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The following are some of the favorite side dishes my family has come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting.

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

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Yields enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Directions

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 lb sweet Italian fennel sausage (casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoons dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth, plus extra for the baking dish

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula into 1-inch pieces, until light brown, about 5 minutes With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl with the cubed bread.

In the fat left in the pan, sauté the onions, celery and garlic until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes Stir in the thyme, sage, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute and then add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined.

Put some of the stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the turkey in a 325 degree F oven to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer.

Place the remaining stuffing in a casserole dish or large baking pan, pour a cup or two of extra stock over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the turkey. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

Polenta-Stuffed Squash

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 acorn squash, each about one pound
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, minced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup fine to medium ground polenta or cornmeal
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 6 ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Using a sharp knife cut the squash in half; discard the seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Rub the flesh and skin of each squash with 1 tablespoon oil. Scatter garlic inside.

Roast the squash in a baking pan until the flesh is tender but the sides are not yet collapsing, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Heat butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, the sage and thyme; cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add polenta or cornmeal, then whisk in broth. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, whisking frequently, until the polenta is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, scrape about 1 cup of flesh out of each squash, leaving a layer in the shell so it retains its shape. Mash the flesh into a coarse puree and add to the polenta along with the Fontina cheese; stir well. Spoon into the squash shells. Sprinkle the top of each with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the stuffed squash until the cheese is melted and the polenta is steaming hot, about 20 minutes. Serve garnished with additional sage, if desired.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach and garlic; cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Add the spinach and cheese to the crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with salt and pepper and stuff with the spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes.

Italian Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Glazed Cipollini Onions

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Cipollini means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and honey; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Olive Oil and Spinach Mashed Potatoes

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Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1 thyme sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions

In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt and the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.

Heat together the milk, spinach, chopped rosemary leaves and chopped thyme leaves then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes with the olive oil and some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Add the milk and spinach mixture.  Stir until well combined and season with salt and pepper.

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