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Local chefs will give thanks Thursday if they get a break from cooking.
But this week, a handful of them were more than happy to share ideas for Thanksgiving side dishes.
They range from Cajun cornbread stuffing and stuffed roasted vegetables to sweet potato gratin and a Swiss dish called chnoepfli – some easy, some family traditions and others just new twists on classic companions to turkey.
Just before lunch Wednesday, chef Chris Nestor presided over the kitchen at his newest restaurant, House Kitchen & Bar, 555 Capitol Mall. Working from memory, he jotted down the recipe for Cajun cornbread stuffing, a dish he created two years ago at his other restaurant, INK.
"We had jambalaya on the menu at INK. We churned it in with cornbread stuffing," he said. "We fused the two of them together. It's a Cajun cornbread stuffing with red and green bell peppers, sausage and onions. It's excellent."
Nestor said he was looking forward to staying out of the kitchen Thursday.
"I'm fortunate to have someone else cook this year, so I don't have to do anything," he said. "I've been in this business 26 years. I've literally cooked one Thanksgiving dinner at my house and it was two people last year."
For Thanksgiving, Sacramento cookbook author Biba Caggiano likes to prepare traditional dishes she doesn't do very often because they take so much time. But Caggiano, who owns Biba Restaurant at 2801 Capitol Ave., also likes to make easier fare.
"Once you have a big, beautiful turkey, the vegetables are important," she said. "By the time you take the turkey out, you don't want to do too much work."
On Thursday, stuffed roasted vegetables will be one of the things she takes to her daughter's house. The dish, whose recipe can be found in her cookbook, "Biba's Italy," is good for get-togethers because it can be made ahead of time and eaten at room temperature, she said.
You may not have ever heard of it before, but chnoepfli is high on the list of favorite Thanksgiving side dishes for at least two Sacramento chefs: Patrick Mulvaney, who owns Mulvaney's B & L at 1215 19th St., and his buddy, Margie Tose, who owns Edible Events catering service.
Known in Germany as spaetzle, chnoepfli – a pasta or dumpling dish – has many variations. Mulvaney became hooked on the stuff during the many holiday dinners he shared with Tose and her family after the two met working at Paragary's in 1995.
Starting in the 1970s, her Swiss stepfather, Al Weiss, made chnoepfli with cheese and green onions baked on top, featuring dumplings handmade by her mother Grace, every Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, Tose made two pans of what she and Mulvaney called "nerfli."
"Don't ask me how to spell it," said Tose, who learned to make the dish from her stepfather. "I can't find the recipe."
It took a call to Karl Resch, owner of Swiss House restaurant at 535 Mill St. in Grass Valley, to track down the spelling and one recipe. Tose, who was busy cooking, provided the family's variation.
Matthew Robinson, who became the new chef at Kupros Bistro, 1217 21st St., a week ago, recommended sweet potato gratin. He's taken the side dish to several family Thanksgivings. Sweet potato gratin is easy for anyone who's been in the kitchen before. The key is to slice the potatoes very thin, he said.
"It's something that's going to be impressive, but at the same time, it's kind of foolproof," Robinson said. "You've got to have something that's fairly quick and fairly easy. Because you doln't want to spend your whole day in the kitchen."
Cajun Cornbread Stuffing
Chris Nestor, House Kitchen and Bar
3 tbsp. Cajun seasonings (i.e., paprika, cayenne, garlic and onion powders, pepper, oregano)
1/2 lb. butter
1 oz. Cajun butter
1/2 cup red bell pepper
1/2 cup green bell pepper
1/2 cup onion
1/2 cup celery
1 lb. sausage (Any works, including andouille or chicken apple)
2 tbsp. sage
1 tsp. cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups cooked cornbread
6-8 cups turkey broth
1. Combine Cajun butter ingredients in pan. Melt. Set aside.
2. In large pan, saute 1 oz. melted Cajun butter with first five stuffing ingredients for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat.
3. Add sage and cayenne.
4. In a bowl, add mixture to cornbread and stir together.
5. Add 3 oz. melted Cajun butter.
6. Add turkey broth, starting with 6 cups, until moist.
7. Bake, covered, at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.
8. Remove foil cover and brown. Serves 12 to 14.
Stuffed Roasted Vegetables
Verdure Ripiene al Forno
3 medium-size, ripe tomatoes
2 large red bell peppers
4 small zucchini
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh Italian or French bread, without the crust
3 oz. sliced salame or baked ham, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. salt plus more to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally. With your fingers, remove the seeds. Place tomatoes cut side down on paper towels. Let them drain for about 1 hour.
Wash and dry the bell peppers, trim both ends and discard the stems. Cut the peppers into quarters lengthwise. Core and seed them, and remove the white membranes.
Trim both ends of the zucchini and halve them lengthwise. With a teaspoon, scoop out about half of the flesh, leaving 1/2 inch thick shells. Chop the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Add the beaten egg, 3/4 cup of the Parmigiano, the bread, salame, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with about half of the olive oil. Mix well, taste and adjust the seasoning. The stuffing should have a soft, moist texture. Add a little more oil if needed.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish lightly with oil.
Place some of the stuffing in the cavities of the tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers. Arrange the vegetables in the baking dish. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining Parmigiano and drizzle with a little more oil.
Place the pan on the oven's center rack and bake until the vegetables are soft and the stuffing is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.
Karl Resch, Swiss House
1 lb. flour
Dash of salt
1. Beat into thick and slightly stiff pancake batter.
2. Bring 10 quarts of water in a pot to a boil. Add salt.
3. Scrape small amounts of batter into a collander, strainer or spraetzle maker.
4. Holding collander at least five to six inches above boiling water, scrape or push batter through to drop into the water. Spraetzle shapes may be thin and long or small and round or oval.
5. Separate pieces with spoon while cooking.
6. Remove with skimmer as done. Drain.
7. Put in bowl. Add shredded Swiss or Parmesan cheese to taste. Top with brown butter.
8. If not eaten right away, cool off batter in a bucket of ice water. Stir a little to separate. Let ice melt completely before you take out batter. Strain. Pan fry later with butter.
Margie Tose, Edible Events
1. Make dumplings (Joy of Cooking recipe) with flour, egg and milk in water.
2. Cool dumplings.
3. Slice an inch thick.
4. Butter pan. Line 9 x 13 pan/s with dumplings.
5. Add layer of cheese, such as Swiss Emmentaler cheese, Gruyere and Jarlsberg, 1.5 to 2 lb. cheese per pan.
6. Add layer of green onions (3 bunches per layer).
7. Add butter throughout the pan, about half a pound per pan.
8. Repeat all three layers.
9. Bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes, until bubbly and brown.
Sweet Potato Gratin
Matthew Robinson, Kupros Bistro
4.5 lb. sweet potatoes (about 5 big ones or 10 small ones)
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter (melted)
1 tbsp. orange zest
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Slice sweet potatoes into about 1/8 inch slices.
3. Combine heavy cream, orange juice, orange zest and nutmeg in a large enough pot to hold all the potatoes. Bring to a boil.
4. Reduce to simmer and add sweet potatoes.
5. Continue to simmer and stir until cream has reduced and evenly coats potatoes.
6. Transfer to greased, ovenproof container. Bake for 40 minutes or until fork tender.
7. Top with brown sugar and melted butter. Continue to bake until sugar has melted.
8. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
Photos 1 and 2 by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Photo of Biba Caggiano provided by Biba staff.