What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner? For many people, it’s the side dishes — appetizers, vegetables, relishes and “extras” — that make the meal into a special occasion. And some people hold out for dessert, even with all the other temptations.
In his 2011 visit to Fresh Starts Chef Events, Chef Tom set the holiday mood by demonstrating several delicious recipes and offered his excellent tips from planning to execution for the whole feast.
His down-home recipes include some terrific ideas, including a delightful ending that makes the most of the season but won’t be too heavy after the rest of the meal.
Since fall is the time for pumpkins and other colorful hard squash, Chef Tom reminds us that it’s also time for their flavorful seeds. The flavor of his panna cotta goes especially well with pumpkin — consider serving it with your pumpkin pie instead of whipped cream or ice cream. He presented the panna cotta for our guests with a compote of poached pear and persimmons.
Pumpkin Seed Panna Cotta — Serves 4 to 6
¾ cup green raw pumpkin seeds
1¼ cups whole milk
1½ teaspoons gelatin (not a full envelope)
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
A pinch of salt
1 cup natural sour cream (no thickeners or stabilizers)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F and toast the pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet until pale golden brown and the seeds begin to pop, about 4 or 5 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate, spread them out and let cool completely. Reserve about a tablespoon of whole seeds for garnish.
In a spice grinder or food processor, pulverize the remaining seeds as finely as possible, approaching the point of making nut butter. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the seeds with the milk, whisking until smooth.
On a medium flame, heat the mixture until steaming and hot. Cover the pot and let steep for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the gelatin and the water and let sit.
Set a fine-mesh screen sieve over a bowl, and pour the seed-milk mixture through the sieve, using the back of a ladle to force through as much liquid as possible — this will result in about 1 cup of very creamy pumpkin-seed milk.
Whisk in the gelatin mixture, sugar, and salt. Set the pan over a low flame and gently heat the mixture, stirring frequently, until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until room temperature.
Put the sour cream in a large bowl and whisk it smooth. Whisk the gelatin mixture into the sour cream until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Pour into a glass bowl, and chill until set.
To serve, using a wide spoon, spoon the cream carefully into glass dessert bowls. If you prefer, you may let the cream set in small, individual ramekins, then unmold them for serving. Sprinkle each portion with a few of the reserved whole pumpkin seeds.
Compote of Poached Pears and Persimmons — Serves about 12
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
A piece of fresh ginger root (about ¾ inch), peeled and sliced
6 ripe Bosc pears (ripen on kitchen counter for a few days)
2 to 3 seedless Fuyu persimmons, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise into large rounds
Wash the lemon well. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemon in long strips and put it in a large, heavy, nonreactive pot (not cast-iron or aluminum). Add the juice of the lemon, sugar, wine, water, cinnamon, and ginger.
Bring to a boil over a medium-high flame, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, using a small, sharp knife, peel the pears. Cut the pears in half and cut out the core, keeping the pear halves intact. Carefully poach the pears in the boiling syrup, stirring gently, until they offer no resistance when poked with a knife, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Drain the pears as they are done using a slotted spoon, and transfer them to a big shallow bowl. Let the pears and liquid cool separately until just barely warm, then add the pears back to the liquid and refrigerate overnight.
For best flavor, serve the fruit at cool room temperature, not refrigerator-cold. Immerse the persimmon rounds in the liquid shortly before serving.
To serve with Pumpkin Seed Panna Cotta, place a pear half and a couple of persimmon slices around a scoop of panna cotta. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the poaching liquid over the fruit. Garnish the panna cotta with the reserved pumpkin seeds.