Most of us don't see Thanksgiving dinner as an opportunity for experimentation but as a time to celebrate the tried and true. Our families have well-established food traditions, which we are honor-bound to continue.
Even so, we occasionally see an opening to do things a bit differently, without hurting someone's feelings. For example, Aunt Betty, whose mushy stuffing recipe has become de rigueur, may be spending Thanksgiving with her sister in Florida. While Aunt Betty's company may be missed, her stuffing won't be.
Most folks are willing to accept some tweaking of the traditional Thanksgiving menu as long as the cook doesn't go crazy. The main course has to be turkey, and it has to taste like turkey. In other words, a change in holiday food rituals must be oh-so subtle.
I ran across this recipe for a slightly sweeter roast turkey and wanted to pass it along. The sweet flavor imparted by the fruit and wine will be faint but interesting. Those ingredients provide a nice balance for the saltiness that too often overpowers the Thanksgiving meal.
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Obviously, filling the bird's cavity with fruit, vegetables and herbs will preclude a traditional bread stuffing. However, a cook who still feels obligated to put stuffing on the table can prepare it outside the turkey.
These recipes are from Julee Rosso's "Great Good Food" (Crown).
Roast Turkey Marsala
1 fresh turkey (14 to 16 pounds)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 cups seeded, cored and chunked pears
2 cups seeded, cored and chunked apples
2 cups peeled and quartered onions
8 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
12 sage leaves
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup Marsala or white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Remove the giblets from the turkey and reserve for gravy. Wash the turkey inside and out with plenty of cold running water; pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the turkey cavities thoroughly with salt.
Place the pears, apples, onions, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage leaves into the cavities. Truss the bird with metal poultry skewers, fold the wings under and fasten the legs close to the body by tying the ends of the drumsticks together. Rub the turkey with the oil and place on a rack in an uncovered roasting pan.
Place the turkey into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 325. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Using a pastry brush, baste the turkey with wine and chicken broth every 20 minutes after the first hour of roasting.
Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Remove and discard the fruit, onions and herbs. Reserve the dripping for gravy.
Giblets (not the liver) from a 14- to 16-pound turkey
2 cups coarsely chopped celery stalks and leaves
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
5 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
drippings from roasted turkey, defatted (2 tablespoons of fat reserved)
4 tablespoons flour
chicken broth or water as needed
1/4 cup or more Marsala
salt and freshly ground pepper
While the turkey is roasting, combine the giblets, celery, onion, carrots and parsley in a large sauce pan and add water to cover. Cover and simmer for
1 1/2 hours. Cool. Remove the neck meat from the bone and discard. Chop the giblets.
In a blender, process the giblets, vegetables and broth in batches until smooth. You should have 6 cups of puree when you are finished.
When the turkey is done roasting, heat 2 tablespoons reserved turkey fat over medium heat in a large skillet or roasting pan. Sprinkle the flour over the hot fat and stir well to combine. Slowly, whisking constantly, add the giblet puree until thickened. Stir in the skimmed turkey juices. If the gravy seems thick, thin it with chicken broth or water to achieve the desired consistency. Bring the gravy to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in the Marsala, salt and pepper to taste.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.