For the past 23 years, we have been fortunate enough to spend our Thanksgiving holiday as guests in other family members' homes, which means we have never had to be responsible for the star of the show: the turkey (in fact, we have never even roasted a whole turkey, ever).
But we're no slouches in the world of food, so we always aim to bring a side dish, or two or three, that is big on flavor and crowd appeal. In the past, our specialties have included many recipes that have also been shared here, including: Cranberries Gone Wild party dip, baked brie in puff pastry with homemade cranberry sauce, spinach gratin, homemade crescent rolls, apple cheddar bread pudding, sweet potato cheesecake, pumpkin spice macaroons and Grandma Sunny's pumpkin ice cream pie (a family favorite).
This year, we will be celebrating with my sisters in the Twin Cities, and there are several vegetarians who will also be attending, signaling to us that our new side dish must not only be delicious, but hearty, too.
We love to work with regional flavors whenever possible, so wild rice, a Minnesota favorite, became the base of our new recipe.
When making rice of any kind, one trick I've learned is to use chicken or vegetable broth, or stock, instead of water, which instantly transforms this simple starch into a flavorful side dish. Our pre-teen son, Giovanni, thinks he doesn't care much for rice, but when we employ this culinary hack, he gobbles it up with gusto, enjoying it almost as much as pasta.
While the rice cooked, I sautéed a whole, diced sweet onion in butter, and then added a variety of sliced mushrooms, about a pound, and cooked them until they were tender and aromatic. The mushrooms bring a wonderful meaty component to this vegetarian side dish, and I used a blend of baby portabellas, button and shiitake, which resulted in a robust punch of flavor.
Next, for more fall flavor, I added some dried cranberries, orange zest, toasted pecans and half a cup of sweet Marsala wine, and continued cooking until the wine had evaporated. Then I tossed the mushroom mixture in with the cooked wild rice and added a healthy dose of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley at the end for a fresh burst of color and flavor.
Marsala is a fortified wine from Sicily produced in both a sweet and dry varietal. You could use either type, depending on your taste, or you could substitute brandy, white wine, Madeira or sherry. We often cook with wine, and the Marsala was a perfect complement to the savory mushrooms and tart cranberries.
When cooking with wine, remember that the alcohol content will burn off during the cooking process, so even children and non-drinkers can enjoy the dish.
When I first made this new creation for Tony, he gobbled up nearly half the rice in one sitting. This nonverbal reaction was the best validation, as he is usually one to eschew rice in favor of pasta. We discovered that the leftovers the next day were even more flavorful, and I now plan to make it a day in advance of Thanksgiving to ensure the best result.
This flavorful dish is full of fall colors, easy to make, and can be put together a day or two in advance of serving, making it a perfect choice for the upcoming holiday season.
For more recipes and turkey tips, visit us online at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.
CORRECTION: The amount of milk required to make last week's featured recipe for Biscuits and Gravy Casserole was missing from the printed recipe. Please amend your copy to include 2 ½ cups of milk.
Thanksgiving Wild Rice with Mushrooms, Cranberries and Pecans
Serves: 8 to 10
2 6-ounce packages long-grain and wild rice mix (omit seasonings if included)
1 quart (32 oz.) chicken or vegetable stock (may use water if preferred)
3 tablespoons butter
1 large sweet onion, medium-diced
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
½ cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon orange zest
½ cup sweet Marsala wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Prepare rice according to directions on package.
As the rice cooks, toast the pecans over medium-low heat until they are lightly golden and fragrant, stirring often, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion and sauté until golden, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and pungently aromatic.
Add the toasted pecans, dried cranberries, orange zest and Marsala wine and sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat, until the liquid is absorbed. Toss the mushroom mixture and fresh parsley with the cooked rice and serve immediately, or refrigerate overnight for even better results.
• When cooking rice, use chicken or vegetable stock or broth instead of water for better flavor.
• Madeira, sherry, brandy or white wine may be substituted for Marsala.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.