We had a gathering of friends last night to give a little thanks and have a festive potluck before everyone voyages off to their various destinations for the big day. A little Thanksgiving pre-gaming, if you will. And it was exactly what you would hope for from a Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving, full of good company and good cheer, and no shortage of mildly inappropriate jokes and misuse of acronyms. Standard, wholesome fare.
A dear friend, who we actually celebrated Turkey day with last year (the year when Joel made a really concerted effort to land himself in the emergency room through the cavalier use of a oyster shucker – those pesky little buggers are hard to open!), told me that this year she was going to a vegetarian Thanksgiving, hosted by her fabulous friend/downstairs neighbor/landlady. It had been a hard decision, especially given she was also invited to a party across the river where a beautifully brined turkey – and things with bacon in them – would be waiting. But, we are both people who value the importance of home and place, and I can definitely understand why she came down on the side of staying for the party in her own home. And, she explained, when you really reflect on it, Thanksgiving is not so much about the turkey (mine certainly isn’t! I don’t much care for turkey, though last year I splurged on a delicious and flavorful heritage breed turkey. And had to sell my first born child for it. Also my left arm.) as it is about the idea of a meal planned with a great deal of care and intentionality.
I loved that point! It’s so true. What makes the Thanksgiving meal special, besides it being a time hopefully dedicated to giving thanks with no reference to creed or nationality or status or anything, is that it is a meal that takes a lot of time, and planning, and personal investment. It is taking a meal and turning it into a gift, and you can do that with or without a bird involved. (I’m not gonna lie, no bacon is a harder sell ). And there are so many beautiful vegetarian options that capture the flavors of the season and convey the sense of warmth and caring, from squash to mushrooms, to Brussels sprouts, to creamed corn, and everything au gratin. And pie! Thank goodness pie is vegetarian.
Anyhow, I think these lovely pot pies would fit nicely into the mix. They may not be a busy weeknight meal, as they have several steps and a lot of chopping, but don’t be scared off because each step in itself is perfectly simple! And it’s so worth it when you dive in for a bite full of deep flavors, creamy sauce, and the flaky buttery biscuits – with just a hint of sweet potato – that crown them in ‘heaven’s they’re tasty!’ glory. (And when you eat them, you don’t miss the meat at all, but if you wished you could certainly add in a bit of chopped cooked chicken, or flaked salmon and they would be just as delicious.) They are beautiful but unpretentious, like you would hope a Thanksgiving meal, or any cozy winter supper, would be.
Vegetable Pot Pies (serves 8 ) adapted from a recipe in a 2007 Food & Wine magazine
- About 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1-2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into half inch pieces
- 1 rutabaga, or celery root, or turnip, peeled and cut into half inch pieces (really instead of these, you can use whatever combination of seasonal vegetables you please, as long as you have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 cups, chopped, total)
- A whole lot of olive oil (around ¼ or 1/3 cup)
- Salt and pepper
- A couple tsp. of thyme
- A tsp. or so of sage
- One large onion, finely chopped
- 4 Tbs. of butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups milk (I actually used goat’s milk, which turned out great!)
- A big splash white wine or sherry
- A tsp. of thyme and a pinch each of sage and nutmeg
- Unbaked sweet potato biscuits (see below)
- optional: a cup of cooked and cubed chicken or salmon
- Heat your oven to 425F. Toss all of the chopped vegetables and half of the chopped onion with the olive oil a couple tsp. of thyme, one tsp. of sage, and several big shakes of salt and pepper. Spread them in a large roasting pan, put them into the oven and roast – stirring once or twice during the process – until they are soft and have gotten brown cooked spots on them, around 45 minutes, or so. Remove from the oven and set aside. (But leave the oven on.)
- In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat, until it’s melted and starting to bubble. Stir in the remaining half of the chopped onion and cook for a few minutes until softened and transluscent. Stir in the flour until it is all mixed in with the butter and onion and cook for a couple of minutes. Then, whisk in the milk a little bit at a time, stirring vigorously to avoid lumps. (Say no to lumpy sauce!)
- Then stir in the white wine, the remaining smaller amounts of thyme and sage and the nutmeg along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about ten minutes. At this point, add more salt and pepper to taste. Then, stir sauce and roasted vegetables together.
- Either spoon the vegetables into 8 individual pot pie dishes (large ramekins) or into a large baking dish. Put an unbaked sweet potato biscuit on top of each dish – or if using a large baking dish, arrange the biscuits on top to cover it, slightly overlapping one another. Pop the pot pies into the oven and bake until they are bubbling and the biscuits are puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. (You can also make the vegetables with sauce ahead of time and refrigerate them, then just warm them up to room temp and spoon them into your baking dishes when you’re ready to bake).
Sweet potato biscuits (makes 8)
- 1 medium-small sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 ¾ cups regular flour
- 1 Tbs. brown sugar
- 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 7 Tbs. cold regular butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
- In a pot, cover the sweet potato with water, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato well, then smash it up with a fork. Reserve ¾ cup of it and let it cool (you can use the rest of it for something else, for example eating it for a snack as you cook).
- In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like a coarse sand. Alternatively you can just pulse all these ingredients together in a food processor. Stir in the buttermilk and ¾ cup sweet potato mash until all the ingredients are just combined. Scoop the dough out into a ball, and knead it a couple of times on a well floured surface.
- Then, roll it to about ¼ inch thick and cut it into 8 biscuits – you can make squares or use a 4 inch circle cutter. Put the unbaked biscuits on top of your pot pies before baking. Or, if you just want biscuits, bake them in a 425F oven for 15 minutes, until golden.