So much of the Thanksgiving menu is mandatory, dictated by personal history and family dynamics: turkey, dressing, cranberries, pumpkin or pecan pie. There's not much room for a cook to be creative (and neither should there be; it is, after all, a holiday built on tradition). But vegetables? Now, there's a spot where we can still have some fun. Here are six of our favorite fall vegetables, each fixed six ways. For full recipes, go online to our California Cookbook.
Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts: Steam sprouts until they are just tender. Render bacon with shallots. Add chestnuts and chicken broth, and cook until chestnuts are tender and sweet. Add vinegar and sprouts, and cook long enough for the flavors to marry.
Brussels sprout salad with mustard vinaigrette: Make a vinaigrette with honey, Champagne vinegar, lemon juice and zest, mustard, garlic and olive oil. Separate the sprouts into leaves, and blanch the leaves in boiling water just until barely tender. Combine leaves with dried cranberries and blueberries and toasted whole almonds. Toss with just enough vinaigrette to moisten lightly. Arrange on a platter and shave Manchego cheese over the top.
Creamed Brussels sprouts with hazelnut crumbs: Steam sprouts until tender. Sauté shallots and add milk and chicken broth. Blend some more broth with flour to thicken, then whisk into the milk/broth combination and simmer until thickened and smooth. Stir sprouts into the mixture, then turn into a buttered baking dish. Combine bread crumbs, chopped hazelnuts and thyme, and sprinkle it over the top. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.
Brussels sprout leaves cooked with pancetta: Separate the sprouts into leaves. Sauté carrots, celery and onions with chopped pancetta in olive oil. Add sprouts and a little water, and cook, covered, until the leaves are tender. Season with a dash of vinegar.
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts salad with mustard-caper butter: Make the mustard-caper butter by pounding garlic in a mortar until smooth; add it to butter with mustard, capers, lemon zest, marjoram and pepper. Blanch quartered sprouts just until tender, then do the same with cauliflower florets. Drain, pat dry and toss with mustard-caper butter.
Wilted Brussels sprouts with walnuts: Slice the sprouts into very thin coins. Make a vinaigrette with vinegar, shallot, mustard and walnut oil. Sauté sliced sprouts in olive oil until chewy crisp. Immediately pour over the dressing and toss to coat. Stir in walnuts.
Cauliflower with bagna cauda: Make bagna cauda by warming anchovies, garlic, butter, olive oil and lemon zest over low heat. Cut cauliflower into six wedges, and blanch in boiling water. Pat dry and sear in hot olive oil until browned. Spoon bagna cauda over cauliflower, and sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest.
Craft's roasted cauliflower: Divide the cauliflower into florets, toss with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees until tender and lightly browned. Garnish with smoked almonds.
Quick cauliflower pickles: Cook onions and garlic in olive oil until just soft. Add cauliflower florets, equal amounts of white wine and white wine vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, whole peppercorns and red pepper flakes, and cook until the cauliflower is tender but crisp. Remove cauliflower to a bowl, and add green olives and lemon zest to the liquid in the cooking pan and cook over high heat to a thick syrup. Pour syrup over cauliflower and set aside for about 2 hours.
Garlicky braised cauliflower with capers: Warm anchovies in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. Add cauliflower florets and a little water. Cover tightly and cook on medium-low until the florets are slightly tender. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high and cook until the water evaporates. Add capers and parsley, and warm through.
Cauliflower steaks with romesco sauce: Make a romesco sauce by puréeing toasted hazelnuts and almonds, charred tomato, soaked red pepper, toasted bread, garlic, pimenton de la Vera and red wine vinegar to a thick, chunky cream. Cut cauliflower into thick steaks, sauté on both sides in hot olive oil, then finish cooking in the oven until just tender. Serve with romesco sauce.
Cauliflower and potato gratin: Blanch cauliflower florets and cut-up potatoes in boiling water until tender. Make a cheese sauce by sautéing leeks in butter, then stirring in flour to make a paste. Add milk a little at a time and cook until thick. Add crème fraîche and Gruyere cheese, and cook until smooth. Season with nutmeg. Pour a little sauce in a buttered gratin dish, add the cauliflower and potatoes and pour the remaining sauce over the top. Scatter bread crumbs and more Gruyere over the top and bake until browned.
Mushroom and winter squash gratin: Roast spaghetti squash until tender. Separate it into strands with a fork. Sauté mushrooms until brown, add shallots and then transfer to a bowl. Add prosciutto to the hot pan and cook with chopped leeks. Return the mushrooms to the pan and add crème fraîche. Combine the mushrooms and squash, and tip it into a buttered gratin dish. Pour over heavy cream to come partway up the squash mixture. Bake until bubbly. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and bread crumbs; dot with butter and return to the oven until browned.
Roasted acorn squash and apple salad: Roast wedges of acorn squash until tender. Make a vinaigrette with vinegar and grapeseed oil. Julienne apples and toss with lemon juice. Place spicy greens in a large bowl with hazelnuts and apples. Toss to coat lightly with vinaigrette. Divide evenly among serving bowls, and place roasted wedges of squash on top. Shave cheese over the top.
Squash baked with sage and chile butter: Roast thick slices of squash until tender. Warm butter with sage, ancho chile pepper and cumin. Brush the squash with the butter during the last 5 minutes of baking.
Butternut squash with sweet spices: Cook onion, garlic and tomatoes in olive oil. Add cubed squash, black pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger and a little sugar. Cover and cook until the squash is tender.
Roast winter squash purée with apple and ginger: Roast winter squash until tender. Scoop out flesh and purée with chopped apple, whipping cream, fresh ginger and butter. Scrape purée into a small saucepan and keep warm.
Kabocha squash soup with pomegranate seeds and spicy candied pecans: Sauté onions in butter. Add cubed squash, chicken broth and heavy cream, and cook until the squash is tender. Purée until smooth, and pass through a strainer. While the squash is cooking, cook sugar syrup to the hard-ball stage. Add pecans and Espelette pepper, and stir to coat with syrup. Cool on parchment paper. Serve soup garnished with pomegranate seeds and spiced nuts.
Roasted green beans: Toss green beans with oil, dried oregano, minced garlic and salt, and spread on a greased baking sheet. Roast in a 400-degree oven until tender, drizzling with lemon juice halfway through cooking. Arrange the beans on a platter, and spoon freshly toasted bread crumbs on top.
Ellis Island's green beans: Blanch beans until crisp-tender, then cool. Before serving, sauté beans with olive oil and chopped garlic to reheat, then season with garlic salt and serve.
Green and yellow beans in lemon mustard vinaigrette: Steam beans until crisp-tender, then cool in an ice bath and drain. Whisk together a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, onion, garlic, tarragon, sugar and salt, and toss with the beans just to coat. Arrange on a platter, and sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper.
Creamed green beans and onions: Blanch green beans and onions separately until tender. Melt butter and flour to form a roux and add milk, cooking until thickened, seasoning to taste. Stir in beans and onions.
Nani's tortino di fagiolini: Whisk together eggs with Parmigiano-Reggiano, milk, salt, pepper, blanched green beans and caramelized onions. Pour into a foil-lined and greased springform pan, and sprinkle over bread crumbs. Bake until set, cool, then refrigerate until chilled. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Meyer lemon green beans: Blanch green beans, then cool in an ice bath, drain and set aside. When ready to serve, melt butter in a skillet and add the beans to warm. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice, seasoning with fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.
Dr. George Washington Carver's sliced sweet potato pie: Prepare pie dough and pie dish for a double-crust pie. Boil whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes until tender enough to be sliced. Line a prepared pie dish with alternating layers of peeled and sliced potatoes and a mixture of sugar, flour, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Moisten the layers with a blend of molasses, cream and potato cooking liquid, and top with the upper crust. Slit the top crust to vent, and bake until the crust is nicely brown and the filling is bubbly. Cool before serving.
Sweet potato chile soup: Cook chopped onion and garlic in butter in a large pot until softened. Add quartered sweet potatoes, stock, chipotle in adobo, and roasted poblano chiles, and simmer until potatoes are tender and chiles are soft. Purée the soup with honey and cream, and season to taste. Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Sweet potato-Gruyere gratin: Bake whole large sweet potatoes until tender but not soft. Cool, then peel and slice, arranging slices into a single, overlapping layer in a buttered baking dish. Season, and drizzle over a mixture of whipping cream and crème fraîche. Scatter grated Gruyere on top and dot it with butter, and bake until the cheese is melted and the cream is bubbly and golden.
Thomas Jefferson's sweet potato biscuits: Stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger and allspice in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until crumbly, and mix in cooked mashed sweet potatoes. Stir in cream and pecans. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and cut out biscuits. Bake on an ungreased baking sheets at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Thelma Moore's sweet potato souffle: Whisk together cooked mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk. Whisk in melted butter, and pour the mixture into a casserole. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Sprinkle over a mixture of corn flakes, pecans, brown sugar and melted butter, and bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.
Roasted sweet potato wedges: Peel and cut large sweet potatoes into long, thin wedges. Toss evenly with vegetable oil, salt and pepper, and bake until tender. Serve hot.
Red beet latkes with crème fraîche and chives: Combine grated beets and potatoes with onion, bread crumbs, egg, lemon juice, parsley and seasoning. Fry small patties in oil and butter until golden brown. Garnish with crème fraîche and chives.
Roasted beets with horseradish vinaigrette: Roast beets at 400 degrees until fork-tender. When cool enough to handle, cut stems and skin. Combine red wine vinegar, water, sugar, horseradish, shallots, salt and pepper, and toss with beets. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.
Beets with orange and almonds: Roast beets, then peel and cut into small cubes. Combine orange juice, orange zest, beets and butter, and cook until liquid is reduced to a glaze. Toss with almonds, and transfer to a serving dish, squeezing over more orange juice and garnishing with chervil.
Beet and pomegranate salad: Boil beets until tender, then peel and finely dice. Add pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, crushed dried peppers and salt, and toss to combine. Toss with cilantro leaves, pomegranate seeds and olive oil, then drizzle over olive oil and serve.
Fresh beet-ginger raita: Boil beets until tender, then peel and finely dice. Combine with onion, hot green pepper, ginger, salt, cumin, black pepper, cilantro, yogurt and sour cream. Garnish with cilantro.
Roasted Chioggia beets: Roast beets with canola oil, peppercorns, garlic, thyme and salt. Cool, then remove the skin and place beets in a vacuum-pack or sealable plastic bag with olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt. Refrigerate to marinate, then season with more olive oil and sherry vinegar and serve.