ROASTED ROMANESCO WITH SALSA VERDE & GREAT GRANDMA NINNY'S GRAVY
* I wrote the following essay for Munchies about my most memorable Thanksgiving*
The Thanksgiving in question began like any other. JK—it started with a pounding in my head so extreme, it felt like a backwoods mountain man with terrible aim was attempting to split my noggin with a dull hatchet. Also making an appearance that morning was the mouth taste that only comes from drinking an entire wedding party’s worth of champagne—the one where your tongue feels like it’s wearing an acrylic sweater that’s been doused with cheap vinegar and lit ablaze.
As I desperately tried to put the previous night’s pieces together, the reality of the day ahead came into microscopic focus with the intensity of a blinding migraine. Today was the day I had slated to prep an elaborate, multi-coursed Thanksgiving meal for 19 close friends. In typical fashion, I had left it all for the very last possible minute (save for the custom blend gin I had made a few weeks prior by passing a bottle of cheap vodka through a Britta filter three times and infusing it with fresh juniper and some new age-y twigs I bought at a Hocus Pocus store). That was the extent of my planning ahead. YOU. IDIOT.
But before I paint myself in an even more disparaging light, let me confirm that I did indeed have a purpose for staying out past my conservative bedtime, sipping the night away, as it were. At the time, I was waitressing at a busy restaurant and the manager had promised me that I could borrow plates and silverware to take home for my holiday feast. There was one catch: I would have to wait until midnight when the restaurant’s kitchen was closed. No one goes out to eat the night before the night before Thanksgiving, so my shift ended ridiculously early and I saddled up to the bar with my post-shift drink in hand, waiting out the rest of the night. The rest is a blur. I wish I could say I had been roofied but…no such luck.
My original plan for prep day was to hit the ground running, bright and early at the Union Square farmer’s market with a Tracy Flick-like efficiency but with this drunken set back I more closely resembled Pig Pen from Peanuts with a hefty dash of light-sensitive schizophrenia. To spare the two brain cells I had left, I threw on what I had worn the night before and trekked into the city.
It goes without saying that the day before Thanksgiving in a city like New York can bring out the worst in all of us. Hand to God, I have witnessed full on “SHE NEEDS HER BUSY BEE” level meltdowns over something as seemingly chill as a foldable conference table laden with gourds. You’d think a meteor was hurtling towards earth and an autumnal DIY cornucopia was the only thing to stop it.
Normally immune to this heightened state of holiday panic, all bets were off when I slipped my hand into the pocket of my fur vest to find…NO WALLET. I don’t know how I knew this at the time, but with the most abundant dread, I just knew. My wallet, along with my iPod and two weeks worth of cash tips, ie: rent due the following week were as good as Gone, Girl (note to servers everywhere: don’t be a doofus like me, deposit that shit, tout de suite).
As I silently began vomiting inside my brain, I scanned the frantic crowd for my boyfriend who had graciously volunteered, seeing-eye-dog style, to be my shepherd during this overly ambitious mission. Instead of my sweet, heroic co-pilot, my eyes locked with a very put together, motherly looking woman who was giving me that vague half smile and somewhat robotic wide-eyed gaze (I think Tyra Banks calls it “Smizing”). For those of you who aren’t familiar, picture the gentle yet fairly intense look you give when you recognize someone you are fond of. I managed to smize back at this nurturing face, a welcoming port in an emotional storm, as she started to confidently approach me. As my lips parted to say “hi there…?” she reached out her liver spotted (yet elegant) hand to stroke my fur vest and like a clap of lightning, her open palm became a gnarled pterodactyl claw that she jabbed firmly into my breast bone and without any inhibition shouted for all of neurotic New York to hear, “I HOPE YOU DIE A PAINFUL AND HORRIBLE DEATH LIKE THAT ANIMAL YOU’RE WEARING……..FREAK!” With added high-pitched, theatrical emphasis on the word “FREAK”.
I stood there, shocked and stripped down like a passerby had just performed the ALS ice bucket challenge on me without any explanation or warning. Other shoppers shot me looks like I had just audibly farted in a crowded elevator. It is worth noting that for weeks afterwards, I would replay this incident over and over in my mind, each time firing back with a different (and admittedly, sometimes violent) retort. “It’s possum fur—from Australia. Where they are considered an intolerable nuisance. I am wearing this as a civic duty. As a favor to the people of Australia.“ For example.
Thoroughly embalmed with self-loathing, I had to get the fuck out of there, lickety split. Luckily there is nothing quite like an abrasive altercation with a PETA pocket disguised as a human woman to kick your engine into high gear and clear the fog of a hangover from hell… I was in and out in less then 20, obligatory totes stuffed with a literal harvest bounty. And by the grace of a pitying higher power, within 24 hours, I was back on planet Functional, setting the table and mashing ‘taters with all the fervor and determination of a whirling dervish.
I wish I could recall all of the culinary hits of that night. Due to the aforementioned bathtub gin (which surprisingly didn’t kill any of us) I am left only with some mere tidbits. The turkey was brined before being roasted, that was tasty as fuh and is now a tradition I go the extra mile for each year since. We def went to town on some bubbly, creamy cauliflower gratin, also a family fave. My friend Chad made some sinfully addictive pecan, chocolate, crack cocaine dessert something or other that I did not trust my fiendish sweet tooth to be home alone with for the weeks following.
Perhaps the sweetest victory, however, was that in spite of the ‘bad comedy’ nature of the previous day, the vibe that evening was overwhelmingly festive and warm, and not entirely due to the fact that 19 people were crammed around one table in my Brooklyn apartment with all four stove burners working overtime.
The vegetarian (nay! VEGAN!) recipe I have shared below is dedicated to my sassy, unabashedly expressive ‘friend’ from the farmer’s market who I am hoping will appreciate it’s meatless virtuosity. In exchange, Madam, you will forever remain in my thoughts as I run cool water over all the turkey giblets, and the turkey penisy-thing (which come to find out is actually just the neck, disappointingly enough) and set it on a low simmer to later become the most cherished holiday tradition of all: my great grandma Ninny’s gravy.
Roasted Romanesco with Salsa Verde, toasted Pepitas and Asian pear
Serves 8 as a side
2 large heads Romanesco
for salsa verde:
1 large bunch parsley cleaned and loosely chopped
½ cup capers (my fave are salt packed, make sure to soak and rinse thoroughly first)
1 1/2 cups of good olive oil
1 (or 2) large lemons, zested and juiced (with 2 tbs juice reserved on the side)
2-3 cloves garlic (you can use less garlic if you are timid)
one large or a couple small Asian pears
a couple sprigs of de stemmed parsley (ie: Just the leaves)
1 cup raw pepitas
3tbs olive oil or thereabouts
Pre heat the oven to 450. Break down romanesco. I like to keep the trippy, fractal-ly bits in tact as much as possible, but aim for individual pieces to be similar sizes. Discard leaves and chunkier stems. Lay out on two baking sheets, don’t overcrowd. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. You can sprinkle Aleppo pepper or some such if you are feeling spicy. Roast in oven for about 35-40 minutes. This can easily be served at room temp but especially tasty when hot.
Meanwhile… heat a skillet on medium high heat and add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Let it heat up for 30 secs or so. Add the pepitas and stir frequently. They will start to color and pop—be careful of oil spitting. It is better to undercook these rather then burn them so keep a close eye on them and keep stirring. When thoroughly toasted, pour them out on a plate with a couple of paper towels to soak up the oil. Sprinkle with sea salt.
In a blender or food processor add the parsley, juice and zest of 1 lemon, capers and garlic. Blend. Add the olive oil and blend blend blend. Taste it. Does it taste harmonious? If not, check and see if it’s lacking acid, (add more lemon juice) or fat (oil) or salt (duh, salt or more capers). *Sometimes when I’m feeling meta, I add some raw pepitas in there too and blend it up for a nutty taste but I’ll leave that up to you, okay?
Slice the Asian pear into thin wedges (also a nice touch is a matchstick julienne on a mandolin, tossed with some extra parsley) and drizzle wedges with the reserved 2 tbs of lemon juice. Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle some olive oil as well.
Arrange the roasted romanesco on a platter and distribute the Asian pear artfully (lol) over the top here and there and drizzle the whole dish with salsa verde. Sprinkle with reserved parsley and handfuls of pepitas.
Great Grandma Ninny’s Gravy
1 half gallon of decent orange juice
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of (not the cheapest) sweet vermouth
For finishing gravy:
Giblets and organs
6 cups water
1/3 cup flour
In a medium sized saucepan place all the turkey innards that come packaged tidily inside the turkey. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil, then down to a low simmer. This can sit simmering on your stove top for the entire time you roast the turkey.
Meanwhile in another medium sized saucepan, over high heat, reduce the half gallon of orange juice down to 2-3 cups. (this should take about 10-15 minutes at a steady boil). Once fully reduced, add the stick of butter and melt over low heat. Add the sweet vermouth and stir to incorporate.
Follow your normal turkey roasting regimen, (my route is to roast the stuffed turkey on a rack with 2 cups of giblet water in the pan (so drippings don’t burn) at 450 for 30 min, then down to 325 for another 2 and a half hours or until internal temp reads 165).
After the first hour of roasting time, where you have solely basted with the giblet water beneath the turkey in the pan, start glazing the turkey with the OJ mixture. Baste a couple droppers full at a time, (or use a brush) covering the entire turkey and (stuffing if using). Cover the breast meat with foil if the glaze is darkening too quickly (this is just the sugars in the vermouth and OJ caramelizing, so don’t be frightened, it’s delicious). Continue to roast and baste every 30-45 min until the turkey is done.
While the turkey is resting on its carving board or platter, pour the drippings from the roasting pan through a strainer into a measuring cup and discard the crunchy bits, reserving the liquid. Skim the fat from the surface and save 1/3 cup on the side.
There will inevitably be some delicious bits stuck to the roasting pan so set the pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Add a cup and a half of giblet water into the pan and scrape up all the bits. Reduce this until the liquid is almost all gone.
Next, add the ½ cup fat and the 1/3 cup flour to the roasting pan—whisking together vigorously. Your intention here is to cook the raw flour by making a roux.
When it is a toasted brown color, slowly add the remainder of your hot giblet water and the delicious drippings, all the while whisking like mad. Lastly, incorporate any remainder of the OJ/vermouth glaze that may be leftover and heat thoroughly.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This tends to make a thinner yet deliciously flavorful gravy, which I prefer. And as Ninny was a no-frills, efficient woman, we never grew up straining it but you certainly could if you felt it necessary.