively balance to the pear, tangerine, lime and stone character, persisting into a well-formed, focused beam. This has depth and length. Drink now through 2016. 5,050 cases made. —H.S.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 Score: 89 | $11
Bright and lively, with juicy pear and grapefruit flavors on a sleek frame, finishing with refreshing acidity and a polished texture. Drink now. 705,000 cases made. —H.S.

COLUMBIA CREST Chardonnay Columbia Valley Grand Estates 2011 Score: 89 | $12
Polished, spicy and expressive, offering spicy, toasty overtones that push against the lemon curd and apple flavors, lingering enticingly, with a hint of smoke. Drink now through 2016. 160,000 cases made. —H.S.

BARNARD GRIFFIN Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011 Score: 89 | $14
A strong floral streak runs through pear and grapefruit flavors on a light, lime-tinged chassis. Shows refinement. Drink now through 2016. 18,000 cases made. —H.S.

CALERA Chardonnay Central Coast 2011 Score: 88 | $18
Subtle flavors of pure green apple, honeydew and hazelnut show a dash of smoke. A delightful wine. Drink now through 2017. 8,931 cases made. —J.L.

HOGUE Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 Score: 88 | $11
Light and bright, with refreshing pineapple accents to the pear and citrus flavors, finishing with restraint. Drink now. 93,000 cases made. —H.S.

BERINGER Chardonnay Napa Valley 2011 Score: 87 | $16
A solid effort, with direct green apple, pear, spice and light floral and herbal touches, ending with a clean, refreshing finish. Drink now through 2016. 65,493 cases made. —J.L.

CASTLE ROCK Chardonnay Central Coast Barrel Fermented 2011 Score: 86 | $10
There's good intensity and snap to the peach, lemon, apricot and apple flavors, with a touch of toast and a juicy, lemony finish. Drink now. 31,000 cases made. —M.W.

RECOMMENDED PINOT NOIRS

BELLE GLOS Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Clark & Telephone Vineyard 2011 Score: 92 | $44
Dark, rich and sharply focused on a dense core of blackberry, with floral scents and a loamy earth edge to the tannins. Deftly balanced, offering a long, pure and persistent finish. Drink now through 2020. 4,350 cases made. —J.L.

PATZ & HALL Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2011 Score: 92 | $45
Ripe and juicy, with red and black plum and black cherry flavors. The silky texture lets the flavors linger on the finish, ending with a touch of fresh earth and anise. Drink now through 2022. 7,029 cases made. —J.L.

DOMAINE SERENE Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Yamhill Cuvée 2010 Score: 91 | $45
A lively, lithe and inviting red, offering an array of red fruit, floral and spice overtones that come together on the focused and deftly balanced finish. Drink now through 2018. 8,000 cases made. —H.S.

A TO Z WINEWORKS Pinot Noir Oregon 2011 Score: 90 | $18
This sleek red is tightly packed, with delicate layers of cherry, tobacco and cocoa flavors that mingle against refined tannins, persisting pleasantly on the light-stepping finish. Drink now through 2017. 136,686 cases made. —H.S.

DE LOACH Pinot Noir Central Coast 2012 Score: 89 | $20
Firm and rich on the palate, this is lightly aromatic, offering notes of lavender, dark berry and crushed rock, with lively acidity and tannins. Drink now through 2019. 6,000 cases made. —J.L.

WILLAKENZIE Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Estate Cuvée 2011 Score: 89 | $30
Light and velvety, with juicy, guava-accented berry and spice flavors that pick up steam on the open-weave finish. Drink now through 2017. 5,000 cases made. —H.S.

MACMURRAY RANCH Pinot Noir Central Coast 2011 Score: 88 | $23
An elegant, understated style, with cola, raspberry, spice and floral scents, ending with a delicate aftertaste. Drink now through 2017. 28,400 cases made. —J.L.

MEIOMI Pinot Noir Monterey-Santa Barbara-Sonoma Counties 2012 Score: 88 | $22
Bold, ripe and vibrant, with expressive huckleberry, boysenberry and blueberry, this is as unbridled as you might expect for a 2012, but deliciously complex. Drink now through 2020. 168,000 cases made. —J.L.

COELHO Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Atração 2011 Score: 87 | $20
Crisp, with firm, fine tannins around a core of delicate berry flavors. Drink now through 2016. 6,868 cases made. —H.S.

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA Pinot Noir California Votre Santé 2011 Score: 86 | $14
Light and elegant, with cedar and clove aromatics mingling with candied cherry and strawberry fruit notes. Smooth. Drink now through 2018. 21,141 cases made. —M.W.

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