I know this may come as a shock to some of you based on the fact that it does not involve presents, but it’s true. Everything about Thanksgiving is the best. The crispness in the autumn air, the togetherness of family and friends, and the shameless binge eating are all things that I look forward to year-round.
When the big day inevitably arrives, I tend to wake up at the crack of dawn, restless and giddy with excitement for the day’s shitshow events. I have to actively restrain myself from screaming, “IT’S HERE! IT’S HEEEERE!!!” (Not that my roommate would judge me if I actually did the screaming. He obviously feels the same way about a good feast.)
In case you imagine my family’s Thanksgivings being perfectly executed (thank you!), you are majorly off-base. Every year, the Wolfs plan to eat dinner at 4pm, but we’ve never actually sat down before 6pm in my entire life. In fact, 7:30pm is pretty standard. My mom and I usually spend most of the day cooking in “loungewear,” casually drinking wine, and making a terrifying mess in the kitchen. My sister doesn’t cook or drink, so she’s pretty useless. (Just kidding, Olivia! Love you, mean it.) My brother mostly watches TV and occasionally comes into the kitchen to ask inconvenient favors, like if I can make him guacamole for a snack. Things break, someone always cries, and I get pretty sweaty. Thanksgiving rules.
Clearly, getting to the table on Thanksgiving is never pretty, but I love it. The cooking chaos has produced some of the most absurd and hilarious family memories, and nothing makes me happier than sitting down to my favorite meal with the people that I love the most. I am incredibly thankful for those weirdos. (I feel entitled to be gushy and cliché during the holidays. Roll with it.)
The family aspect of Thanksgiving is all well and good, but you’re probably here to talk about food, so I’ll cut to the chase. When it comes to the T-Day meal, my family takes a traditional approach. There is roast turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato puree with marshmallows, two types of stuffing (one plain, one with sausage and apples), sautéed green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce. This is followed by enormous apple, pumpkin and pecan pies with vanilla ice cream. We are never more than six people for dinner, but we always have enough food for fifteen. Better safe than sorry.
My family is pretty enamored with the aforementioned menu, and we refuse to stray from it. The lack of deviation in our Thanksgiving feast is probably because every single member of my family is a tradition-loving creature of habit. We’re okay with that. Plus, this specific combination of foods rocks my world, and I very much look forward to rolling around on the floor after eating it next Thursday.
While there’s no place for new additions at my family’s Thanksgiving table, I know that some of you like to switch it up every year, a fact I was reminded of by my friend Annie earlier this week. Her family’s Thanksgivings are more potluck in style, and she’s been stressing about her contribution to the meal since early October. My first suggestions were mashed potatoes and sweet potato puree with marshmallows, which are my favorites, but she poo-poo’d both of those brilliant ideas. I forgot who I was talking to…
Annie’s family likes to get “creative” on Thanksgiving, which leads to an interesting and slightly non-traditional array of food. (Annie’s brother, Daniel, excitedly texted me last year to tell me he was making beets with parsley and goat cheese for the big day. Why?!) Last year, Annie made my Sausage and Apple Stuffing, but somebody has already claimed stuffing this time around, so she needs to go a different route.
When I asked Annie what type of thing she had in mind, she said “bacon-wrapped pumpkin.” My inner Thanksgiving traditionalist was very upset by this, so I told her that was a no-go. Then she asked if I had a good recipe for sweet potato gratin. I did not, but I was intrigued the idea. So, in the spirit of helping Annie and capitalizing on a rare opportunity to experiment with Thanksgiving sides, I did some brainstorming. This led to the magical Sweet Potato Gratin with Pancetta, Parmesan and Sage.
This gratin is worthy of so many expletives, but I shall settle for fucking awesome. Sweet potatoes layered with crispy pancetta, Parmesan, and heavy cream creates nothing short of heaven in your mouth. The cream itself is infused with garlic, shallots, sage and thyme, and as the gratin bakes, the cream thickens and soaks into the sweet potatoes which is an indescribably delicious phenomenon. The crispy topping has a subtle smoky flavor thanks to a dash of smoked paprika, and it’s the perfect textural contrast to the tender and creamy potatoes. The whole thing is a sweet and savory miracle that’s decadent, comforting, and smells unreal. It’s a Thanksgiving gamechanger, folks.
I promise that with a little organization, this recipe is actually surprisingly easy to pull off. It should take you less than half an hour to put the gratin together, and then you can happily bliss out while it bakes and makes your kitchen smell like a magical wonderland. I guarantee that it will steal the show at your Thanksgiving feast, and people will give thanks (and compliments) for your creativity and domestic prowess. Do it.
For the record, Sweet Potato Gratin with Pancetta, Parmesan and Sage need not be limited to the “Thanksgiving” category of your recipe repertoire. This is the perfect cozy comfort food for fall and winter, and it would be awesome alongside almost any type of meat, or served on it’s own with a simple salad. (Obviously, you can omit the pancetta if you’re looking to go the vegetarian route.) Despite the distinctly un-Dude Diet friendly amount of cream involved, I served this to both TR and my roommate last night, and they freaked. So many high fives.
Happy early Thanksgiving, friends! I’m thankful for every single one of you. Fact.
Sweet Potato Gratin with Pancetta, Parmesan and Sage: (Serves 6)
¼ pound pancetta, thinly sliced and chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2½ cups heavy cream
5 fresh sage leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
For the topping:
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage
Preparing your Sweet Potato Gratin with Pancetta, Parmesan and Sage:
-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
-Heat a cast-iron skillet or large pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook for 5-6 minutes until browned and crispy.
-In a medium saucepan/pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When melted add the minced shallots and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have softened. (Be careful not to burn the garlic!)
-Add the cream, sage, thyme and salt to the saucepan and heat until it is just simmering. Simmer very gently (you don’t want the cream to boil EVER, people) for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse.
-While your cream is simmering, prepare the sweet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and slice them in 1/8-inch discs. If you have a mandolin, please use it (carefully!). You want your discs to be as even in width as possible so that they cook evenly. Briefly set the potatoes aside.
-Pour ½ cup of the cream into a shallow baking dish.
-Finish with the remaining potatoes, and pour the remaining cream over the top of your gratin.
-While your gratin is in the oven, prepare the crunchy topping. Heat the butter in a large pan. When melted add the Panko and stir until the breadcrumbs are well-coated. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the Panko is golden brown.
-After the gratin has baked for 50 minutes, remove the foil.
*This recipe was inspired by The Kitchn.
- ¼ pound pancetta, thinly sliced and chopped
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2½ cups heavy cream
- 5 fresh sage leaves
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage
- Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet or large pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook for 5-6 minutes until browned and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- In a medium saucepan/pot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When melted add the minced shallots and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until the shallots have softened. (Be careful not to burn the garlic!) Add the cream, sage, thyme and salt to the saucepan and heat until it is just simmering. Simmer very gently (you don’t want the cream to boil EVER, people) for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse.
- While your cream is simmering, prepare the sweet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and slice them in 1/8-inch discs. If you have a mandolin, please use it (carefully!). You want your discs to be as even in width as possible so that they cook evenly. Briefly set the potatoes aside.
- Remove the sage and thyme from your cream, and taste the mixture. Add a little more salt if necessary and season with fresh ground pepper.
- Pour ½ cup of the cream into a shallow baking dish. Add one third of the sweet potatoes to the dish in an even layer. Add another ½ cup of the cream, ¼ cup grated Parmesan and half of the pancetta.
- Add a second layer of potatoes, cream, Parmesan and pancetta. Top with the remaining potatoes, and pour the remaining cream over the top of your gratin. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
- While your gratin is in the oven, prepare the crunchy topping. Heat the butter in a large pan. When melted add the Panko and stir until the breadcrumbs are well-coated. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the Panko is golden brown. Transfer the toasted Panko to a bowl to cool. When cool, mix in the grated Parmesan and smoked paprika.
- After 50 minutes, remove the foil from your gratin and add the topping in an even layer. Return the gratin to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until the top is crispy and browned and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Sprinkle the gratin with freshly chopped sage and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Food Network’s Fall Fest this week. For more badass Thanksgiving sides, check out the amazing blogs below.
Feed Me Phoebe: Swiss Chard Gratin
Taste With The Eyes: A Fresh California Twist on Brussels Sprouts
The Lemon Bowl: Quinoa with Acorn Squash, Apples and Walnuts
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: 16 Clean Eating Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Nancy’s Vodka Cranberries
Weelicious: Maple Roast Vegetables
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Easy Mushroom-Chile Risotto
Red or Green: Schezwan Green Beans
Virtually Homemade: Sweet Potato Casserole with Walnuts
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Purple Potato Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette
The Sensitive Epicure: Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Thyme and Rosemary
The Heritage Cook: Maple-Roasted Root Vegetables
Food For My Family: Honey-Roasted Cauliflower with Pine
Dishin & Dishes: Twice baked Sweet Potatoes
Devour: Top In Season Thanksgiving Sides
FN Dish: 10 Seasonal Thanksgiving Sides