First Course

These first courses concentrate on a single cheese, an aged pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan), used sparingly in combination with complementary flavors such as pear, fennel and walnuts.

The basic version, a cheese course, can be placed wherever guests gather. The second version is a simple but elegant composed salad. The final version consists of pear and fennel slices, roasted until mellowed and caramelized, then drizzled with a walnut vinaigrette.

The last-minute assembly is necessary but less burdensome than it may seem. It takes as little as 15 minutes active time, requires no stove-top space and demands only slicing and plating -- tasks that can be turned over to guests.

Pecorino Cheese Plate With Pear, Fennel

and Walnuts

6 to 8 servings

In Advance: Slice the fennel, place in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for up to several hours.

A large chunk (about 12 ounces) pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese

2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound)

2 ripe Bosc or Asian pears

About 4 ounces (1 cup) walnut halves

About 8 ounces green olives, preferably Picholine or Cerignola (optional)

Remove the cheese from the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to serving.

Trim the stems from the fennel, cut out the cores and remove the tough outer layers. Slice the fennel lengthwise into thin, sickle-shaped slices.

Using a paring knife, quarter the unpeeled pears lengthwise, remove and discard the stem and core and slice each quarter thinly or thickly, as desired.

If desired, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet occasionally, just until they are warmed, about 3 minutes.

Arrange the fennel, pear, cheese, walnuts and, if desired, olives on a cheese or cutting board and/or several small dishes. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 8): 329 calories, 21 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 823 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Salad of Bosc Pear, Fennel, Walnut

and Pecorino

6 to 8 servings

Exceptionally simple but strikingly elegant. Adapted from "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook" by Judy Rodgers (W.W. Norton, 2002):

In Advance: Slice the fennel, place in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for up to several hours.

2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 pound)

2 ripe Bosc or Asian pears

A chunk of pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese (about 4 ounces)

4 ounces walnut halves (about 1 cup)

About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

About 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, preferably aged

Trim the stems from the fennel, cut out the cores and remove the tough outer layers. Slice the fennel lengthwise into thin, sickle-shaped slices.

Quarter the unpeeled pears lengthwise, remove and discard the cores and then using a sharp knife, a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, carve each quarter into slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch-thick.

Layer the fennel and pear loosely on a platter or individual plates. Using a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer, shave the cheese into curls or ribbons and intersperse them with the pear and cheese.

If desired, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet occasionally, just until they are warmed, about 3 minutes.

Scatter the walnuts over the salad. Drizzle each salad with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil, being careful to cover as much of the ingredients as possible. Then sprinkle drops of vinegar over each salad, using a scant 1 tablespoon for each plate. The oil should form a slick surface over the salad and the vinegar should form tiny chestnut-colored drops atop the oil.

Per serving (based on 8): 460 calories, 9 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 41 gm fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 23 gm saturated fat, 299 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Roast Pear and Fennel Salad

6 to 8 servings

Roasting pear and fennel simultaneously concentrates and mellows their flavor. Use only perfectly ripe pears; the heat of the oven may soften underripe fruit but it cannot conjure sweetness.

In Advance: Roast the pears and fennel and set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours; rewarm in a warm oven or serve at room temperature. Make vinaigrette and set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours; whisk to recombine just before using.

For the salad:

2 ripe Bosc pears

2 medium bulbs fennel (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt

For the vinaigrette:

About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnut halves or chopped walnuts

8 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, preferably aged

1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A small chunk of pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese (optional)

For the salad: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Adjust 2 oven racks to the middle and lower-third positions. Line 2 baking sheets with foil.

Quarter the unpeeled pears lengthwise, remove and discard the cores and then using a sharp knife or a mandoline, carve each quarter into slices about 1/4 inch thick.

Trim the stems from the fennel, cut out the cores and remove the tough outer layers. Slice the fennel lengthwise into thin, sickle-shaped slices or crosswise into round slices between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.

Place the pear slices on 1 sheet, drizzle with about 1/2 tablespoon oil, season lightly with salt and toss or turn to coat. Place the fennel on 1 sheet, drizzle with about 1/2 tablespoon oil, season lightly with salt and toss or turn to coat.

Roast the pear and fennel, turning the slices once, until they turn splotchy golden brown at the edges and across some of the surface, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness. The fennel will probably be done before the pear. Watch carefully; the slices go from golden to burnt in a matter of minutes. Set aside to cool slightly or to room temperature.

For the vinaigrette: While the pears and fennel are roasting, in a skillet over medium heat, heat the walnuts and oil, shaking the skillet occasionally, just until warmed, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the walnuts to a plate; reserve the oil. If desired, chop the walnuts. Set the walnuts and oil aside to cool.

Strain the cooled oil into a bowl. Add the vinegar and syrup to taste. If desired, season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble, divide the pears and fennel among individual plates, alternating slices. (You may not care to use all of the fennel.) Scatter some walnuts over the slices and drizzle with the vinaigrette. If desired, using a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer, shave the cheese into curls or ribbons and scatter over the top.

Per serving (based on 8): 216 calories, 2 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 103 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Green Beans and Lemon

This year, set some plain green beans aside to toss with butter to serve to the children. Then give the remaining beans the adult treatment with a twist of lemon.

The basic version harnesses the essential oils found in lemon zest. The second, more acerbic version, takes the lemon flavor one step further with both zest and juice. And the last version, a sweet-tart relish of preserved lemons, could usurp the place commonly held by cranberry sauce.

French green beans, also known as haricots verts, are a slender, immature, sweet version of green beans and are preferable to green beans for these recipes, which also work with sugar snap peas.

Green Beans With Lemon Zest

6 to 8 servings

In Advance: May set the cooked, cooled beans aside at room temperature for up to several hours. To rewarm, dunk in boiling water for a few seconds just before serving but do not follow with an ice water bath.

2 pounds green beans or French green beans (haricots verts), trimmed if desired

About 4 tablespoons oil

Lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons, grated or minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the beans are bright green and no longer crisp but not completely tender, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately transfer them to the ice water for a few minutes to stop the cooking and retain the vibrant color. Drain the beans and transfer them to a clean towel to dry.

Transfer the beans to a large bowl, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with lemon zest and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Per serving (based on 8): 94 calories, 2 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 39 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Green Beans With Lemon Vinaigrette

6 to 8 servings

In Advance: Make vinaigrette and set aside at room temperature for a couple of hours; whisk to recombine just before using.

2 pounds green beans or French green beans (haricots verts), trimmed if desired

8 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest from 1 to 2 lemons, plus additional for garnish

1/2 to 1 small shallot, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dijon-style mustard to taste (optional)

Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the beans are bright green and no longer crisp but not completely tender, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately transfer them to the ice water for a few minutes to stop the cooking and retain the vibrant color. Drain the beans and transfer them to a clean towel to dry.

In a bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, zest, shallot, salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add mustard to taste.

Just before serving, drizzle the vinaigrette over the beans and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with additional lemon zest.

Per serving (based on 8): 102 calories, 2 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 39 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Green Beans With Lemon Relish

Makes about 11/2 cups

Adapted from a recipe in "Cooking One on One" by John Ash (Clarkson Potter, 2004):

In Advance: Must be made at least 24 hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to meld.

2 large preserved or roasted lemons,* seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 to 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Dijon-style mustard to taste

1 pound green beans or French green beans (haricots verts), trimmed if desired

In a bowl, combine the lemons, oil, shallots, sugar and salt and stir gently. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 hours so the flavors can mellow, or refrigerate for up to 1 week. (Initially, the flavor might seem a little harsh or bitter. But as the relish rests, the flavor changes markedly.) Taste and adjust the seasonings with additional salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice to taste. If the flavor is too tart, add mustard, starting with 1/2 teaspoon.

Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the beans are bright green and no longer crisp but not completely tender, 2 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately transfer them to the ice water for a few minutes to stop the cooking and retain the vibrant color. Drain the beans and transfer them to a clean towel to dry.

Serve the beans with a spoonful of lemon relish.

NOTE: Preserved lemons are available at Middle-Eastern and some specialty markets.

To make roasted lemons, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Using a sharp knife, remove and discard the tips of 2 lemons. Cut each lemon into quarters, remove and discard the central membrane and seeds and cut each lemon quarter in half. Place the lemon slices in a single layer in a small ovenproof dish or on a double layer of foil crimped at the edges, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to coat. Roast, stirring once, until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool for at least 1 hour.

Per serving (based on 8): 153 calories, 2 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 586 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Potatoes, Butter and Cream

The Thanksgiving cook has tremendous discretion when it comes to the the amount of time (and calories) put into the potatoes.

The basic version consists of simple but still respectable mashed potatoes. Add a little more cream and a lot more butter and a rich, buttery potato puree results. The most time-consuming version cloaks sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce as a gratin.

Basic Mashed Potatoes

6 to 8 servings

Using milk results in a mash with an earthy potato flavor; cream imparts a rich sweetness. If basic potatoes sound a little bland, use only the minimum amount of butter and cream, then, while the potatoes are still steaming hot, stir in up to 11/2 cups (6 ounces) of grated sharp white cheddar or Gruyere cheese and stir gently until the cheese melts.

Chopping the potatoes prior to cooking cuts the cooking time in half.

In Advance: Peel the potatoes, place in a large pot, add cold water to cover and set aside for up to several hours.

4 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

2/3 to 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk

Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

6 to 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Place the potatoes in a large pan or pot and add enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Place over low heat, shaking the pot frequently, until any remaining moisture evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a small pan over low heat, heat the cream, half-and-half or milk.

Using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, coarsely mash the potatoes. Add about 6 tablespoons of butter and 2/3 cup of cream (if using half-and-half or milk, start with 1/2 cup of liquid) and salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined. Taste and, if desired, add additional butter and/or cream (you will need slightly less liquid if you use half-and-half or milk than if you use cream). Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 8, using 6 tablespoons butter and 2/3 cup cream): 308 calories, 6 gm protein, 35 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 10 gm saturated fat, 50 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Rich Potato Puree

6 to 8 servings

Yukon Golds have a buttery flavor that is embellished in this puree by immoderate amounts of butter and cream. Boiling the potatoes whole ensures they do not absorb excess liquid, which allows them instead to soak up other ingredients. Adapted from Tom Colicchio's "Craft of Cooking" (Clarkson Potter, 2003).

In Advance: Peel the potatoes, place in a large pot, add cold water to cover and set aside for up to several hours. Because of the high proportion of butter to potatoes, the puree cannot be made in advance and kept warm or reheated.

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

8 to 16 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

Place the potatoes in a large pan or pot and add enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Add a generous amount of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Place over low heat, shaking frequently, until any remaining moisture evaporates, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, in a small pan over low heat, heat the cream and milk.

Using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, mash the potatoes. They should be smooth without being overworked.

Add 8 tablespoons of butter and almost all of the cream mixture and salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined. Taste and, if desired, add additional butter and/or cream mixture. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 8, using 8 tablespoons butter): 512 calories, 7 gm protein, 44 gm carbohydrates, 36 gm fat, 119 mg cholesterol, 22 gm saturated fat, 88 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Potato Gratin

6 to 8 servings

If you prefer a more traditional gratin, omit the herbs and add 11/2 cups grated Gruyere or white cheddar cheese to the gratin, sprinkling it over the potatoes about midway through the layering process and then scattering a scant 1/2 cup over the top. You may also alter the richness by playing with the proportion of milk to cream.

You may bake the potatoes at any temperature between 350 and 425 degrees; the lower the temperature, the more time the potatoes will take. Adapted from a recipe by Jerry Traunfeld's "The Herbfarm Cookbook" (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

In Advance: Peel the potatoes, place in a large pot, add cold water to cover and set aside for up to several hours. May partially bake the gratin (for about 30 minutes), cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Uncover and heat in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 inches each (optional)

Two 2-inch sprigs fresh sage (optional)

2 dried bay leaves (optional)

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds russet potatoes (about 5 large)

About 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits, plus additional for the dish

In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk and cream to a simmer. Add the garlic, nutmeg and, if desired, thyme, sage and bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to steep for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and, using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut them into 1/8-inch-thick slices.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 2-quart dish, such as a casserole or 8- or 9-inch square baking dish or oval baking dish. Strain the cream mixture, discarding the solids, and return the cream mixture to the pan. Add the potato slices to the pan, 1 slice at a time so they don't stick together, then bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring gently and scraping the bottom of the pan every few minutes, until the potato slices become tender and floppy and begin to tear when you stir them, 10 to 20 minutes.

Transfer the potatoes to the prepared dish, leaving most of the milk mixture in the pan and packing the potatoes as tightly as possible. Pour some of the milk mixture over the potatoes, adding only enough to reach between 1/2 and 3/4 up the side of the dish; the potatoes will not be covered. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter them over the potatoes.

Bake the potatoes for 15 minutes. Using the back of a large spoon, lightly press down on the potatoes to partially submerge them. Bake until the top is nicely browned and the potatoes are tender, another 15 to 20 minutes. (You may need to cover with foil to prevent overbrowning. )

Per serving (based on 8): 338 calories, 7 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 12 gm saturated fat, 285 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Cranberries, Orange and Spirits

Salsa or sauce?

The basic take on cranberry relish, really a salsa of sorts, pulses raw cranberries with sugar, orange and liqueur in a food processor. In the second version, raw cranberries are suffused with dry red wine. A few more minutes and ingredients yield a triple cranberry sauce using raw, simmered and dried cranberries that blurs the line between salsa and sauce.

Two of the recipes require only a portion of a second 12-ounce bag of cranberries; use the remainder as a garnish for cocktails or strew them around the turkey.

Cranberry Salsa

Makes about 3 cups

A sweet-tart, overtly orange raw salsa. Freezing the cranberries allows them to retain some of their original texture after being subjected to the food processor. Adapted from "Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine: The Inn at Little Washington" (Bulfinch, $45):

In Advance: Must be made and refrigerated at least 24 hours ahead.

16 ounces cranberries (about 4 cups)

1 orange, washed, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 small jalapeno chili pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped (optional)

1 cup sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur

Spread the cranberries on a large plate and freeze for at least 1 hour.

In a food processor or blender, pulse the cranberries, orange and, if desired, jalapeno until evenly chopped. Transfer to a bowl, add the sugar and Grand Marnier or other liqueur and combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to meld; may refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Per serving (based on 8): 140 calories, trace protein, 34 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 71 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 13/4 cups

This syrupy sauce has a depth of flavor that belies its short cooking time. From "A New Way to Cook" by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001):

In Advance: Simmer the wine and sugar together and set aside at room temperature for up to several hours. Rewarm gently before adding the cranberries.

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup dry red wine

1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)

12-ounce package cranberries (about 3 cups)

2 long strips tangerine, clementine or orange zest (optional)

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, wine and, if desired, cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the wine has reduced slightly, about 4 minutes. Add the cranberries and, if desired, the zest. Simmer until the cranberries soften and the sauce thickens, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the cinnamon and/or the zest, if using. Set aside to cool for at least several minutes and up to several hours. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Do not refrigerate; the flavor is muted by the cold.)

Per serving (based on 8): 92 calories, trace protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 2 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Triple Cranberry Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

Bringing together raw, simmered and dried cranberries creates a distinctive texture that is part relish, part sauce.

For a less tart sauce, substitute chopped dried cherries for the dried cranberries.

In Advance: Simmer the wine and sugar together and set aside at room temperature for up to several hours. Rewarm gently before adding the cranberries.

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce (see recipe above)

6 ounces cranberries (about 11/2 cups)

1 cup dried cranberries, left whole

Grated orange zest (optional garnish)

Make the Red Wine Cranberry Sauce.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, process or pulse the raw cranberries until finely chopped. You should have about 1 cup.

Immediately after you remove the Red Wine Cranberry Sauce from the heat, add the dried and chopped raw cranberries and stir to combine. Set aside to cool for at least several minutes and up to several hours. Serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, top with grated orange zest just before using.

Per serving (based on 8): 151 calories, 1 gm protein, 36 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 230 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber