Thanksgiving recipes: Former Hamptons chef Kevin Penner shares his menu

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Thanksgiving is not the time for fancy, chef-like flourishes. So says Kevin Penner who, over the course of his 20 years on the East End, has led the kitchens at some of Long Island’s finest Hamptons restaurants -- Della Femina and 1770 House among them.

On Thanksgiving, Penner relies on the simple, straightforward cooking of his Iowa childhood, serving creamed onions, sausage stuffing, pureed potatoes, a roast turkey that depends on a hot oven and salt and pepper for its seasoning.

Not that Penner’s technique hasn’t been honed by his profession: Both his stuffing and his gravy owe their profound basslines to a rich poultry stock made with roasted chicken and turkey. The onions he creams are the delicate, oblate ones that the Italians call cipollini. His refreshing salad of watercress and endive is punctuated with pomegranate seeds and Spanish blue cheese. Instead of a pumpkin pie, he makes elegant little panna cottas, drizzling them with fine maple syrup.

These days, Penner spends most of his time in home kitchens, either his own in Manorville, or in the custom-built one at the Bridgehampton compound of the family for whom he is the personal chef.

This Thanksgiving, he’s thankful that he’s no longer running a kitchen. “At 1770 House,” he recalled, “Thanksgiving was the biggest day of the year — we’d serve about 200 people and it was like a war.”

The menu that Penner created here serves 8 (with leftover turkey), requires no sous-chefs, no runners, no waiters. He prefers to serve it all family style in one big course.

“This year,” he said, “I’m just looking forward to cooking.”

Simple Roast Turkey and Gravy

Kevin Penner makes about the simplest turkey you
(Credit: Doug Young)

Kevin Penner makes about the simplest turkey you can imagine, seasoned only with salt and pepper. He doesn't stuff the bird because by the time the stuffing reaches a safe-to-eat temperature, the meat can be overdone. And he doesn't tie the legs together because they cook better when they are free. To encourage the skin to crisp, he removes the wrapping the night before and lets it dry out a bit in the refrigerator before roasting.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1 (10-to-12 pound) turkey
Kosher salt
Pepper

HOW TO:

1. The night before Thanksgiving, take the turkey out of its wrapping, dry it off, and, from a distance of about a foot, give it a nice sprinkling of kosher salt. Grind some pepper onto it then refrigerate it, uncovered.

2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Take the turkey out of the refrigerator up to an hour before you plan to roast it. Place it on a rack in a sturdy sheet pan or shallow roasting pan (you want air to circulate around the bird as it cooks) and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven. If your oven is deep enough, put the legs facing the back of the oven.

3. Turn oven down to 300 degrees and roast for about 3 hours, until the temperature of the breast registers 150 to 160 degrees and the temperature of the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 to 170 degrees. Carefully remove turkey to a carving board so you can deglaze the drippings in the roasting pan. Let turkey rest for at least 45 minutes and up to 90 minutes before carving. Makes 8 servings plus leftovers.

SIMPLE GRAVY

The secret to this gravy is using dark poultry stock (recipe below) -- stock that has been made with roasted chicken or turkey and, instead of water, a regular stock.

Pan drippings (still in roasting pan)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups dark poultry stock
Turkey giblets, trimmed of connective tissue and chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper

1. After you remove the turkey from the roasting pan, pour off the fat in the pan and discard. Then add a cup of water and put the pan back into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes, until the drippings stuck to the bottom loosen enough to be scraped into the water with a wooden spoon. Pour into a heatproof vessel and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, combine butter and flour and stir, over medium heat, until you have a richly tanned roux, 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in the liquid from the roasting pan and the poultry stock. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes until mixture slightly thickens. Add optional giblets. Taste for salt and pepper (it may not need any). Makes 3 1/2 cups.

DARK POULTRY STOCK:

This "double" stock, made with roasted turkey and chicken and chicken stock (recipe below), is Penner's secret weapon, the liquid used in both the stuffing and the deep, dark gravy.

1 1/2 pounds turkey wings or thighs
1 1/2 pounds turkey gizzards and/or necks
2 pounds chicken thighs
4 quarts homemade chicken stock (or canned, low-sodium broth)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place all of the items on a sheet tray and roast in the oven until nicely browned, about 1 hour or so.

2. Remove them from the sheet tray and place them in a large pot. Add the cooled chicken stock and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a strong simmer until reduced to 2 1/2 quarts, 1 to 2 hours. Strain and reserve. Makes about 2 1/4 quarts.

CHICKEN STOCK

Penner's chicken stock is made with nothing but chicken.

4 pounds chicken backs, necks, thighs and/or wings

Combine chicken with 6 quarts of water in a large pot, bring to a boil and then reduce the flame so that the liquid maintains a strong simmer (just a bit less than a boil). Cook for 3 hours, until slightly reduced, and then strain the stock. Discard the bones and chill until needed. Makes about 4 quarts,

Creamed Italian Onions with Thyme and Creme Fraiche

Creamed onions have fallen out of favor --

Creamed onions have fallen out of favor -- for no good reason, as this recipe demonstrates.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
2 pounds cipollini onions, or pearl onions
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup dark poultry stock (or canned, low-sodium broth)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

HOW TO:

1. Trim the ends off the onions but leave on the skins. Bring a pot of water (make sure it is large enough to hold the onions) to a boil over high heat. Add the onions and blanch for 1 minute and then drain them in a colander under cool running water. Peel the onions and add them back to the pot.

2. With the onions in the pot, add the creme fraiche, heavy cream and poultry stock and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid thickens enough to coat the onions and the onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the herbs. If the liquid seems too thick, you can thin it with a little stock or water. Makes 8 servings.

Aromatic Sausage and Herb Stuffing

Penner sticks with a classic stuffing: good bread,
(Credit: Doug Young)

Penner sticks with a classic stuffing: good bread, fresh herbs, pork sausage.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
16 cups bread cut into 2-inch cubes, white or sourdough (1.5 pounds or so)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sweet fennel sausage, casings removed and broken up
3 cups dark poultry stock (or canned, low-sodium broth)

HOW TO

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Place the toasted bread cubes in a very large bowl.

2. In a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, garlic, sage, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.

3. In the same saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, stirring often to keep breaking up the sausage. Add to the bread-and-vegetable mixture.

4. Add the chicken stock to the mixture, mix well, and add it to a buttered 9 inch-by-12-inch Pyrex or enamel baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm or reheat in a 300 degree over if necessary. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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Crispy Brussels Sprouts Leaves with Pancetta and Brown Butter

If you haven't the patience for halving the
(Credit: Doug Young)

If you haven't the patience for halving the Brussels sprouts, coring them and then tearing off the leaves, you could also thinly slice them through the core, Penner says.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
4 tablespoons butter
6 ounces pancetta, in 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved, cored and leaves separated
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 bunch of thyme, leaves stripped off and chopped

HOW TO:

1. Brown the butter by putting it into a small saucepan and heating over medium until it has a nutty aroma, turns a rich tan color and the milk solids, which will initially float to the top, fall to the bottom. Scrape up the solids and pour into a heatproof vessel. Set aside.

2. Unroll the round pancetta slices into strips and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Cook pancetta in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fat starts to render and it begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer pancetta to a small strainer placed over a small bowl.

3. Heat olive oil in the same skillet over medium high and cook the garlic, stirring occasionally, until it is fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Working in batches, add Brussels sprout leaves, tossing and letting them wilt slightly before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until leaves are browned in spots and the edges are crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vinegar, pancetta, thyme and brown butter; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

Yukon Gold Potato Puree

This rich, golden puree, silkened by butter, is
(Credit: Doug Young)

This rich, golden puree, silkened by butter, is almost a sauce. For a more traditional "mashed potato" texture, use 2 to 3 sticks of butter and 3/4 cup of milk. For maximum potato flavor, Penner roasts -- rather than boils -- the potatoes. You can make this ahead of time and reheat it in a saucepan over low heat.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
2 pounds large Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and pricked with a fork
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
Salt to taste
Snipped chives, to garnish

HOW TO:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake about 40 minutes or until tender. Remove them from the oven and let cool slightly. Peel the potatoes and then, using a potato ricer, rice them into a mixing bowl.

2. In a sauce pan, heat the butter and milk until the butter is mostly melted and the milk is steaming. Keep stirring the mixture into the riced potatoes until the mixture is fully combined. (For creamier potatoes, you can work them through a metal strainer or sieve, or place them in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment and beat them on medium speed until creamy.) Season to taste with salt and top with snipped chives. Makes 8 servings.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

WHAT YOU'LL NEED: 1 (12-ounce) package fresh or
(Credit: Doug Young)

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
1 (12-ounce) package fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and rinsed
1 cup best-quality, amber-colored maple syrup
1 stick of cinnamon, toasted over an open flame until aromatic
1 orange, zested with a microplane grater, then juiced

HOW TO:

1. Combine the cranberries, maple syrup, cinnamon and orange juice in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, just until the cranberries burst, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest and let it cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Leave the cinnamon stick in it. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

TIP: When you toast the cinnamon stick over your gas burner, use tongs. If you have an electric range, you can forego the toasting.

Watercress, Endive & Pomegranate Salad

Penner likes the great Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales,
(Credit: Doug Young)

Penner likes the great Spanish blue cheese, Cabrales, for this simple salad. But French Roquefort, Italian Gorgonzola or domestic Maytag or Bayley Hazan Blue are good substitutes.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
1 pomegranate, halved, seeds removed and set aside (see note)
2 bunches watercress, trimmed, washed and dried, about 8 ounces
3 endives, broken into leaves
4 ounces Cabrales or another blue cheese, crumbled
4 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

HOW TO:

1. Combine the pomegranate seeds, watercress, endive, Cabrales and parsley in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together the vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss with the salad, and serve. Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: To extract pomegranate seeds, cut the fruit in half through its equator. Place a large bowl of water in the sink. Hold the halved pomegranate in one hand so that the cut half is down, facing your palm. With your other hand, use a wooden spoon to whack the skin side of the pomegranate all over. The seeds will fall out into your hand, and then into the water. Keep whacking until all the seeds are out. The white pith will be floating on top of the water; the seeds will sink. Skim off the pith, then strain out the seeds. Many greengrocers also sell plastic containers of pomegranate seeds.

Sweet Potato Panna Cotta with Maple Syrup

This make-ahead dessert is an elegant take on
(Credit: Doug Young)

This make-ahead dessert is an elegant take on traditional Thanksgiving pie flavors.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
3 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 1/2 [1/4-ounce] packages)
3 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweet potato puree
1/2 to 1 cup good-quality, dark amber maple syrup

1. In a small bowl, whisk the gelatin with 1/4 cup cold water and set aside.

2. Whisk the cream, milk, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a saucepan over medium heat until just beginning to boil.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin. Whisk in the sweet potato purée, and then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pitcher or liquid measure. Divide among 8 (6-ounce) ramekins or coffee cups. When cool, cover the ramekins with plastic wrap, then refrigerate until firm and cool, at least 4 and up to 48 hours.

4. Unmold the panna cotta by dipping the bottom of each ramekin in hot water briefly, and then running a paring knife around the edge all the way to the bottom to loosen it. Cover with a dessert plate and invert, give it a firm shake, and then remove the ramekin or coffee cup. Drizzle each unmolded panna cotta with a little maple syrup. Makes 8 servings.

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