Kitchen Call: Going green for holiday dinner

Linda Bassett

Most holiday dinners feature a much-anticipated main course. Every family has their favorite. Succulent, rosy ham. Burnished roast beef. Golden-crusted turkey. In our family, we don’t play favorites. We flip merrily from one to another, year after year.

We also alternate annually between roasted yellow pepper soup or chestnut cream soup.

But one dish is stable on the table. The green vegetable. Once, I would cook a different green vegetable each year, mostly because I was looking for one that the kids wouldn’t feed to the dog. But one year someone gave me a recipe for a gratin of Brussels sprouts. After that, the side dish never varied. It’s equally at home with a beef or poultry or pork centerpiece.

A green vegetable provides a flavor and textural counterpoint to rich, roasted meat. But don’t get this wrong: these are not ascetic, dietetic greens dressed with a spritz or two of lemon juice. The ingredients include liberal lashings of heavy cream, melting cheeses and, in some cases, pork fat. It’s easy to see why this is a once-a-year indulgence.

I’ve included the recipe here, but with a caveat: preparation is time-consuming. Cleaning and prepping — pulling off tough outer leaves, trimming the bottoms with a paring knife, and cutting a cross in the base of each one — takes some effort, especially if you have a big crowd for dinner. So I'll offer a couple of alternatives.

The spinach and artichoke gratin starts with frozen spinach to add to a voluptuous mixture of cream cheese and butter. (I would not “upgrade” this recipe with fresh spinach.) Marinated artichoke hearts provide another layer of flavor. Some cooks like to use plain, canned artichoke bottoms. Each alters the final product slightly. The walnuts, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese provide a crunchy topping. The most time-consuming effort for the cook in this recipe is wringing out the thawed spinach well so that the finished result is creamy, not watery.

The easiest one of the batch is the broccoli casserole — basically, a tossing of broccoli (it tastes much nicer if the cook takes the time to pare and parcook fresh broccoli) and other creamy ingredients including the retro canned cream of celery soup.

SPINACH & ARTICHOKE GRATIN

Makes 6 to 8 servings

8-ounce package cream cheese

1 stick butter

2 six-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, sliced

3 ten-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1/4 cup good quality grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a shallow 8-inch square or oval baking dish.

2. Melt butter, cream cheese in a saucepan. Stir in the spinach until thoroughly incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Place sliced artichoke hearts in the bottom of the baking dish in one layer. Pour in the spinach mixture and spread evenly over the artichoke hearts. Top with the walnuts and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Drizzle with melted butter.

4. Bake for 10 minutes until bubbling and golden on top.

GRATIN OF BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 pints Brussels sprouts

8 slices bacon

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

2/3 cup white wine

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons mustard

1-1/2 cup whipping cream

Pinch nutmeg

1 cup grated fontina cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a large, shallow baking dish.

2. Trim the spouts. Cut an X in the stem end. Bring a pot of water to a boil; add sprouts and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.

3. Cook bacon until golden. Drain the pan of drippings, saving 2 tablespoons in the pan. Add chopped onion to the pan; cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until softened. Add garlic, cook just short of 1 minute longer. Add wine to the pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a gentle bubble until liquid is reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat. Add lemon juice, mustard, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle the fontina cheese over the top.

5. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling at the edges.

BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 package frozen broccoli, cooked

1 can cream of celery soup

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup mayonnaise

2 handfuls stuffing mix from the bag

Grated cheddar cheese, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a casserole.

2. Gently toss together all the ingredients, except the cheese. Use cheese for topping. Bake for 25 minutes until bubbling and golden on top.

Linda Bassett, author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” teaches American regional cooking and international cuisine at Massachusetts' North Shore Community College. Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.