Side-sational dishes

Brussel sprouts and double smoked bacon. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

Brussel sprouts and double smoked bacon. (Jack Boland/QMI Agency)

RITA DEMONTIS, National Food Editor, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:58 PM ET

Slide me a side!

This Thanksgiving, let's give thanks to the dishes that make the main event look and taste like a million — the traditional side dish.

We all have our favourites — peas, being my personal plate de jour. But you really can't have the turkey without the trimmings, be it mashed, braised, boiled or tossed.

"Side dishes at festivities such as Thanksgiving, are the true stars to the holiday table," says Chef Robert Bartley, director of culinary and executive chef of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd, ( MLSE ) one of Canada's premier entertainment venues with three award-winning restaurants, catering and 50 concession stands at two sports venues. He oversees hundreds of chefs and if anyone knows what to create for the holidays, it's Bartley.

"You can have the best French fry in the world," says Bartley, "but it's what you dip it into that you remember."

A 15-year industry veteran, Bartley has worked with some of Canada's most influential culinary personalities, including Susur Lee, Chris McDonald and Lynn Crawford. He was also a participant on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America competition in 2007. Before joining MLSE from Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, where he served as the executive chef, he worked in a variety of award-winning restaurants.

His culinary philosophy is pretty straightforward — each dish shines on its own merit, be it one dish you're making or 100. "Your first bite should be what sets the scene for the rest of the meal...that's why side dishes play such a pivotal role in Thanksgiving planning."

Here's a selection of sides that are personal favourites on the Bartley holiday table.

TRUFFLED RUTABAGA

The rutabaga — or yellow turnip as it's known — is a fabulous root vegetable that's basically a cross between the white turnip and cabbage. This delightful side is a great alternative to regular mashed potatoes. You can find truffle oil in any supermarket or specialty grocery store — they'll most likely carry a fresh black truffle, too, although the dish is fine without it.

2 large rutabaga, cubed

1 cup (250 ml) 35% cream

2 Tbsp. (30ml) butter

1 tsp white truffle oil

1 fresh black truffle for slicing (optional)

Salt

White Pepper

Peel and cut rutabaga into 1-inch (2.5cm) cubes. Place cubes in a medium pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until rutabaga is fork tender.

In a separate pot, combine cream and butter and bring to a boil. Remove cream and butter from heat. Drain off water and lay rutabaga on a sheet tray for 5 minutes. (This will allow for most of excess water to evaporate.) Return rutabaga to pot and add cream and butter mixture. Take rutabaga and pass through a ricer. If a ricer is not available, use a whisk and mash until desired consistency has been reached. Add truffle oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Transfer to serving dish and top with a few knobs of butter and shaved black truffle, if using.

Serves 6.

ROCKY ROAD CANDIED SWEET POTATOES

This is a riff on rocky road ice cream, says Bartley — the candy glaze and candied pecans add a lovely flavour dimension to the standard Thanksgiving sweet potato.

Candied Pecans:

1 lb. (500g) pecans, toasted

1 egg white, whisked to soft peaks

2 Tbsp. (30ml) brown sugar

5 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

1 cup (250ml) mini marshmallows

Candy Glaze:

1 lb (500g) soft butter

½ cup (125ml) honey

1 tsp. (5ml) salt

½ tsp. (2.5m) cinnamon

¾ cup (50ml) packed brown sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Place pecans on a cookie sheet and toast in 350F (180C) oven for five minutes. Whisk eggs whites to soft peaks and combine with brown sugar. Toss pecans in egg white and sugar mixture and return to cookie sheet and bake an additional 5 minutes. Allow pecans to cool, then give them a rough chop.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into wedges. Place in a medium pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender. Drain water and lay potatoes on a baking tray. Put tray in fridge and allow potatoes to cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for candy glaze and set aside. Once potatoes have cooled, toss them with candy glaze and place them in a casserole dish. Bake in 350F (180C) oven for 20- 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with mini marshmallows and chopped pecans.

Serves 6.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND DOUBLE SMOKED BACON

The double smoked bacon adds a subtlety to this dish. You can also use a smoked prosciutto in place of the bacon.

4 oz. (125g) double smoked bacon, rind removed and roughly chopped

2 large shallots, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 lb. (500g) brussel sprouts, finely sliced

½ cup (125ml) chicken stock

¼ cup (50ml) 35% cream

Salt, pepper to taste

In a medium fry pan, cook bacon until it starts to become crispy. Drain off excess bacon fat and add shallots and garlic. Saute until translucent. Add brussel sprout and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer until most of stock has evaporated. Add 35% cream and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish.

Serves 6.

Old-fashioned flavours rule

According to Food Network Canada, some of the most popular side dishes served for Thanksgiving include sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes (gussied up with creme fraiche and green onions), ratatouille, a dish that's full of flavour and autumn colour, and old-fashioned apple pie. Let's not forget pumpkin pie and the iconic cranberry sauce for the bird!


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