It’s the day before Thanksgiving.

Most people have already done their shopping. The menu is planned and assignments have been doled out – you’re making the squash, cousin Sue is bringing the corn casserole.

But we all know the problem with holidays. The unexpected always happens.

Maybe while you’re busy settling an argument over seating arrangements, smoke starts pouring out of the oven and the squash burns. Or cousin Sue cancels at the last minute, opting instead to spend Thanksgiving with her loser ex-boyfriend.

You’ve still got a house full of people to feed, and all the stores are closed. What do you do?

No need to trot out the canned soup, packaged sides or frozen veggies. It’s possible to whip up something quick and tasty – and worthy of your Thanksgiving table – using items you probably already have in your refrigerator and pantry.

I asked two Maine chefs known for their use of fresh, local ingredients to offer ideas, and I have one to share with you as well. The main ingredients include things such as onions (who doesn’t have onions at home?), parsnips, greens and carrots. And the recipes couldn’t be easier.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can do with things you already have in your pantry,” said Larry Matthews Jr., chef at Back Bay Grill in Portland. “It’s kind of a fun challenge sometimes, I think.

“It comes up on a routine basis, too, not just on the holidays but at home when you’re in between soccer practice for one and football practice for the other and you want to try and make a nice dinner. I think it’s kind of the classic quandary for people, to try to make something out of nothing.”

Let’s start with onions. Matthews’ curried onions couldn’t be simpler, and they go well with mild-flavored foods, he says – like turkey. It’s fine to use the store-bought curry powder you have on your spice rack. And if you don’t want to use butter, Matthews says it’s fine to substitute olive oil.

CURRIED ONIONS

1 large Spanish onion

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon curry powder

Peel and julienne the onion. In a pot, melt the butter on low heat, then sweat the onions with no color until thoroughly cooked and soft. Using a lid will help. Add the curry powder and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and butter.

 

Matthews’ next suggestion could add some fun visual appeal to your Thanksgiving table. The chef sometimes uses these crispy parsnips as a garnish at his restaurant, but he says they could also be served in a cone of parchment paper tucked inside a nice water glass at each place setting.

The shaved parsnips look like pasta before they’re cooked, but they come out of the oil with plenty of crunch and still retain a strong parsnip flavor.

The strips are added to the canola oil while the oil is still cold. “You have a little bit more control over them when they’re starting in cold oil,” Matthews said. “Some things don’t fry well starting in cold oil. These parsnips don’t seem to suffer at all.”

CRISPY PARSNIPS

6 parsnips

5 to 6 cups canola oil

Peel the parsnips with a vegetable peeler. Continue to use the peeler to shave thin strips of the parsnip. Put the oil in a pot, then add the parsnips to the cold oil. On high heat, cook the parsnips until they start to show some color. At this point, lightly stir them and watch closely, as they will start to cook quickly.

When they are nicely colored, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season with kosher salt and pull them apart carefully to avoid them getting stuck into one large ball. Be careful – they will be hot.

 

Got some extra greens in your fridge? Try making these braised greens suggested by David Ross, chef at 50 Local in Kennebunk.

“I always make greens every Thanksgiving, and they always get eaten up,” Ross said. “They’re really good with the turkey and the gravy and everything.”

Mix whatever you have available, whether it be Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens or beet greens.

Ross is also sharing his recipe for an infused oil that might be difficult to make at the last minute on Thanksgiving Day, but is great to have around for the entire holiday season. Ross says it’s a good oil to brush on turkey, roasted squash or any other roasted vegetable.

If you don’t have time to make the spiced oil, substitute any other oil of your choice.

GREENS OF PLENTY

Serves four

1/2 pound braising greens

1 tablespoon spiced oil

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup bacon, chopped

1/2 cup onions, diced or sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/4 cup raisins or grapes

1/4 cup carrots, grated

Pine nuts (optional)

Heat a large saute pan or sauce pot to medium-high temperature. Add spiced oil to the pan. It should smoke a little, but be careful not to let it flame up.

Add the onions, garlic and bacon. Cook until soft and tender. Adjust the heat as necessary so the bacon is soft, not crispy. Add the greens to the pan. Stir around to coat the greens in oil. Add butter and vinegar. Cook the greens until they are soft but still keep their shine.

Finish with grapes, raisins or shredded carrots, or sprinkle with some pine nuts if you have them in the cupboard.

Serve in a bowl or platter that holds the juice when the greens wilt.

SPICED OIL

1 quart extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon coriander

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 star anise

3 cardamom

1 tablespoon mustard seed

3 cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed

Toast spices in a saute pan. Pour into a bottle of olive oil. Allow to steep for 1/2-hour minimum.

 

NOW FOR MY CONTRIBUTION – maple-roasted carrots.

This dish is based on a recipe I originally found in “Cooking in the Shaker Spirit” by James Haller and Jeffrey Paige. It was so easy and simple, I began making it whenever I had company to feed, but little time to shop or prepare something more complicated.

These warm, slightly sweet, buttery carrots have always been a hit, and they are ridiculously easy.

This is a good last-minute Thanksgiving dish, because lots of people have carrots in their fridge and maple syrup in the pantry. And it’s an easy thing to just “eyeball” when it comes to the amount of ingredients and how long the dish stays in the oven.

You can use more or fewer carrots, and either slice them or leave them whole (especially if they’re small). I often cut back on the amount of butter, but I still use it because it adds a richness that you won’t get with just the maple syrup alone.

MAPLE-ROASTED CARROTS

Serves four

1 small bunch carrots (about a pound)

1/2 cup Maine maple syrup

1/2 stick unsalted butter

Slice carrots and put them in a baking dish. Cover in maple syrup and melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking another 10 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad