Rozanne Gold's Radically Simple Thanksgiving Starters

Endive and Watercress Salad with Bacon-Cider Dressing

Pumpkins, corn, and other native foods typically show up on Turkey Day, but I like to give my Thanksgiving meal a tasty twist by blending traditions. Italy's prized cheeses, Belgium's bitter lettuces, Chinese five-spice powder, and flaky Greek phyllo make for delicious and sophisticated holiday starters that still marry beautifully with the more traditional dishes that are likely to fill the table. And because Thanksgiving is the official kickoff of the busy holiday season, radically simple ideas are most welcome. That's why all of these dishes can be made ahead or whipped up quickly.

Phyllo cups filled with ricotta, chèvre, and thyme are the perfect crispy-creamy predinner nibble to offer guests along with a flute of fizzy Champagne as they settle in.

When it's time to sit down to dinner, start with either soup or salad. The brilliant orange soup blends pumpkin, sweet potato, and red bell peppers until silky and finishes with a pat of butter for creamy flavor. Add texture by garnishing with toasted nuts, if you like. And the colorful salad, tinged with smoke and sweetness, is sure to be a favorite all winter long.

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Endive and Watercress Salad with Bacon-Cider Dressing

Smoky bacon, tangy Dijon, and maple syrup cut the bitter and pepper notes of the lettuces. Quality ingredients make all the difference in this simple salad, so splurge on extra-virgin olive oil, real maple syrup, and real-wood-smoked bacon.

Ingredients

4 slices center-cut bacon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups (1/2-inch) diagonally cut Belgian endive
3 cups chopped radicchio
1 cup trimmed watercress

Preparation

1. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon to pan; cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings in pan; coarsely chop bacon. Combine 2 teaspoons drippings, oil, and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add remaining ingredients; toss well. Sprinkle with chopped bacon.

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Phyllo Cups with Ricotta, Chevre, and Thyme

Phyllo Cups with Ricotta, Chèvre, and Thyme

Start making the phyllo stacks about 30 minutes after you put the cheese mixture in the refrigerator. Or make the cheese mixture a day ahead, and assemble before guests arrive.

Ingredients

1 cup fat-free ricotta cheese (such as Calabro)
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
3 ounces chèvre, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
8 (14 x 9-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray

Preparation

1. Combine first 5 ingredients, stirring until smooth. Cover and chill 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 375°.

3. Combine oil and butter. Place 1 phyllo sheet on a work surface (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying); lightly brush phyllo with oil mixture. Repeat layers 3 times, ending with oil mixture; press gently on stack. Repeat procedure with remaining 4 phyllo sheets and oil mixture to form two phyllo stacks. Cut each phyllo stack crosswise into 4 (3 1/2 x 9–inch) strips. Cut strips into thirds to form 24 (3 1/2 x 3–inch) rectangles. Press 1 rectangle into each of 24 mini muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Divide cheese mixture evenly among prepared cups. Bake at 375° for 8 minutes or until phyllo is golden.

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Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup

Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup

The soup can be topped with a variety of things: I love Parmigiano-Reggiano and rosemary, but savory sprinkles like chopped smoked almonds or toasted pecans would be lovely. This tastes even better the next day...or the day after.

Ingredients

3 cups chopped peeled fresh pumpkin
2 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled sweet potato
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3/8 teaspoon salt, divided
5 cups no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (optional)

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss well. Place vegetable mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once.

3. Combine vegetables, stock, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Place half of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Process until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture. Stir in butter. Top with rosemary, if desired.

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