Autumn’s vibrant shades come together in splendor on the holiday table

Times Staff Writer

More redolent, more heady, more burnished, a Thanksgiving table laden with lustrous golden turkey, velvety dark-green kale, burnt-sienna sweet potatoes is probably the richest feast of the year. In the gilded candlelight, it’s hard to resist comparing it to a painting; call it Netherlandish Renaissance or Italian Baroque.

But there’s no still life here. Once dinner gets going, passed plates flash with the deep wine-red hue of the cranberries, the gradations of green on the tiny leaves of Brussels sprouts, the dazzling white of little glazed onions. In between is the sparkle of lifted silverware and crystal glasses.

Inevitably, the nuts-and-bolts discussion of the colors of Thanksgiving comes down to this: “Would you like dark meat or white meat?” But why must it be a choice? Why are turkey eaters so often hard-liners?


I cannot and will not choose; I love them both -- a couple of thin slices of the turkey breast edged with fatty-crispy lacquered brown skin, and a piece of dark meat with its deep flavor and melting texture. I love the way the lean white meat plays against a luscious gravy and the way the rich dark meat is punctuated by a tart burst of cranberry sauce.

And when the turkey is roasted perfectly, so that both the breast and thigh are tender and succulent -- why wouldn’t everyone want the dark and the white meat?

Last year, Times columnist Russ Parsons discovered the best way to roast a turkey. It’s rubbed all over with salt and allowed to cure for three days before roasting. The result was illuminating: Who knew turkey could taste so great and have such an amazing texture? The meat was moist -- almost silky -- but also firm, with deep, concentrated flavor. But as we compared techniques during testing, the best-browned bird was the one that had been brined. We loved the salted bird best, but wished it was more bronzed.

This year, we did it: We improved on the dry-salted turkey recipe so that the dark and white meat were perfectly cooked and the skin was wonderfully crisp and deep golden-brown. The fix? Every day during the curing, we redistributed the salt all over the turkey. And during roasting, we raised the cooking temperature at the end, rather than starting high at the beginning.

What to serve with the perfect bird? You’ll find no set menu in these pages. Instead, here’s a collection of new recipes from Food section writers and a couple of guest contributors; choose what you like from the greens, the oranges, the reds and ivories and golden-browns. There are lima beans strewn with fresh mint, and a sumptuous celery root gratin; a savory bread pudding spiced with sage and thyme, studded with chanterelles and set in a custard enriched with Gruyere and Emmentaler cheeses; spiced pumpkin soup; or sweet potato puree with a hazelnut souffle top. Rosemary and black pepper breads braided together and formed into a wreath make a stunning centerpiece. A pumpkin pie with a bruleed top is served with cardamom-scented whipped cream and candied lemon peel. Another has a cashew crust with a little orange zest mixed in. A cranberry and fig tart is spectacular, especially with a dollop of Cognac whipped cream.

It’s difficult not to want to make all of them.



The Ultimate Turkey

Total time: About 3 hours plus salt-curing and resting time. Plan 3 full days plus 8 hours salt-curing time and 1 hour resting before roasting.

Servings: 11 to 15

Note: From Russ Parsons. Begin 4 days before you want to serve the turkey.

1 (12- to 16-pound) free-range, organic turkey

Kosher salt

1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon and one-half teaspoon salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds of turkey (for a 15-pound turkey, you’d have 3 1/2 tablespoons).

2. Lightly sprinkle the inside of the turkey with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

3. Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use about a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

4. Place the turkey in a 2 1/2 -gallon sealable plastic bag. Press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey, breast side up, in the refrigerator. Chill the turkey for three days: After the first day, redistribute the salt by opening the bag, massaging the salt into the bird and resealing the bag tightly, pressing out the air. After the second day, redistribute the salt again. Turn the turkey onto its breast to chill for the last day.

5. Remove the turkey from the bag and wipe it off with a paper towel. There should be no salt visible on the surface and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

6. On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let rest at room temperature at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 325 degrees.

7. Place the turkey breast-side down on a roasting rack in a roasting pan; put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up (it’s easiest to do this by hand, using kitchen towels or oven mitts). Continue cooking an additional 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pan halfway through the roasting time.

8. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees, return the turkey to the oven and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 160 degrees, an additional 20 to 30 minutes. The total roasting time will be about 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours.

9. Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let stand at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.

Each of 15 servings: 564 calories; 77 grams protein; 0 carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 26 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 261 mg. cholesterol; 856 mg. sodium.


Cognac reduction sauce

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: Makes 1 cup

Note: From John Brenner and Noelle Carter. The stock can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

1 1/2 teaspoons oil

1 turkey neck (reserved, from the turkey recipe), cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons white wine

4 cups chicken broth

Pan drippings from the roasted turkey

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

3 sprigs thyme

1 cup Cognac

1 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

Salt (optional)

1. To make turkey stock, in a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the turkey neck and saute the pieces until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Take the pan off the heat and add the wine. Scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and place the pan back over the heat. Cook until the wine is almost all cooked off and absorbed, about a minute.

3. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer; cook 30 to 40 minutes or until the stock is reduced by half.

4. Skim the fat from the surface of the stock and remove the neck pieces. Strain the stock; set aside.

5. Pour the drippings from the turkey roasting pan into a fat separator, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the roasting pan. Separate out the fat from the rest of the drippings and discard, reserving the de-fatted drippings. Heat the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots to the pan and sweat for about 3 minutes until softened. Stir in the thyme sprigs and cook just until aromatic, about 1 minute.

6. Remove the pan from heat and add the Cognac. Use a long match (and stand back) to ignite the Cognac; let it burn until the alcohol is cooked off, watching carefully as the flames may flare up, about a minute (if it does not go out after a minute, place a lid over the pan to extinguish the flame).

7. Bring the pan back over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce by about 80%, until it coats the back of a spoon. Add the reserved turkey stock and stir to combine.

8. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and strain the sauce into a medium saucepan. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until reduced to 1 cup, several minutes. Add the reserved pan drippings, stirring to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly and is reduced to 1 cup.

9. Remove the pan from heat and add the butter, swirling the pan gently to melt the butter. Taste and season if necessary with salt. Serve immediately.

Each tablespoon: 57 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 3 mg. cholesterol; 181 mg. sodium.


Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: From Russ Parsons

1/2 pound chestnuts

1 pound Brussels sprouts

2 slices thick-cut bacon

1 shallot, minced

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar


Freshly ground black pepper

1. Roast the chestnuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. With a small knife, score the chestnuts with an “X” on the flat side of the shell. Roast them on a baking sheet until the shells curl and darken where they have been scored, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Remove the chestnuts from the oven and immediately cover them with a towel that has been soaked in ice water and wrung out. When the chestnuts are just cool enough to handle, peel away the shells and the thin skin covering the chestnut meat. Cut the chestnuts in quarters and set aside.

3. Trim the Brussels sprouts: Cut off the hard surface of the stem; remove any loose or yellowing leaves and cut a deep “X” in the base to allow the heat to penetrate to the center.

4. In a vegetable steamer, steam the Brussels sprouts, tightly covered, until they are just beginning to become tender, 6 to 7 minutes. They should still be slightly crisp at the center and bright green. Remove from the heat and set aside. (The dish can be made to this point up to 2 days in advance and the chestnuts and Brussels sprouts refrigerated tightly sealed.)

5. Cut the bacon crosswise into thin strips. In a dry medium skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until the strips have rendered their fat and browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the minced shallot and cook until it softens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1 1/2 minutes.

6. Add the Brussels sprouts and chestnuts to the skillet and toss to coat with the deglazed juices. Season to taste with one-fourth teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper and, if necessary, a little more red wine vinegar (the acidity pulls the flavors into focus). Serve immediately.

Each serving: 106 calories; 4 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 3 mg. cholesterol; 198 mg. sodium.


Glazed cipollini with pancetta

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

Note: From Russ Parsons

1 pound cipollini or pearl onions

3 to 3 1/2 ounces pancetta, in 1 slice about 1/4-inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons chicken broth , divided

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary


Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the cipollini in a large bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Let them stand for 2 minutes (if using pearl onions, 1 minute should be enough). Drain the onions and run them under just enough cold water so they’re cool enough to handle. Cut off the stem end of each and peel back the papery skin, which will now be quite soft. In some cases, the top layer will peel off as well. Trim the dark, dry part of the root end, but do not trim too deeply or the cipollini won’t hold together as well.

2. Dice the pancetta and place it in a skillet with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook until the pancetta has rendered its fat and browned, about 15 minutes.

3. Pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the fat and add the peeled cipollini to the skillet. Toss to coat with the fat and add the balsamic vinegar, one-fourth cup chicken broth, the rosemary and one-half teaspoon salt. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the cipollini are tender enough to be easily pierced with a knife, about 20 to 30 minutes (about 20 for pearl onions).

4. Remove the lid and increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring the cipollini to keep them from scorching, until they have colored slightly and a dark brown crust has formed on the bottom of the pan. Do not let this burn. Add another 2 to 3 tablespoons of chicken broth and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits and glaze the cipollini. Season with more salt, a splash of balsamic to taste and a generous grinding of black pepper.

Each of 6 servings: 116 calories; 3 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 6 mg. cholesterol; 330 mg. sodium.


Ruby Port cranberry sauce

Total time: 20 minutes plus cooling time

Servings: About 2 cups

Note: From Donna Deane

1 1/2 cups ruby Port

3/4 cup sugar

3 cloves

1/2 stick cinnamon

3 allspice berries

4 black peppercorns

2-inch-by- 1/2 -inch strip of orange peel

1 (12 ounce) package cranberries, washed

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the Port and sugar. Tie the cloves, cinnamon stick, allspice and black peppercorns in a small piece of cheesecloth. Add the spice bundle to the saucepan. Add the orange peel. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the wine is reduced to 1 cup, about 4 minutes.

2. Add the cranberries to the wine. Return to a simmer over medium-high heat then lower the heat and simmer until the cranberries pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Let cool to warm then remove the spice bundle and orange peel. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Each serving: 81 calories; 0 protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 2 mg. sodium.


Mushroom-walnut stuffing

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: From Russ Parsons

2 leeks, white parts only

1/4 cup oil, divided

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 pound brown mushrooms, quartered


1 shallot, minced

1 cup toasted walnut halves and pieces

1 pound unseasoned bread cubes

2 tablespoons walnut oil

2 eggs, beaten

1. Cut the leeks in quarters lengthwise almost to, but not through, the root end. Wash carefully under running water to remove all of the grit. Slice the quarters crosswise into eighth-inch slices.

2. In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the leeks and the celery and cook until tender and the leeks begin to turn golden, about 5 minutes.

3. While the leeks are cooking, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the butter and heat until sizzling. Add the mushrooms and season with one-fourth teaspoon salt. Cook several minutes, tossing, until the mushrooms start to lose their water and darken. Add the minced shallot and cook, tossing, until the shallot softens, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Spoon the leek mixture into a large work bowl and add the walnuts, bread cubes, walnut oil and 2 cups water. Stir gently to combine without breaking up the cubes too much. If it seems at first there may be a little too much water, keep stirring until it is all absorbed.

5. Fold in the mushrooms and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

6. Add the beaten eggs, stirring until they are no longer visible among the bread cubes.

7. Transfer the mixture to a glass or earthenware covered baking dish. Cut an aluminum foil square just big enough to fit inside the opening of the dish and smear it with butter. Press it down lightly on top of the stuffing, butter-side down. Cover the baking dish with the lid and place it in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 350 degrees and bake until the stuffing is hot and steaming, about 30 minutes. Remove the lid and foil, checking to see if the top is golden; if not, return the stuffing to the oven, uncovered, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes until crisp and golden on top.

8. Remove the dish from the oven and keep covered until you’re ready to serve.

Each serving: 501 calories; 12 grams protein; 47 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 31 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 76 mg. cholesterol; 557 mg. sodium.


Mixed greens soup

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: From Donna Deane

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped leeks, white part only

1 clove garlic minced

8 cups chicken broth

1 medium potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

4 cups chopped kale

4 cups chopped mustard greens

4 cups chopped collard greens

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white


Salt (optional)

Lemon slices, cut into


1. Heat the oil in a medium to large (at least 4-quart) stock pot over medium heat and cook the carrots and leeks until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute an additional minute until fragrant but not browned.

2. Add the chicken broth, potato cubes and the chopped kale, mustard and collard greens; stir.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover partially and simmer 1 hour. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in a blender or food processor until smooth.

4. Return the soup to the heat and simmer, uncovered, until it thickens slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Skim off any foam. Stir in the cream, and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

5. Season with white pepper. Taste and add salt if desired. Ladle into bowls and garnish each with 3 or 4 small pieces of lemon.

Each serving: 106 calories; 4 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 6 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 14 mg. cholesterol; 284 mg. sodium.


Roasted baby parsnips

Total time: 1 hour

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: From Donna Deane

1 1/2 pounds baby parsnips, peeled; root ends trimmed

2 tablespoons thyme leaves

1 tablespoon chopped marjoram leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil


Freshly ground white pepper

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Leave the small parsnips whole, and cut the larger ones in half, so they will be uniform in size and cook evenly.

2. On a shallow baking tray, toss the parsnips with the thyme, marjoram, olive oil, three-eighths teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste. Place the tray in the oven and roast until parsnips are tender, about 45 minutes.

Each of 8 servings: 109 calories; 1 gram protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 118 mg. sodium.


Spiced pumpkin soup in roasted pumpkins

Total time: 2 hours

Servings: 12

Note: From Noelle Carter. Grade B maple syrup is preferred for this recipe; it has a richer flavor and is not as highly filtered as Grade A. The mini pumpkins can be roasted several hours ahead. Place the roasted pumpkins in a 250-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes to warm them before filling.

2 poblano chiles

4 tablespoons butter, divided

12 mini (12- to 16-ounce) pumpkins

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

5 pounds pumpkin such as Sugar Pie or American Pie (2 small or 1 medium)

4 ounces apple wood-smoked bacon, about 3 thick slices, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1 large onion, cut into medium dice

1/4 cup dry white wine

6 to 7 cups chicken broth, divided

1/2 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

1 teaspoon New Mexico chile powder

1/2 cup maple syrup, divided

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Tabasco sauce to taste

1 bunch green onions , green parts thinly sliced crosswise, the rest set aside for another use

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Roast the poblano chiles over high heat on a rack on your stove-top burner. When the skin is charred all over, place the peppers in a paper bag. Leave them for about 10 minutes, then remove and peel the skin -- do not rinse. Discard the stem and seeds, and chop the peppers coarsely. Set aside.

3. Prepare the pumpkins: In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and set aside. Cut the top quarter off of each of the 12 pumpkins, as if you are making jack-o’-lanterns, but make the hole wide enough for the pumpkin to work as a soup bowl. With a spoon, clean out, then discard the seeds and pulp. Save the stemmed tops; these will work as “lids.” Lightly brush the melted butter onto the inside of each pumpkin and the underside of each top. Lightly season the inside of each pumpkin and the underside of each top with salt and pepper.

5. Place the pumpkins cut-side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the pumpkin lids cut-side down on the same sheet, with the lids in the middle of the sheet (they’ll cook quicker). You may need to do this in two batches. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, just until the centers are slightly softened and the skins are golden. Do not overbake the pumpkins or they will not support the soup. Set aside.

6. Cut the 5 pounds of pumpkin, unpeeled, into about 1-inch pieces, discarding the seeds, pulp and stem. Set aside.

7. Place the bacon and remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy-bottom stockpot over medium heat. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally until it just begins to crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the onion, and continue cooking until the onion just begins to caramelize, an additional 12 to 15 minutes. Add the diced chiles, stirring to combine. Add the wine and scrape all the cooked bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until almost all of the wine is absorbed. Stir in the pumpkin, and then add 6 cups of the broth. Add 2 teaspoons salt, one-half teaspoon pepper, the paprika, chile powder and one-fourth cup maple syrup. Adjust the heat so the soup comes to a low but steady simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is very soft and tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.

8. Remove the soup from the heat and puree in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Place the soup back in the pot over low heat and stir in the cream. If the soup is too thick, add up to a cup of the reserved broth. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more of less of the remaining maple syrup, if needed, (depending on the sweetness of the pumpkins) and a few dashes of Tabasco. Remove the soup from heat.

9. Pour the soup into each of the small pumpkins, and garnish each serving with a little of the sliced green onion. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 252 calories; 5 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 17 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 54 mg. cholesterol; 689 mg. sodium.