The fall is here. The leaves aren’t the only thing turning yellow and red. Noticed how blogs everywhere start popping with red, yellow and brown colored dishes? And that means the best foods are here, kids! And with the mother of all foods fall — Thanksgiving — just around the corner, it’s time to stock up on some fresh ideas.
Thanksgiving is a tough one because you get stuck with a list of practically set-in-stone traditional dishes. I mean, there are only so many ways you can cook that turkey, and so many ways you can serve those sweet potatoes, and so many ways you slather all of that with cranberry sauce and gravy. Desserts are also heavily main-streamed around this time, and no matter how insanely creative and totally up for the challenge you might be, your dear aunt Ursula will insist on bringing her “world famous pumpkin pie” which in reality is a pre-made crust loaded with migraine-inducing pumpkin pie spices and brownish filling from the can.
So should we just throw in the kitchen towel and say, oh well, whatever? No way! Because there is one area of Thanksgiving that’s not heavily regimented and dogmatized. Appetizers! It’s a totally gray area in the Rite of Insane Gluttony that is Thanksgiving. This is where your free will raises its head and says, “wait a minute, I am still here!” And this is how real Thanksgiving adventures in the kitchen begin. So, my dears, arm yourselves with some tasty ingredients and a pair of heavy duty oven mitts and let’s get cooking.
This year I am adding some serious color and flavor to the menu. Take this little number, for example: you start with a home made pie crust (guess what, this is a one half of the quantity I prepared some other day and froze until needed), top it with nicely caramelized onions, Prosciutto Di Parma, a beautiful round of roasted golden beets (milder flavor than their dark red cousins and far more gorgeous to look at), crumbled goat cheese, and fresh thyme. To add textural interest, I am topping this goodness with a pecan half which will become crunchy during the baking. Once baked, a bit of balsamic vinegar is drizzled on top.
Don’t like beets? Sure, not everyone can take them straight. Not a problem! Because there is another gorgeous orange thing laying around — fuji persimmon. No need to roast that one, just slice, sprinkle with salt and replace the beets. Not sure about the persimmons? Use quinces or even robust apple slices. Don’t like goat cheese? Well, some people are just freaks, you can’t do anything about it, but OK, replace with crumbled gorgonzola!
The result? A beautiful and sophisticated mound of joy with a nicely balanced mix of sweet, savory, tangy and crunchy, not to mention the robust fall colors. No need to stop there, folks. Once you get into that groove, you’ll find it’s hard to stop, that’s the thing about the free will. So please, I implore you, experiment with your appetizers to your heart’s content. Break the rules, add new fresh ingredients, make things from scratch and surprise your aunt Ursula — she’s your favorite after all, in spite of that pre-fab’ed pumpkin pie, isn’t she? As for that bland ball of muscle meat that is turkey, just look at it as a necessary evil, a stepping stone which gets you closer to Thanksgiving appetizer land, I know I do.
Yields 12 3-inch mini pies
- 1 quantity of simple butter pie crust
- 3 tbsp cooking fat (I used a combination of butter and olive oil)
- 2 very large onions (about 4 cups when sliced), peeled and sliced thinly into half-rings
- 3 tbsp white wine or stock
- salt, pepper to taste
- 12 slices of Prosciutto Di Parma (dry-cured Parma Ham)
- 2 medium golden beets, roasted, peeled and sliced to 1/4″ thickness, or 2 medium sized persimmons, sliced to 1/4″ thickness
- 12 tsp crumbled goat cheese or gorgonzola
- 12 pecan halves
- balsamic vinegar to drizzle
- fresh thyme, stripped from twigs and chopped
- Wrap golden beets in foil and roast at 400°F for about 1 hr. Let cool until manageable, peel and slice to 1/4″ thickness. It’s best to slice them cross wise to reveal beautiful orange rings.
- While the beets are cooking, prepare the onions — in a skillet melt the cooking fat of your choice over medium heat. Add sliced onions, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook onions slowly, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and all juiced evaporated. Add salt and pepper, wine (or stock) and cook more until nicely browned and completely soft and limp. Total cooking time will depend on your onions, for me it took about 30-35 minutes. Let cool until needed
- Make the dough (or defrost the ready-made pie crust according to instructions)
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 3/8″ thickness. Cut out 12 rounds using 3″ cutter. Re-roll the dough if necessary to get more rounds.
- Arrange the rounds of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room in between. Prick the rounds with a fork a few times to prevent blistering.
- Top each round in the following order: 1 tbsp or lightly more of caramelized onions, flatten them with fork, folded prosciutto slice, a slice of roasted beet or persimmon brushed with a bit of olive oil if desire, sprinkle of salt and pepper, a quantity of goat cheese (gorgonzola), a sprinkle of fresh thyme, and finally a pecan half.
- Bake in the middle of the oven at 400°F for about 25-30 minutes. Check on the pies once in a while to prevent scorching.
- Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle a bit of fresh thyme on each pie as soon as you take them out of the oven. These pies are best when freshly baked, so you can arrange them in advance and bake when just about ready to eat.