Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner~

“‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and all toward the house, every creature was bringing home a boyfriend or spouse!”

With the largest American food holiday quickly approaching, the looming culinary quandary isn’t what to make on Turkey Day or what to do with the leftovers, it’s—what to feed everyone the night before the food frenzy begins?!

Trying to feed homeward bound family members, often with friends, new dates or holiday “orphans” in tow, a light yet filling meal on Wednesday night can be more stressful than the holiday itself. Add to that: unknown dietary restrictions, unknown arrival times (invariably someone’s flight is delayed or a roommate’s car breaks down) and unknown degrees of hunger—well, don’t take a Xanax and go to bed.

Here are three quick, economical dishes to choose from that, when paired with a simple salad (included), will satisfy a traveler’s hunger and still leave room for all of Thursday’s “thankfulness” yet to come.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Saffron Soup

A lactose-free, gluten-free and stress-free meatless soup that will satisfy everyone’s dietary restrictions without having to tell Dad he’s eating “healthy”—plus, score brownie points with the son’s new “lactose intolerant” girlfriend, the daughter’s “vegan” fiancé or Aunt Sallie, with her newly diagnosed celiac condition requiring a gluten-free diet.

For the cauliflower:

2 heads cauliflower, cored and cut into equal-sized florets

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the soup:

8 cups canned vegetable stock (low sodium, gluten free)

1/2 teaspoon (1/2 gram) coarsely crumbled saffron threads

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, minced

4 large cloves garlic, finely minced

1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into ½-inch-thick cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Thinly sliced fresh chives for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil.

In a large bowl, add the cauliflower florets, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Using your hands, toss together until the florets are covered well. Pour mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, distributing evenly. Roast in oven for 15 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, turn the florets to a second side and continue roasting an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the florets are nicely browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool on the baking sheet.

Meanwhile, place 4 cups of the vegetable stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the saffron threads, cover and allow the saffron threads to steep for 20 minutes.

In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the olive oil. When hot, add the onions, sautéing for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and tender, but not brown. [If the onions start to brown, reduce the heat and add a tablespoon of water to slow the sauté process.] Add the garlic, stirring for 30 to 45 seconds. Add the beans, potatoes, salt and pepper. Stir until combined and allow to sauté for 1 minute. Raise the heat to medium-high, pour in the saffron-infused stock plus the remaining 4 cups vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Once at a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat. Add the roasted cauliflower, with any of the brown bits from the parchment, and stir until combined. Use a stick blender in the pot to purée the soup until it is slightly chunky and almost smooth. [If you don’t have a stick blender, purée the soup, in batches, in a food processor and return to the pot.] Garnish with chopped chives and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serves 8 to 12.

“Mad Dog” Penne with Cream

Slightly spicy, this pasta dish is the perfect foil to the rich food of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 ¼-inch-thick slices (approx 5 ounces) pancetta, cut into ¼-inch cubes (smoked pancetta is preferred)

1 small onion, thinly sliced into half rounds

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), placed in a
bowl and crushed by hand, reserving all of the liquid

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound penne rigate

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or pecorino cheese, for garnish

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed pancetta and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent and starting to turn golden, stir in the red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, their juices and salt, stirring until well combined, bringing the tomatoes to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, 18 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water. Remove and drain the pasta just before it is al dente, a minute or two less than the package’s recommended cooking time. Add the slightly undercooked pasta to the finished sauce over medium heat, stirring until well mixed. Stir in the cream and cook until the pasta is al dente—firm but tender to the bite—and the cream has cooked into the sauce, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with the grated cheese.

This makes 6 to 8 servings.

Potato, Bacon & Smoked Gouda Frittata

Less time consuming than making individual omelets, and with less cheese, this all-in-one-pan meal may be eaten warm or at room temperature. Plus, potatoes and the smoky flavor of bacon and Gouda gives this dish a “hearty” feeling without having to load up on large protein portions for the same effect.

3 slices bacon, hickory smoked

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced into half-rounds

1 medium russet potato, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced into half-rounds

3/4 cup chicken stock (low sodium, if using canned stock)

8 eggs

½ teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese, more to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On the stove top, heat a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy and nicely browned on both sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Crumble the bacon when cooled.

Pour off the fat from the skillet and discard. Return the skillet to the heat, add the olive oil and bring to temperature. Add the onion and potato, stirring to combine well. Cook until the onion starts to turn translucent but is not browning, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add a 1/4 cup of the chicken stock. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add another 1/4 cup chicken stock, stirring to combine and cook until the liquid has once again almost evaporated, another 5 to 7 minutes. Add the remaining chicken stock and cook until the potatoes are just tender and the liquid has evaporated, another 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, add the eggs and beat until combined. Stir in the salt, pepper and Gouda. Set aside.

After the last addition of the chicken stock, add the crumbled bacon to the potato/onion mixture, stirring to evenly distribute. Taste the potatoes and adjust salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, pour the egg/cheese mixture over the potato mixture. Stir to combine, making sure that the potatoes, onions and bacon are evenly distributed throughout.

Cook over low heat until the sides and bottom of the frittata start to lightly golden and the frittata begins to set up, about 5 to 7 minutes. At this point, remove the skillet from the stove top and place in the oven to finish cooking for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the top is set and just firm.

Remove the skillet from the oven, run a spatula around the edge to loosen the frittata, gently shake the pan to make sure the frittata is loose, place the surface of a plate over the pan and invert the frittata onto the plate. The now top should be nicely browned. Sprinkle the frittata with some additional grated Gouda cheese and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.

Arugula with Lemon & Garlic Vinaigrette

No need to pull out the myriad of bottled cream dressings that clutter the fridge door and weigh down a salad. The simple combination of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil keeps this salad refreshing light.

Juice of 1 lemon

Extra virgin olive oil—3x the amount of the lemon juice. [For example, for 1/4 cup lemon juice, add 3/4 cup olive oil.]

1 large clove garlic, finely minced (or passed through a garlic press)

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (5-ounce) package of fresh arugula (fresh mixed greens may be substituted)

Garnish: shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a see-through glass or plastic 1 cup-sized measuring cup. Add olive oil (“eyeball” the 3x amount), garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk together until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Place the arugula into a large bowl, drizzle half of the lemon/garlic vinaigrette around the arugula against the inside surface of the bowl. Toss the arugula well with the vinaigrette and add more vinaigrette, if needed, until the arugula is lightly dressed.

Garnish each serving with grated Parmigiano.

Serves 4 to 6.

[NOTE: If serving individual salads across a long span of time, only place enough arugula per serving as needed in the bowl. Whisk the standing vinaigrette to remix and dress the arugula with a little vinaigrette at a time. This will insure that the salad is fresh and crisp when served, and not soggy if overly dressed far in advanced.

ALSO: To keep the vinaigrette between uses, cover the measuring cup with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature. If storing overnight, place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and whisk to combine before reusing.]

~Happy Thanksgiving~

~Buon Appetito~

Mark

If you haven’t had a chance to read my pumpkin article with recipes on PaulaDeen.com~ Click here!

Looking for a classic Southern Pecan Pie recipe? Click here for my favorite ~ not overly sweet and loaded with pecans!

Pumpkin & Ricotta Torta ~ here is Nonna’s recipe for an Italian fall favorite. Italians may not have “Thanksgiving,” but they sure do appreciate the pumpkin! Click here for the recipe!

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.