11/04/2011 10:49 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

Ten Thanksgiving Sides

By now, most food magazines have us all starting to think about preparations for the Thanksgiving turkey, but I say what about the sides? Sides give added significance to the bounty of the table.

Most of us are comfortable with making the traditional family favorites. There will most likely be sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans almondine and scalloped potato casseroles to round out the meal. Some people just don't want to tinker with change when it comes to holiday meals. But if you are up for something new to go with that bronzed bird, how about some different sides for a change?

Here are ten that just might start a new tradition in your house.

The links are to recipes from my website, Ciao Italia. The others are from my new book Ciao Italia Family Classics, and they are included below. Try them all!

  1. Baked Leeks in Cream Sauce
  2. Potato and Zucchini Casserole
  3. Green Beans with Fontina and Almonds
  4. Creamy Cauliflower Mold
  5. Carrots in Vermouth
  6. Spinach in Cream Sauce
  7. Mushrooms in Green Sauce
  8. Sweet Potato Tart
  9. Devilish Broccoli
  10. Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Baked Leeks in White Sauce
Serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
¾ cup milk or Half/Half
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoons mined fresh tarragon
4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 ball (6 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small pieces
6 medium size leeks, leaves trimmed down to the lightest shade of green and cut crosswise into ¾-inch long pieces and then lengthwise in half.

Preheat the oven to 375F

Brush a 9 x 13 casserole dish with one tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

In a medium size saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour to create a smooth paste.

Slowly pour in the milk and continue whisking until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Off the heat whisk in the dry mustard, salt, pepper and tarragon.

Place the leeks cut side down close together in a single layer in the casserole dish (use two dishes if need be) and evenly pour the sauce over the leeks.

Dot the top with the mozzarella and sprinkle on the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Cover and bake 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until the sauce is bubbly and the leeks are tender. Serve hot

Potato, Zucchini and Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Tart
Serves 8

4 to 5 medium size baking potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold), cooked, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 large sprig thyme, needles only
4 medium zucchini plus one for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 whole mint leaves, minced
Salt to taste
Grinding black pepper to taste

Coat a 9 x 3 inch spring form pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375F

Place the potato slices in a bowl and toss them gently with the thyme, salt and pepper. Set side.

Cut four zucchini into 1/4-inch thick slices and sauté' in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly browned. Transfer the zucchini to a bowl and stir in the mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Make 4 alternating layers of potatoes, zucchini and cheese, dotting each layer with bits of the remaining butter.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until nicely browned on top.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack.

Remove the sides of the spring form pan. Place a sprig of mint on the tart. Cut into wedges to serve.

Creamy Cauliflower Baked In A Mold
Serves 8

Breadcrumb Coating

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup plain fine bread crumbs


1 head (2 pounds) cauliflower, core and outer leaves removed and florets cut into small ¼-inch pieces
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
½ cup Montasio cheese, grated
1-teaspoon fine sea salt
Grinding black pepper

White sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup Half/Half
1 cup reserved cauliflower cooking water
1-teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Brush a 9 1/2 x 2/½ inch spring form pan or soufflé type pan with the melted butter and coat it with the breadcrumbs. Shake out any loose crumbs and refrigerate the mold until ready to fill.

Fill a large pot with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the florets, cover the pot and cook until the florets are very tender, about 6 minutes.

Drain the cauliflower, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and pulse several times until smooth. You can also use an immersion blender to smooth out the cauliflower

Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl and whisk in the eggs, parsley, cheeses, salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

In a medium size pan over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Whisk in the Half and Half and reserved water. Whisk in the salt and nutmeg and cook until the mixture thickens.

Preheat the oven to 375F

Transfer the sauce to the bowl with the cauliflower and combine well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the sformato sets and is lightly browned.

Remove the sformato from the oven and scoop from the pan to serve or if using a spring form pan, wait 5 minutes, then unlatch the sides and lift off. Cut into wedges to serve.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tip: To help temper the smell of cauliflower try adding ½ cup of milk and one whole bay leaf to the pot in which the cauliflower is cooking.

Carrots in Vermouth
Serves 6 to 8

6 large carrots peeled, quartered and diced
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
2/3 cup inexpensive white vermouth
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Put the carrots in a pot with the butter, salt, and sugar. Cook for a few minutes. Add the vermouth and a couple tablespoons water. Cover the pot and stew the carrots until soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook a few minutes more, stirring often until the carrots are glazed looking. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle on the parsley.

Devilish Broccoli
Serves 4

1 medium size bunch broccoli
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon or more hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste

Cut off the stem end close to where it meets the florets and discard it or save it for making soup. Turn the head of broccoli upside down on a cutting board and with a knife cut florets into 1-inch pieces.
Rinse, dry and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a 12 inch wide sauté' pan. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and swirl them around to flavor the oil. Add the florets and sauté' them to evenly them with the oil. Raise the heat to high, pour in the wine and cook 1 minute, then reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pan and cook until a knife is easily inserted into the stem end of a floret.

Transfer the florets with a slotted spoon to a bowl and season with salt to taste.

Recipes courtesy Ciao Italia Family Classics, St. Martin's Press