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A New American Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving meal for friends and family is

A Thanksgiving meal for friends and family is prepared by chef Matt Connors at his parents' home in Bay Shore. Here, family members take fresh carved turkey from a platter. (November 10, 2010) Photo Credit: Michael Gross

Up until 2006, Matt and Eileen Connors didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving. This was before the Long Island natives moved to Bay Shore, opened an acclaimed restaurant, The Lake House, and started a family that now includes Finn, 3, and Bridey, 1.

Back then, Matt was chef de cuisine of Veritas in Manhattan and Eileen was developing recipes for celebrity chef Tyler Florence. Many of the couples' "chef friends" would gather at the Connors' Brooklyn apartment for a lavish, wine-drenched annual feast that assiduously avoided turkey. "I remember one year," Matt said, "when we served 'a flight of birds' - General Tso's quail, sous-vide capon and foie-gras-stuffed squab, but no turkey."

What a difference five years makes. Since they moved back to Long Island, the Connors spend alternate years with Matt's parents in Bay Shore and Eileen's in Hampton Bays. Wherever they go, of course, Matt is called upon to lend his chefly talents. The Lake House identifies itself as a New American restaurant, and to Matt, its executive chef, that means "a European slant, driven by local American ingredients."

That pretty much sums up his approach to Thanksgiving; this menu, prepared at the home of Matt's parents, Denis and Gail Connors, blends tradition and innovation as well as the rustic flavors of Italy that he absorbed during a year cooking in Umbria. Most of the ingredients were grown in Suffolk County - Peconic Bay scallops from Cor J in Hampton Bays, goat cheese from Catapano in Peconic, vegetables from Satur Farms in Cutchogue, Pausewang Farms in Sayville and the CSA at The Farm at St. Peter's in Bay Shore. What hasn't changed since their fancy-free, childless years is the Connors' devotion to culinary luxury. It so happens that late November is the local Peconic Bay scallop season and the Italian white-truffle season. Both delicacies are pressed into service to kick off the Connors' Thanksgiving feast.

THANKSGIVING MENU, 2010

Truffled Peconic Bay scallops and baby turnips on a bed of cauliflower mousse

Roast turkey with gravy

Umbrian stuffing

Cranberry sauce

Cippolini onions with chestnut-honey glaze

Potato-leek-goat cheese gratin

Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots

Cranberry-pear crisp with port syrup

ROAST TURKEY

Matt Connors likes the organic, free-range turkeys sold by the specialty purveyor D'Artagnan (dartagnan.com). Take the turkey out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to cook it so that it can come to room temperature.

1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey; giblets, neck and liver removed

2 large onions, peeled

4 carrots

4 stalks celery

3 sprigs each: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Salt and pepper

1 stick butter, melted

1. Position a rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Pat turkey dry.

2. Halve 1 onion, roughly chop the other. Halve 1 carrot, roughly chop the others. Roughly chop the celery. Place halved onion and carrot and all the herbs inside the turkey cavity with some salt and pepper. Tuck the ends of the drumsticks under the flap of skin or the plastic or metal "hock lock," or tie them together with kitchen twine.

3. Distribute the rest of the chopped vegetables in bottom of heavy roasting pan and place bird on top. Brush turkey with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.

4. Roast for 30 minutes, baste with pan juices, then turn heat down to 350 and continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes. Turkey is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in meaty part of the thigh (not touching a bone) registers 180 degrees, about 21/2 to 31/2 hours.

5. Transfer turkey to a platter, reserving the pan drippings for gravy. Let the turkey stand, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or, tented with foil, up to 90 minutes before carving. Serve with gravy.

TURKEY GRAVY

 

Instead of a traditional flour-based roux, Matt Connors uses a cornstarch slurry to thicken his gravy. He prefers the lighter texture.

Turkey neck and giblets

6 cups chicken broth (homemade or low-sodium)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large saucepan combine turkey neck and giblets with chicken broth. Simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1 quart, about 45 minutes.

2. After you remove turkey to platter, place roasting pan over two burners and add reduced broth to the vegetables. Turn heat to high and while liquid simmers, scrape pan with a wooden spoon to integrate all the browned bits. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then pour through a strainer to catch all the vegetables. Discard them. Let liquid rest for a few minutes then spoon off grease that rises to the top.

3. Pour strained broth into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Combine cornstarch with enough cold water, about 2 tablespoons, to make a liquid with the consistency of heavy cream. Bring skimmed broth to a simmer and slowly pour in about 1 tablespoon of the slurry, whisking constantly. It will take a few seconds to thicken; if at that point the gravy is not thick enough, whisk in some more slurry until gravy is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste for salt and pepper. Makes about 1 quart of gravy.

TRUFFLED PECONIC BAY SCALLOPS AND BABY TURNIPS ON A BED OF CAULIFLOWER MOUSSE

Thanksgiving coincides with white-truffle season and Peconic Bay scallop season, and Matt Connors honors both delicacies with this luxuriant starter. He triples up on the truffles, using truffle oil and truffle butter (both available at specialty markets) as well as fresh white Alba truffles, which can run upward of $150 an ounce. (Two good sources for fresh truffles - as well as truffle oil and butter - are urbani.com and plantinamerica.com.) Even without any truffle essence, this recipe is delicious, but if you do want to splurge for truffle oil, look for one that actually contains truffles; many brands use synthetic truffle flavor.

For the turnips:

4 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper

1/2 pound baby turnips, peeled and quartered (they should be about the same size as the scallops)

Combine broth, honey, butter, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan. Bring to boil, add turnips and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.

For the cauliflower mousse:

1 head cauliflower, outer leaves removed, stem intact

1 cup heavy cream

Salt

2 tablespoons white-truffle oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)

1 tablespoon truffle butter (or plain butter)

1. Place the whole head, cream and a small pinch of salt in a heavy, lidded saucepan. Simmer over a low heat until cauliflower is fork tender, about 30 minutes. 2. Remove the cauliflower from the cream and, in a blender, puree with the truffle oil and truffle butter. Set aside.

For the scallops:

2 pounds Peconic Bay scallops (or other bay scallops from New England)

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup Wondra flour

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon shallots, finely minced

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon truffle butter (or plain butter)

3 tablespoons fresh chives, minced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Cooked turnips (see above)

Cauliflower mousse (see above)

1 white truffle (optional)

1. Dry the scallops on paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. Dust lightly with Wondra flour.

2. Pour olive oil into a saute pan, preferably nonstick, that is large enough to accommodate all the scallops in one layer - otherwise use two pans. Heat pan on high, and when oil is lightly smoking, add the scallops to the oil and do not touch them for at least 1 minute. When the bottoms of the scallops are golden brown, shake the pan to loosen them and add shallots and garlic. When they begin to sizzle, add wine, truffle butter, chives and lemon juice and the cooked turnips. Cook everything together, shaking the pan gently to mix.

3. Divide cauliflower mousse among 8 serving plates. Use the back of a spoon to spread it into a low, even bed. Spoon scallops and turnips over the mousse and, if using, shave truffle over everything. Makes 8 servings.

UMBRIAN STUFFING

 

Before they settled down, opened a restaurant and had kids, Matt and Eileen Connors spent a year in Umbria, Italy. He cooked; she studied art. Back in Bay Shore, they recall the strong, rustic flavors of Umbria with this rich stuffing. This dish can be assembled the night before Thanksgiving. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour or two before baking so it comes to room temperature, otherwise it may take longer to cook.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound fresh fennel pork sausage, out of casing and crumbled

1/8 pound pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon), sliced into matchsticks (or substitute bacon)

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

2 cups sliced mushrooms, shiitake, cremini, button, or any combination

12 slices white bread, or brioche or challah, slightly stale and diced or hand-torn into bite-size pieces

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons more for sprinkling on top

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water and drained

1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh sage leaves

Salt and black pepper to taste

Nonstick spray

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. Add the sausage and pancetta and cook slowly until brown, stirring to break them up. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except nonstick spray!) and toss well with your hands, making sure everything is well combined and the bread is thoroughly saturated.

2. Coat an 11-by-7-inch baking dish with cooking spray and spoon in stuffing mixture. Sprinkle with a few spoonfuls of Parmesan. Bake until heated through and golden brown on top, about 40 minutes. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

CRANBERRY SAUCE

 

This simple relish should be made at least a day before Thanksgiving so it has time to properly "set up."

1 cup sugar

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients with 1 cup water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Place a colander over a bowl and pour sauce through colander, helping it through the holes with a rubber spatula. Let chill for at least 8 hours. Makes 2 cups.

CIPPOLINI ONIONS WITH CHESTNUT HONEY GLAZE

The cippolini onion is a small Italian variety with a flattened shape. You can use pearl onions or small boiling onions in this recipe; the smaller they are, the quicker they cook.

2 pounds cippolini onions, peeled and trimmed

1/2 cup chestnut honey (or other honey)

1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar

1 sprig fresh thyme

2 tablespoon butter

Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large saute pan and pour in enough water to cover. Heat over medium-low heat, then simmer until the water has evaporated and the onions are nicely glazed and shiny, about 25 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, monitor the pan carefully because the honey in the sauce can burn. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving. Makes 8 servings.

POTATO-LEEK-GOAT CHEESE GRATIN

This dish can be assembled the night before Thanksgiving. Take it out of the refrigerator an hour or two before baking so that it comes to room temperature, otherwise it may take longer to cook.

1 large leek, diced and well rinsed

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper

2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter an 11-inch-by-7-inch baking dish. Combine the leek, butter and 1/4 cup water in a large saute pan and heat over a medium flame. Simmer until leek is soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the cream, milk, rosemary and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper, add the potato slices to the bowl and mix well. In the buttered dish, layer one third of the potato slices, shingling them over one another. Top with half the goat cheese and half of the leeks. Shingle another layer of potatoes, top with goat cheese and leeks and then the final layer of potatoes. Pour any cream mixture remaining in the bowl over the potatoes, so that they are submerged. Cover with foil.

3. Bake for 45 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes until it is golden and bubbling. Let rest for 30 minutes. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON AND SHALLOTS

 

Blanch and shock the sprouts the night before Thanksgiving. You can render the bacon and saute the shallots hours ahead of time and pick up the recipe at Step 5 to finish it up right before serving.

1 quart Brussels sprouts

Salt

4 strips applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

3 shallots, thinly sliced

Pepper

1. Tear off any bruised or discolored outer leaves and with a sharp knife, trim the bases of the sprouts and, with a sharp knife, carve a shallow "X" into them.

2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and blanch the Brussels sprouts just until tender, about 4 minutes. Strain and transfer immediately to ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside. When cool, cut each sprout in half through its base.

3. Cook the bacon in a large saute pan over a low flame until the fat renders out, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the pan, leaving behind the rendered fat, and drain on paper towels.

4. Turn heat to medium high and when fat is hot, add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Once you've added them to the pan, don't touch the sprouts for at least 3 minutes. They will need up to 10 minutes to brown properly. When the bottoms are a nice golden brown, remove sprouts from the pan and set aside.

5. Turn heat down to medium, add shallots to the pan and cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the bacon and Brussels sprouts back to the pan and toss well. Taste for salt and pepper. Cook for an additional three minutes and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

PEAR-AND-DRIED-CRANBERRY CRISP WITH PORT SYRUP

The port syrup elevates this rustic dessert to sophisticated heights. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oats (rolled or steel-cut but not instant or quick-cooking)

6 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the pan, at room temperature

6 to 8 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries

Port syrup (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Work the butter into the oats with your hands to form a coarse mixture, or pulse in a food processor until combined.

2. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place pears and cranberries in the bottom and sprinkle with the oat mixture. Bake until top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve with ice cream and drizzle with Port syrup. Makes 8 servings.

PORT SYRUP

1 cup ruby Port


1 cup red wine vinegar

Combine Port and vinegar in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until reduced to 1/4 cup syrup, about an hour. Makes 1/4 cup.

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