Super Sides Me!

Are side dishes the Rodney Dangerfields of the dinner table? Not according to Maplewood's Rick Rodgers, who gives them plenty of respect in his latest cookbook, The Big Book of Sides, out just in time for Thanksgiving, the holiday that is like a debutante ball for side dishes.

The Big Book of Sides (cover)

Rodgers, one of the Jersey’s most prolific cookbook authors, features more than 450 recipes for vegetables, salads, sauces, breads and grains in his new volume.

“I used every single influence I’ve ever had in my life,” he says.

Rodgers will teach side dish cooking on Monday November 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Kings Cooking Studio in Short Hills and on Saturday November 22 at 11 a.m. at Chef Central in Paramus. Both events cost $65 and include a copy of the book.

The Big Book of Sides ranges from the author’s grandmother’s Jell-O salad to his go-to sides for weeknight dinners at home, “They’re all there,” he says. “But it did take me a solid year, every single day, to test 520 recipes.” (Seventy recipes were cut for lack of space.)

Not only does he share this trove, Rodgers shows readers how to choose the supporting cast for a range of entrées. He discusses color, texture, seasonality, ethnicity, accent flavors and the secret weapon of umami, known as the fifth taste, along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

Umami, he writes, “is the deep, rounded flavor you find in soy sauce, anchovies, Parmesan, ketchup, canned tomatoes, mushrooms…These foods have a high proportion of naturally occurring glutamates and certain amino acids, receptors that signal deliciousness to the brain. Serving a simple main course with a side that is umami-rich is a sure-fire way to enhance the entire meal.”

Since moving to the New York area from his hometown of San Lorenzo, California more than 30 years ago, Rodgers, 61, has worked as a caterer, cooking teacher and writer, with more than 40 books to his credit and 30 more that he has been involved with as a consultant, co-author or recipe tester.

He has produced recipe collections for Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table and Kingsford Charcoal, to name a few. But it was an affiliation with Perdue that led to his becoming a Thanksgiving authority. In 1990 he came out with The Turkey Cookbook: 138 New Ways to Cook America’s Favorite Bird, followed by Thanksgiving 101, a primer on our national feast, in 1998.

In his new serenade to sides, Rodger’s presents old-fashioned, new-fashioned and southern-style Thanksgiving sides like make-ahead mashed potato casserole, lemon sweet potatoes with meringue topping, and ham, kale and cornbread dressing.

But the book is “really for all year around,” Rodgers says. “It’s one thing to make a really fancy dish for Thanksgiving, and it’s another when you have two dollars and 15 minutes to make a side dish on a Tuesday night, and you are standing in the store saying, ‘What can I do with a pound of carrots?’”

RECIPE:

Make Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole
From The Big Book of Sides by Rick Rodgers

5 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (6 tablespoons at room temperature, 2 tablespoons cut into small cubes), plus softened butter for the baking dish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

1. Put the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold salted water to cover them by 1 inch. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Set the lid ajar and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the potatoes at a steady simmer until they are barely tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes well.

2. Return the potatoes to the pot. Cook them over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the potatoes begin to film the bottom of the pot, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese. Using a handheld mixer, whip the potatoes until the cream cheese melts. Add the sour cream, milk and the 6 tablespoons room-temperature butter, and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Lightly butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Transfer the potato mixture to the dish and smooth the top. Dot the top of the casserole with the 2 tablespoons of cubed butter. Let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before the final baking.

4. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

5. Uncover the casserole. Bake it until the top is lightly browned and the casserole is heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

 

SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.

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