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3 Thanksgiving sides to steal the show this holiday

Radicchio, roasted pear, radish and pistachio salad. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Radicchio, roasted pear, radish and pistachio salad. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Many cooks tend to serve the same Thanksgiving side dishes year after year after year. In my house, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, my Dad’s creamed spinach, oyster and bread stuffing, and my “famed” cranberry sauce. But I also feel the need to always include at least a few new side dishes to keep things fresh.

I recently returned from teaching a food writing class in Italy and found so much inspiration there. The first new recipe is for green olive breadsticks, which are perfect to serve before the meal accompanied by a bowl of good olive oil for dipping. But these breadsticks, which are really so much easier to make than you might think, are a great substitute for dinner rolls or bread.

For me, salad is a crucial element of the holiday meal. Everything tends to be so rich and heavy, and a good salad really lightens things up and refreshes. This one uses radicchio, a bitter chicory, topped with buttery roasted pears, crunchy and salty pistachio nuts, gorgeous watermelon radishes, and a lemony vinaigrette.

And finally a chestnut and apple stuffed winter squash with an apple cider glaze. You fill the cavity of acorn or other wine squash with a simple filling of sauteed onion, sage, chestnuts, apples and breadcrumbs, and bake the squash with a splash of cider. It’s an ideal side dish or can be a main course for a vegetarian guest.

Italian green olive breadsticks

Italian green olive breadsticks. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

I smelled it before I saw it. Walking down the street in Milan, I saw a long line of people leaving a little bakery with bags of rolls and ciabatti. The yeasty smell of just-baked bread and wood smoke poured out of the bakery’s front door. Despite the line, of course, I went inside, and once I spotted the old blackened wood-fired ovens, I knew it would be worth the wait. There was a good variety of crusty, beautifully browned loaves of bread, but it was the long, thick olive breadsticks that called to me. I bought two and then went back the next morning for more. The day after I got home, in my jet-lagged haze, I tried to recreate the breadsticks.

These breadsticks are ideal for Thanksgiving dinner since they’re lighter than dinner rolls or bread and way easier to make. Prepare the dough the night before and let it rise in the refrigerator. When the turkey comes out of the oven, you can cut the dough into breadsticks and pop them into the still-warm oven for a quick 15-minute bake. The crunch on top and the briny olives studding the dough make this a welcome addition to any holiday table.

Makes 18 breadsticks.


  • 4 cups bread flour, 480 grams
  • 1 tablespoon fine salt
  • 1 tablespoon quick-acting yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm water, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus about 1 tablespoon for greasing bowl
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, about 6 ounces, very coarsely chopped, preferably Castelvetrano olives
  • Coarse sea salt for garnish, optional*

*Don’t add more salt if your olives are particularly salty


  1. Add the flour to the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side and mix. With the motor running on low, add 1 cup of the water and let the dough come together and get smooth and pliable for 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and add the remaining water; mix for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and mix for another 2 minutes; the dough may appear to be wet but it’s fine. Remove the bowl and using a soft spatula fold the olives into the dough.
  2. Place the remaining oil in a large bowl and add the dough; cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 ½ to 2 hours or overnight, until risen and starting to bubble.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  4. Working on a lightly floured surface, remove the dough from the bowl. Cut the dough in half. Using your lightly floured hands, pat the half portion of dough down to about 1⁄4 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or pastry scraper, cut out 9 breadsticks. Place the breadsticks on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough. You should have 18 breadsticks. Sprinkle lightly with the sea salt if desired. Bake for about 15 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. When you tap on the bottom of the breadstick, it should sound hollow. Place on a baking sheet to cool and serve at room temperature.

Radicchio, roasted pear, radish and pistachio salad

Radicchio, roasted pear, radish and pistachio salad. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

So much of holiday meals involve rich, heavy food. I crave a bright, colorful, healthy salad to break up all the cream and butter and turkey. This salad hits all the marks; it has bright, vibrant colors, great texture and a refreshing lightness. Bitter radicchio is thinly sliced. Watermelon radishes are placed around the outside. Pears are wedged and roasted. And the salad is then topped with pistachio nuts, chopped fresh chives and a mustardy vinaigrette. You can roast the pears and make the vinaigrette a full day ahead of time.

Serves 4.


The roasted pears:

  • 2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored and each one cut into 6 wedges
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The vinaigrette:

  • 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1 large lemon or Meyer lemon, about 1 ½ tablespoons
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives, or very finely chopped scallion

The salad:

  • 1 large radicchio or 2 small, about 12 ounces, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 1 watermelon radish, about 4 ounces, peeled and very thinly lived
  • ⅓ cup roasted and salted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives or very finely chopped scallion


  1. Roast the pears: preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pear wedges in an ovenproof skillet and toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast on the middle shelf for 15 to 18 minutes, until the pears are tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool; the pears can be roasted ahead of time; cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl or jar mix the mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, oil and chives. The vinaigrette can be refrigerated for several days.
  3. Assemble the salad: arrange the radicchio on a large plate or platter. Arrange the radish slices around the outside edges. Place the pear wedges on top of the radicchio and sprinkle with the pistachios. Spoon some of the vinaigrette to the salad and serve the rest on the side.

Chestnut and apple stuffed acorn squash with cider glaze

Chestnut and apple stuffed acorn squash with cider glaze. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

You can use any type of winter squash you like with this dish, but acorn and kabocha, delicata and buttercup work particularly well since they have deep, large cavities for the stuffing. The stuffing can be made a day ahead of time, and the squash can be filled several hours before baking.

This makes a beautiful side dish, but it also would be ideal for any vegetarians at your holiday table.

Serves 2 to 4.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup pre-roasted and peeled chestnuts, coarsely chopped (look for them in glass jars and plastic pouches)
  • ½ cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs
  • 1 small tart apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 acorn squash about 1 ½ pounds, cut in half, seeds and fibers removed, and very thin slice cut off the rounded outside edge so the squash will sit flat
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 ½ cups apple cider
  • Fresh sage leaves for garnish


  1. Prepare the filling: in a medium skillet heat the oil over low heat. Add the onion, salt, pepper and half the sage and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the chestnuts and cook for another 4 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and add the panko or breadcrumbs and the apple. Add the remaining sage and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Place the squash in a medium-sized baking or gratin dish. Season the squash with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Divide the stuffing between the two cavities, pushing down and mounding it. If you have extra stuffing you can bake it in a small skillet or baking dish alongside the squash. Dot the top of the filling with 1 tablespoon of the butter cubes and pour 1 cup of the cider on top of the stuffing and squash, letting it drip down the sides and onto the bottom of the pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Add the remaining butter on top of the stuffing and pour the remaining ½ cup cider on top. Bake another 30 minutes, or until the squash feels tender when tested with a small, sharp knife or the tines of a fork. Serve hot or room temperature with the sage leaves as a garnish. You can serve them whole or cut in half. Serves 2 to 4.

Other Thanksgiving favorites:

  • Click here for recipes for roasted mushroom soup, smoked salmon and caper spread, and pumpkin deviled eggs.
  • Click here for recipes for pumpkin tacos, pumpkin and fall vegetable stew in coconut broth and pumpkin mac and cheese.
  • Click here for recipes for pie crust, cranberry sauce with orange, ginger, pineapple and pecans, creamed spinach with yogurt and nutmeg, and orange-scented mashed sweet potatoes.
  • Click here for recipes for vegan jeweled rice with roasted vegetables, a master recipe for roast turkey with garlic and herbs and a pan-dripping gravy, and cranberry sauce with orange, ginger, pineapple and pecans.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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