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I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time ever this Thursday, and I am calm and collected.
This is somewhat remarkable because I am a garden-variety neurotic, pacing through life from one stressor to the next. Parallel parking makes me anxious, as does talking to strangers on the phone, buying a washing machine, and Twitter. I get stressed out when I have too much to do but also when I'm bored. Cooking a multi-course dinner for my in-laws is the sort of thing that would usually throw me into a tailspin, setting off rounds of agonizing and list making and second guessing. But I feel composed about the whole thing, because I don't have to cook a turkey.
I lucked into the turkey-less Thanksgiving because my in-laws, like me, follow a mostly vegetarian diet. We don't eat poultry during the rest of the year, so it doesn't make much sense to consume it on Thanksgiving. For those of you (i.e. my parents) who are concerned about Mike, he will be just fine: he is making himself a turkey breast with cranberry-sage stuffing in the slow cooker.
Meanwhile, I will be baking an elaborate six-strand braided loaf from Beatrice Ojakangas' Great Whole Grain Breads, because honestly, for me it's all about the carbohydrates. There will also be spinach, sauteed with onion and garlic and finished with a drizzle of lime juice, and the cranberry sauce that I made yesterday, the cooked kind with more sugar than I would care to relate and a bit of orange zest. I'm taking the day off from work on Wednesday to make a pumpkin pie, using my mom's homemade pie crust recipe. And there will be this sweet potato gratin.
Most gratin recipes I found online involved dizzying amounts of heavy cream, cheese, and butter, such that the actual sweet potatoes were a bit of an afterthought. This recipe is adapted from an Alice Waters recipe for potato gratin, and as one would expect from the grande dame of California cuisine, the vegetables are front and center. The seasonings are simple--salt, pepper, fresh thyme, a restrained sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan--but they combine to make for a sophisticated side dish, or if you're so inclined, a main course for a vegetarian Thanksgiving.
If you happen to own a mandolin, use that to slice the sweet potatoes--I found that cutting consistently thin slices with a knife was a bit difficult.
Serves 8 as a side dish
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and gentle smashed
- 2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced into 1/16 inch thick rounds
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rub the garlic clove into the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Discard the garlic clove and grease the dish with butter or shortening.
Lay half of the sweet potatoes in rows in the prepared baking dish, partially overlapping them like shingles. Sprinkle with half of the thyme, salt, and pepper. Layer the remaining sweet potatoes in the same manner, and sprinkle with the remaining thyme, salt, and pepper. Evenly arrange the cubed butter across the top layer.
Gently pour the milk over the sweet potatoes. The milk should come up to the bottom of the top layer of sweet potatoes; add more if needed.
Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and bake until melted and golden, about 3 minutes.