As you begin to seriously size up the Thanksgiving feast, look no farther than the tangle of baking pans stashed in your cabinet.
Stop when you get to one of the kitchen's unsung workhorses: the 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Be it glass or metal, heirloom or colorful ceramic, the empty rectangle pan holds many possibilities.
Let us sing its praises:
• Nearly everyone has a 9-by-13 baking pan. How nice to not have to put another thing on your shopping list. Some 50-million have been sold since the 1950s. It's the No. 1-selling item from Pyrex glassware, according to Better Homes and Gardens, which recently published 9x13: The Pan That Can, a cookbook with 370 recipes.
• The 9-by-13 holds enough food for 10 to 12 people, maybe more when it's joined by other dishes on the buffet table. The 8-by-8 is cute, but for a big dinner it doesn't measure up. Pie plates don't have the versatility, nor do souffle dishes or gratin pans.
• It's totable. Flat on the bottom and easy to cover with foil or plastic wrap, there will be no sloshy spillage from this pan. Some makers, among them Corning, Pyrex and Anchor Hocking, even sell a glass 9-by-13 with its own carrying case and inserts to keep food hot or cold. We found lovely ceramic pans by Chantal and Cuisinart at the houseware discounter Home Goods that are dressy enough for the holiday table. A bargain at under $15.
• There's not a part of the feast that can't be cooked in a 9-by-13 and that includes any leftover turkey extravaganza you might concoct. A crustless quiche, sometimes called Italian torta, is a delicious offering if you've got the sort of group that wants appetizers on Thanksgiving. The 9-by-13 can hold side dishes galore, be used to roast a turkey breast and called into service for baked goods. Even Grandma's Jell-O salad has a home in the 9-by-13. Cut it in squares and serve on chilled plates. Fancy.
We found a delicious recipe for fresh herb yeast rolls that makes use of the 9-by-13.
• Many casseroles and side dishes can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator or freezer in the 9-by-13. Make sure the food is covered well. Prepare the casserole up to the baking point and then freeze. If you bake it frozen, you'll have to bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Otherwise, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking.
We've rounded up a selection of recipes here that suit the 9-by-13 just fine. As you scour cookbooks or magazines for recipes this week, keep in mind that the 9-by-13 holds 3 quarts. That information is handy if you want to substitute baking dishes. Because of its even, shallow depth, food cooks uniformly, another reason to love the rectangle pan.
Our favorite among the accompanying recipes is Gorgonzola Broccoli Casserole. One scoop of this and you may never make green bean casserole again. But if you do, reach for the 9-by-13.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.
3 (9-ounce) packages frozen artichokes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, small dice
1/3 cup parsley, minced
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Boil frozen artichokes according to package directions, 15 to 20 minutes or until soft. Cool, then chop finely. Mix garlic, onion and parsley, and set aside.
Beat eggs in large bowl until frothy. Add remaining ingredients.
Pour batter into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish that has been lightly greased with olive oil or nonstick vegetable spray. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown.
Let cool and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. The torta is best served at room temperature.
Serves 10 as an appetizer.
Source: Janet K. Keeler, Times food editor
Overnight Soft Herb Rolls
1 package active dry yeast (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 cup cool water (70 degrees)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon each minced flat-leaf parsley, fresh dill, chives and rosemary (see note)
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 large eggs, divided use
1 cup milk or half-and-half
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
About 1 tablespoon coarse salt
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup cool water. Let stand until dissolved, 5 minutes. Stir in sugar, table salt, herbs, melted butter, 1 egg and milk; add 3 1/4 cups flour and stir to moisten.
Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until elastic and not sticky, 15 minutes. Add flour as needed to prevent sticking. Try not to add much more than the additional 1/2 cup. Too much flour will create heavy rolls. Shape into 12 equal balls. If you have a kitchen scale, they will be about 3 ounces each. Place balls in a well-buttered 9- by 13-inch pan.
Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the remaining egg. Brush risen rolls with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until deep golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Make ahead: After shaping balls and placing in pan, wrap immediately with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to one day. To finish preparing, remove from the refrigerator and let rise.
Makes 12 rolls.
Note: We tested the recipe without fresh dill. Use any combination of fresh herbs as long as the total equals 4 tablespoons.
Source: Sunset, 1995
Gorgonzola Broccoli Casserole
3 pounds broccoli, stalks and florets
1/4 cup butter plus 1 tablespoon melted butter, divided use
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
6 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese (see note)
2 cups French or other firm white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see note)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring 3 quarts water to boil in a 5- to 6-quart pot. Trim ends and leaves from broccoli and cut into 1-inch pieces. (Large stalks can be cut in half first.) Add to boiling water and cook just until barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain.
Rinse and dry pot. Add 1/4 cup butter and melt over medium heat. Stir in flour and salt and cook until bubbly, about 1 minute. Add milk and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until boiling and thickened, about 3 minutes. Add cheeses; whisk until smooth. Stir in broccoli and pour into a 9- by 13-inch pan.
In a food processor, whirl bread cubes into coarse crumbs (you should have about 1 1/3 cups). In a bowl, mix crumbs with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over broccoli mixture. Bake until casserole is hot and crumbs are golden, 20 to 30 minutes.
Serves 12 to 14.
Note: The strong Gorgonzola is mellowed considerably by the cream cheese. If you want a stronger blue cheese taste, add more. Use flaky panko bread crumbs if you don't want to make your own. In a pinch, the fine dried bread crumbs will work, but you won't get the golden flakes.
Source: Sunset, 2003
Bread Stuffing With Apples, Bacon and Caramelized Onions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
10 cups unseasoned dry bread cubes, homemade or store-bought
8 ounces bacon, cut into
1 1/4 pounds pearl onions, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon sugar
2 Granny Smith apples (about 6 ounces each), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 large ribs celery, chopped
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh minced sage or 1 teaspoon ground
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9- by 13-inch pan with the butter. Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. In a 10-inch saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain and add to the bread in the bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan, reserving the extra. Add the onions to the pan and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions and saute, stirring constantly, until the onions turn golden and the edges caramelize, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add to the bread in the bowl.
Return the pan to medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the apples and celery and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, sage and salt, and a few grinds of pepper, and saute 1 minute longer. Add this mixture to the bread cubes, and stir to combine. Add the beaten eggs and stock to the bowl, and mix well. Place the stuffing in the prepared pan and bake, uncovered, until the top is lightly browned and crusty, about 1 hour.
If you have room in the oven, bake the stuffing while the turkey is roasting. Otherwise, bake it beforehand and reheat it once the turkey is out.
Source: The Thanksgiving Giving Table by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books, 2001)
Sweet Potato and Sausage Gratin
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1 1/3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1 1/3 cups dry white wine
1 1/3 cups apricot nectar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided use
4 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 4 leeks)
2 1/2 pounds tan-skinned sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces), divided use
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook sausages in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, crumbling with back of spoon, about 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, place sausage in small bowl. Pour off any drippings in skillet. Add broth, wine, apricot nectar and 2 tablespoons butter to same skillet; boil until liquid is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 to 30 minutes. Pour into another bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate sausage, broth mixture and leeks separately.)
Arrange half of potatoes in 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Top with half of leeks and all of sausage. Cover with remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with remaining thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with remaining leeks. Top with remaining cheese. Pour broth over. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until potatoes are tender and liquid thickens, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly.
Serves 8 to 10.
Source: Bon Appetit
Fresh Cran-Apple Cake
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour (may use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups apples, sliced
1/2 pound fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or chopped pecans
Cream together oil and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Sift together flour and dry ingredients. Add to first mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in apples, cranberries and nuts. This is a very thick mixture.
Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake in well-greased 9- by 13-inch pan for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche.
Serves 12 to 15.