Thanksgiving dinner is a war zone of traditional expectations. You know this conversation:
"I think I'll add blue cheese and roasted garlic to the mashed potatoes this year."
"I'll divorce you."
"Really? We can't mix it up a little bit? Break out?"
"This is me, calling an attorney."
There's nothing wrong with mashed potatoes as a carrier for butter and sour cream. Really, I'm all for it, but Thanksgiving without deviation ad infinitum is ad nauseam, and just plain tragic.
It took years of careful negotiation with my family to reach a compromise. Certain items must always appear in their pristine form (mashed potatoes, candied yams, roast turkey, stuffing, rolls, jellied cranberry from a can), but I get to add a couple of interesting dishes to the mix.
I did score one other, critical win many years ago. There was a time when something called "7-Up Salad" appeared, like clockwork orange, at every Thanksgiving dinner. Were we the victims of a marketing ploy, doomed to product placement by a pimply kid who saved his ass with a nascent notion of the "big idea"? We'll never know, but my husband cajoled someone in the family every year to make this "salad" and it passed from hand to hand around the table without a trace of irony or disgust.
Context: It is a green gelatin mold in which floats, like a stop-action horror film, canned pineapple chunks, walnuts and mini-marshmallows. Oh, and it's fizzy, owing to its namesake liquid. Eventually I prevailed against this food felony, which has not shown itself at my table in more than a decade.
One small step for me, a giant damn leap for Thanksgiving dinner.
This year, because I defer to the Italians on most everything, pumpkin risotto will get its star turn. I know, risotto and mashed potatoes on the same table is very nearly a crime against humanity. What can I do?
I tested this recipe a few weeks back, when Halloween handed me pumpkins and I made "pumpkinade," so to speak. Actually, this recipe also includes sage-roasted chicken. Imagine a sage-roasted turkey and pumpkin risotto as the main dish on Thanksgiving -- not at my house, not in this lifetime. But for someone who hasn't used up all her negotiating chits ridding Thanksgiving of 7-Up Salad, perhaps it could happen. A girl can dream.
Sage-roasted chicken and pumpkin risotto
- 2 chicken breast halves, bone in and skin on
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1¼ cups diced (¼-inch), peeled, seeded fresh pumpkin (preferably from a Sugar Pumpkin)
- ¾ cup finely chopped shallots
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken/pumpkin broth (see below)
- 3 sprigs fresh sage, plus more for garnish
- 8 ounces Arborio rice
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/3 cup)
- sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, mix together the softened butter and chopped sage. Rub the butter mixture all over the chicken breasts (including underneath the breastbone and under the skin).
- Pan sear chicken, skin-side down in bacon fat in a skillet, until deeply browned. Flip and move the pan to the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the temperature is 160 degrees at the thickest part of the breasts. Remove from the pan, lightly cover with aluminum foil and let rest until cool enough to cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside the cut-up chicken breast. You will have some left over after making the risotto.
- Make chicken/pumpkin stock by boiling leftover pumpkin rind and pieces in chicken stock until the stock is well infused with pumpkin flavor and color. Strain stock. Roast diced pumpkin in the chicken roasting skillet, adding in some more bacon fat if you have it. Pumpkin should be tossed occasionally and pulled out when soft on the inside but slightly roasty/crunchy on the outside.
- Bring chicken/pumpkin stock to a boil in a medium saucepan and keep at a low simmer. Cook shallots in olive oil in a heavy risotto pan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add fresh chopped sage and cook for about 1 minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add one cup white wine, and cook at a strong simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Continue simmering, adding chicken/pumpkin broth a half-cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 15 minutes total. You should have about one-half cup of broth left.
- Add in the cooked pumpkin, cooked chicken breast (I added about one cup), chopped fresh sage (to taste). Add another half-cup of broth and stir constantly until almost all is absorbed. Add butter and grated Parmesan cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Taste for seasonings.
- Serve immediately and garnish with fresh sage sprigs.