By JIM WILLIS
When a top area chef’s restaurant menu features such sensational and creative combos as goat cheese fritters with apricot preserves and truffle honey and butternut squash pizza with Brussels sprouts, carmelized fennel and ricotta, you’d imagine that his Thanksgiving table would feature at least a few dishes that push the boundaries of traditional American turkey day fare.
But if we’re talking about Casey Pesce, the masterful culinary mind behind d’jeet in Shrewbury, you would be mistaken. Pesce celebrates with a Thanksgiving dinner right that could have come right out of a 1950’s Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.
“We get together at my mom’s house, and everything is very traditional,” Pesce tells PieHole. “We have creamed pearl onions, smashed waxed turnips, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and regular mashed potatoes.”
This tradition comes from Pesce’s grandmother, Ann Kelly Helbock, who ran a catering company in Staten Island.
“Thanksgiving was her holiday,” says Pesce. “I started doing the bird with her when I was a little kid.”
Pesce says that back in the day, there wasn’t a whole lot of brining. Instead, his grandmother would have him massage the breast with loads of butter and salt. “She’d get a 24- or 26-pound turkey, and we’d massage it and give it a salt bath and put it in the oven the night before Thanksgiving around midnight,” he says.
One other dish that makes an appearance on Pesce’s Thanksgiving table is his mom’s broccoli casserole.
Pesce says he started doing catering work with his mom, Christine Pesce, when he was about 12 years old, and tells PieHole that the broccoli casserole is served at every family event. Indeed, Pesce features it on the d’Jeet catering menu as “Mom’s Famous Broccoli Casserole.”
“It’s just blanched broccoli florets with a Béchamel sauce and walnut crust,” says Pesce. He tells PieHole that home cooks shouldn’t be scared off by the Béchamel sauce.
“It’s so simple: it’s basic and quick to make — of everything I cook, it’s the one recipe I use that calls for a bouillon cube — and you can make it a day or two ahead of time.”
Moms famous broccoli casserole
Yields 10 to 12 side servings
1 lb. broccoli florets, blanched
4 tbsp. whole butter
4 tbsp. all purpose flour
4 chicken bouillon cubes
2 cups whole milk (room temperature)
2 cups Herb croutons
1/2 cup. Chopped walnuts
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 cup Chicken stock.
For the Béchamel:
In a small sauce pot add butter and bouillon cubes. Melt the butter on medium heat and dissolve the bouillon. Add flour and whisk until smooth with no lumps. Next, whisk in the milk quickly until fully incorporated and cook for five minutes on medium-low heat until thickened. Set aside.( mixture should have no lumps).
For the stuffing:
Heat the chicken stock and butter until hot. In a bowl combine croutons and walnuts. Add stock to the crouton mix and fold until the croutons fully absorb the stock. Set aside.
Butter the inside of an aluminum pan or baking dish. Add the broccoli. Next, cover evenly with the Béchamel. Finally, top with the stuffing. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until slightly toasted. Serve!