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Local Cooks Spice Up Thanksgiving
By Olivia Boler
This Nov. 25, from sea to shining sea, families and friends will share America's most famous meal. And it's a safe bet that turkey and stuffing will be on the menu--or at least some mashed potatoes. Nothing wrong with that. But wouldn't it be great if the Thanksgiving table had something different this year--maybe a creamy Italian panna cotta instead of the traditional pumpkin pie?
In our search for spice, the Voice asked a few neighborhood chefs and bakers--and even a catering sorceress--what they would do to make Thanksgiving a little less typical. (Their recipes follow this story.)
"Kids learning how to operate in the kitchen and someone hollering about an intercepted pass in the other room are things that come to mind when I think of [Thanksgiving]," says Dion Drislane, owner of The Kitchen Witch, a Noe Valley catering company.
With pigskin on the brain, it's no wonder she's chosen a roast pork loin as a main course. Drislane, who has lived on 25th Street for 13 years and operated The Kitchen Witch since 1991, usually makes pork on Turkey Day because she doesn't eat it that often. She describes herself as "fast and loose" with the ingredients, so if you need help with the herb paste, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By contrast, Vincenzo Cucco, chef of Bacco Ristorante on Diamond and 24th streets, cautions that for his butternut squash gnocchi dish, precision is key. Depending on the weight of the squash, you might need more or less flour.
"This recipe is a science," he says of the pasta that shows up every now and then on the menu at Bacco, voted by the San Francisco Chronicle as among the "Top 100 Restaurants" in the Bay Area.
Just next door on Diamond, the folks at PastaGina offer up a recipe featuring grains and cranberries. Owners Joanie Basso-Ginsberg (a.k.a. "Gina") and Gene Ginsberg (a.k.a. "Gino") have been feeding hungry Noe Valleyans Italian-influenced takeout for over eight years.
Instead of the usual cranberry goo, they use dried cranberries combined with wild rice and barley for a dish that can be used as a salad or a stuffing base. Basso-Ginsberg says she sometimes serves the salad at her family's annual Thanksgiving gathering on the Monterey Peninsula.
"It's a special time because people show up from diverse places such as France, New York City, Oregon, New Mexico, and Italy," she says. "The festivities go from Thursday to Sunday, and it's the only holiday where our family and friends can catch up and spend time with each other."
Friends and family are an important part of Kim O'Neill's Thanksgiving ritual as well. The Stonehouse Olive Oil retail manager has been in the food business for over 20 years. She especially loves the autumn vegetable recipe below, which is her own creation and features--what else?--olive oil.
Many Thanksgiving tables often are salad free, but Savor's Granada Salad makes a tasty--and healthy--addition. David Kent, who manages the popular 24th Street brunch café, says he eats the salad almost every day. (And by the way, Savor will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, in case you're feeling too lazy to cook).
Of course, if you've eaten all your greens, then you've earned your dessert, and we have two offerings on hand. The first is from another "Top 100 Restaurant," Incanto Restaurant at Church and Duncan streets. The other comes courtesy of a neighborhood mainstay, the Noe Valley Bakery & Bread Company, on 24th Street near Castro Street.
Incanto's pastry chef, Bud Teasley, draws upon his Southern roots--he grew up in Gumlog, Ga., and was trained in Charleston, S.C.--to create his pumpkin panna cotta (which translates literally as "cooked cream" and is like an eggless pudding). But the recipe also offers hints of Incanto's rustic Italian cuisine.
As for Noe Valley Bakery's pear cranberry pie, owners Mary and Michael Gassen have combined two ingredients loaded with personal meaning. Michael has fond memories of picking pears from his grandmother's trees as a kid, and Mary developed a love for cranberries during her childhood spent in the Midwest.
"When Michael and I got married and opened our bakery," says Mary Gassen, "we decide to marry those two ingredients in a pie."
It's been a favorite with customers ever since, and it's a delicious way to end an untraditional Thanksgiving meal.
The Kitchen Witch's Roast Pork Loin
Dion Drislane, email@example.com
3-pound pork shoulder
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons salt
1 bunch parsley
1 large chopped onion
1 head garlic
1 large bulb fennel (cored and green top removed)
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 large jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Brine the pork overnight in a mixture of the sugar, salt, and water. The water should cover the meat. Rinse and pat dry.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a food processor, blend the parsley, onion, garlic, fennel, rosemary, pepper, and olive oil to make a herb paste. Separating the seams of the pork muscle without using a knife, spread the paste over the inside of the meat. Tie the roast back into its original shape and slather with olive oil and salt. Place in roasting pan. Roast for 21/4 to 21/2 hours (or until a meat thermometer reaches 185 degrees). If the meat's juices aren't flowing after an hour, add a little white wine or chicken broth to deglaze the pan.
Bacco's Gnocchi di Zucca Burro e Salvia
Butternut Squash Gnocchi
with Butter and Sage
Vincenzo Cucco of Bacco Ristorante, 737 Diamond Street; 415-282-4969
For the gnocchi:
1 pound butternut squash
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt and white pepper to taste
For the sauce:
1/4 pound butter
2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dry sage
Parmigiano cheese to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split and seed the butternut squash. Roast on a pan, cut side down, 40 to 50 minutes until softened. Cool and scoop out the pulp from the skin. Puree the pulp in a food processor.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, on a work surface such as a large cutting board or counter, work the gnocchi ingredients--squash pulp, flour, cornstarch, egg yolks, cheese, salt, and white pepper--together without overworking.
Fill a pastry bag with the mixture. While squeezing the bag, with a small knife cut the gnocchi into one-inch pillows directly into the boiling water. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, transfer them into a bowl of iced water.
For the sauce, lightly brown the butter with the sage.
Reheat the gnocchi in boiling water. Drain and mix with the sauce, sprinkling with Parmigiano cheese.
PastaGina's Wild Rice, Barley, and Dried Cranberry Salad
Joanie Basso-Ginsberg of PastaGina, 741 Diamond Street; 415-282-0738
Serves 12 to 15
This recipe can be used in two different ways, either as a side dish or as a stuffing. If you make it as a stuffing, don't use the dressing and add bread chunks and olive oil to the grain mixture.
1 pound wild rice
2 pounds barley
1/2 pound dried cranberries
1/2 pound carrots (shredded)
1/4 pound green onions (chopped)
1 cup raspberry vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cook wild rice in 2 quarts boiling water, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain and let cool. Cook barley in 3 quarts boiling water, 30 minutes. Drain and let cool. Combine rice and barley with cranberries, carrots, and green onions, and toss.
For the dressing, stir the raspberry vinegar, honey, olive oil, and salt together. Pour over grain mixture and toss.
Savor Restaurant, 3913 24th Street; 415-282-0344
6 cups spring mix with arugula
1-1/2 cups sliced pears
1 cup roasted red peppers
1/2 sliced sumac onions
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
For the dressing:
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Toss together in a salad bowl the spring mix, pears, roasted red peppers, onions, walnuts, and cheese. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk dressing ingredients. Toss with salad.
Stonehouse Roasted Autumn Vegetables
Stonehouse California Olive Oil, 3901 24th Street; 695-0227
1-1/2 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
1 pound shallots (about 24), peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons Stonehouse
Silver Medal Blend Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Stonehouse Blood Orange Olive Oil, plus more for drizzling
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish if desired
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a bowl, toss together the potatoes, shallots, 4 tablespoons of the oil, bay leaf, dried thyme, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the potato mixture in an oiled large roasting pan and roast for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, shaking the pan every 5 to 10 minutes.
In a bowl, toss the squash with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper (to taste), and add it to the pan. Roast the vegetables, shaking the pan occasionally, for 10 to 20 minutes more, or until they are tender. Discard the bay leaf and garnish the vegetables with the thyme sprigs, and a final drizzling of Blood Orange Olive Oil.
Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Candied Walnuts and
Pastry Chef Bud Teasley, Incanto Restaurant, 1550 Church Street;
Yields six 4-ounce servings
Ingredients for panna cotta (Italian for "cooked cream"):
1 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
For candied walnuts:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 lemon verbena leaves
1 cup walnuts
a pinch of black pepper
For fried sage:
2 cups vegetable oil
10 sage leaves
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dissolve the gelatin in 1 cup milk. While the gelatin is dissolving, heat pumpkin puree, cream, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn off burner, cover, and allow to steep for 10 minutes to allow flavors to infuse.
After 10 minutes, pour gelatin mixture into hot cream mixture and whisk lightly. Strain the mixture and pour into any small cup or glass. A 4-ounce glass will yield 6 servings. An 8-ounce glass will yield 3 large servings. Place panna cottas in the refrigerator and allow at least 6 hours to set.
To prepare the walnuts, combine the sugar, water, and lemon verbena leaves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then allow to cool. Toss the walnuts in the sugar syrup. Spread them on a sheet pan, sprinkle with black pepper, and bake for approximately 7 minutes until toasted.
For the sage, heat oil in a saucepan until it begins to bubble briskly, but not violently (350 degrees). Dip sage leaves in egg white, then in sugar. Fry leaves until golden brown, then lay on a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle sage and walnuts over panna cotta and enjoy!
Pear Cranberry Pie
Mary and Michael Gassen,
Noe Valley Bakery & Bread Company, 4073 24th Street; 415-550-1405
Makes two 9-inch pies, serving 16.
For the crust:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/3 cups vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons butter
4 to 6 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
5 to 6 Bartlett pears (ripe, but somewhat firm), peeled and cored and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
8 ounces whole cranberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, a food processor (a few quick pulses), or your fingers until the pieces of shortening are more or less uniformly smaller than a pea. Add the water and mix the dough together with your hands just until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
In a bowl combine pears, cranberries, and vanilla extract. In another bowl combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss the fruit with the sugar mixture until the fruit is well coated with the sugar and spices.
Divide the pie dough into 4 pieces and roll each into 12" rounds. Refrigerate those rounds for at least 10 minutes to rest. Place one dough circle in the bottom of each pie pan to line it. Let the edge of the dough fall over the side of the pie pan. Fill each bottom crust with half of the pear mixture.
With a pastry brush, brush the rim of the bottom crust with eggwash (a whole egg beaten until light) and top with the top crust. Trim the top and bottom crust to the edge of the pie pan. Decorate with some extra dough cut into shapes like leaves (use cookie cutters or freehand). Eggwash the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 55 to 60 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve plain or with whipped cream.
They'll Be Ready at the Farmers' Market
This year, Noe Valleyans have a new outlet for their Thanksgiving feast: the Noe Valley Farmers' Market, held on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon in the parking lot at 24th and Vicksburg streets. According to co-organizer Paula Benson, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the organic market will be stocked with just about everything you could need (except the turkey, that is). There'll be potatoes, yams, pumpkins, cauliflower, persimmons, avocados, apples, oranges, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, salad greens, nuts, and even dried cranberries.
Farmers Shavi Blake and Chel Sheffer (right) of Happy Boy Farms say they're ready right now to dish out squash, carrots, and fruit preserves to local cooks who are eager to start sampling holiday recipes. Photo by Pamela Gerard