If you’re having turkey as the main event then the sides are absolutely the most important thing going on in the meal. Your guests will know what to expect with the turkey and though it’s nice, it’s not much more than that. Like the the turkey and its various trimmings, the side dish portion of Christmas dinner practically writes itself.
The parsnips are already roasting with the turkey, getting sticky with maple syrup, butter and turkey juices. The meal still needs carrots. Keeping them separate from the turkey makes them a vegetarian side and provides opportunity to add another flavour profile, in addition to preserving their colour. The carrots, heirloom if you fancy, are simply glazed in a shallow pan on the stovetop with a decent knob of butter, a little sugar, some cold water and a few star anise thrown in there for Christmasy spice and woodsy decoration. The only other spice necessary is a bit of freshly ground black pepper and a touch of flakey sea salt.
Though the bird is stuffed, it’s with potatoes so it’s okay to make another stuffing with bread. Do something familiar but made better with a few upgrades. Red fife flour is somewhat of a Canadian specialty. It produces a whole grain bread very similar in flavour to rye, and giving attention to the bread here is a pleasant change to forging ahead with whatever miscellaneous petrified white bread that’s often used. The sausage is sweet and mildly spiced while the figs add further sweetness and their seeds an appealing grainy texture.
Sausage and Fig Stuffing
Enough for 8 as a side dish
1 large day-old loaf red fife (or rye) bread
3 large mild Italian sausages, casings removed
100ml olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely
12 dried mission figs, cut into smallish pieces
500ml turkey stock
1/4 large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50g unsalted butter
Cut the bread into large cubes, approximately 1” chunks, and place in a large mixing bowl. In a heavy bottomed skillet fry the sausage in the olive oil until starting to brown then add the onion, garlic, rosemary, and figs and continue to fry until the onion softens. Add in the turkey stock and cook until the figs begin to plump. Decant the mix into the bowl with the bread and mix in the parsley. Mix and check the seasonings, adding salt and generous amount of pepper to taste.
Generously butter a casserole dish, large enough to hold everything and tumble in the stuffing. Dot the butter overtop of the stuffing and bake, covered until warmed through. If it seems dry, add additional stock, turkey pan drippings, or gravy. This stuffing can also be stuffed inside the bird, such as the summer savory dressing.
Now as the menu is almost done, you may be thinking the plate might look a little dull. It needs a hit of green. Something that’s not going to get cold by the time the other dishes make their way around to the last diner. A hot casserole of something decadent is ideal. Brussels sprouts in bacon or maybe simmered down in mustard and blue cheese would be a good thing but certain family members don’t like the sprouts and there are others that don’t like blue cheese. Spinach buried under a ridiculously thick béchamel sauce is the way to go this time around. The sauce is rich and aromatic better than any macaroni and cheese. A lightly crisp topping made with Japanese bread crumbs, butter, and a little thyme help to gussy the dish up so it’s worthy of the Christmas table.
Enough for 8 as a side dish
1620g (approximately 4 large bunches) spinach
500ml whole milk (3.5% M.F.)
1 small yellow onion, halved with the root-end removed
2 whole cloves
4 whole allspice berries
10 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
80g unsalted butter
80g all-purpose unbleached white flour
150ml whipping cream (35% M.F.)
2 teaspoons Maldon salt
For the topping (optional):
30g Panko bread crumbs
35g unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
In a small saucepan add the milk, onion, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, and bay leaf and warm over medium heat until starting to steam. Remove from the heat and cover for approximately 20 minutes, allowing the aromatics to infuse the milk.
Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the spinach and trim away the tougher stalks. Add the wet spinach, to a very large pot and cover as much as the lid will fit on top. Wilt the spinach down over medium-high heat, stirring as necessary until the spinach has collapsed. Remove from the heat and set aside in a colander to drain completely.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat, add the flour and cook for 5 minutes or so, until just starting to turn a light brown colour. Strain the infused milk, discarding the aromatics and add it slowly to the pan, whisking as you go. Stir frequently and cook for 10 minutes. The sauce will be thick. Add the drained spinach, cream, and salt and stir to combine.
If not using the topping, the spinach is ready to serve straight from the pot. To dress it up a bit, decant the creamed spinach into a buttered casserole dish. In a small bowl combine the ingredients for the topping and scatter over top of the casserole. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is browned and the casserole is bubbling.
With dinner set, it’s time to work out dessert…