Recipe for a small Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been about large family gatherings, extended family and all the partners and children and cousins. People who can’t be with their families often come together with their besties for Friendsgiving. However you spend it, chances are it has always been with a loud, boisterous, loving family of your making. This year is likely to be quite different for so many of us. We aren’t comfortable traveling, and we certainly don’t want to run the risk of making anyone we love sick. The good news, though, is that we can still gather in smaller numbers with our immediate families or even with our social bubbles, and we can still have turkey. Unless you have a big empty freezer, I wouldn’t recommend buying that 25lb turkey this year. I have a recipe for turkey thighs (I’m a dark meat fan), but you could also use it for a bone-in turkey breast. If you were coming over to my house for a smaller Thanksgiving celebration, here’s what would be on the menu, a recipe for a small Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving, party of 4

  • Turkey with Porcini Sauce
  • Fondant Sweet Potatoes
  • Sautéed Spinach with Garlic and Pecorino Romano
  • and for dessert
  • Parmesan, Rosemary, and Walnut Shortbread Cookies with coffee or tea

I love fondant potatoes, and the great thing about them is that you can cook them on the stovetop while the turkey is in the oven. Some recipes for the potatoes call for a hotter oven than the turkey needs but they also turn out great on the stove.  

For the spinach, plan on 1 lb of fresh spinach for 4 servings. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then add the spinach and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic. Just when the spinach is wilted, add a ½ cup of finely grated pecorino romano cheese and stir it in to melt.

For the wine, I would offer either a Merlot or a Syrah. The fruitiness of these wines will work beautifully with the meal. If you’d prefer a white, get a Chardonnay that has some oak in it. The lighter whites with more acid wouldn’t really work with this meal. 

The shortbreads are small and savory, just a wonderful treat to go with coffee at the end of the meal. Be sure to notice in the recipe that the dough needs to go back in the fridge for at least half an hour before baking. After the turkey comes out of the oven, the shortbreads can go in and they’ll be done in plenty of time for dessert. They’re not sweet and won’t leave you wondering why you thought you had room for that piece of pie. Of course, if your Thanksgiving isn’t complete without Aunt Ethel’s famous pumpkin pie, by all means, make it!

Benicia Magazine November 2020 - Recipe for a Small Thanksgiving

Turkey thighs with porcini sauce

4 servings. Time: 1 hour 25 minutes


2 turkey thighs, 1 pound each (OR 1 turkey breast, bone in, 4 – 5 lbs)

1 t pepper

2 T olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 t each salt and garlic powder

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ oz dried porcini

¼ cup dry sherry

6 leaves of fresh sage

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

2 t very cold butter


Place porcini in a bowl and cover with 1 ½ cups boiling water to soak for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325F.

Pat thighs dry and season both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder.

Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet, med-high, and sear turkey, skin side down first, 5 minutes on each side.  Remove to a plate.

Drain porcini, reserving soaking water, and chop roughly.  

Add chopped onion, garlic, and porcini to the skillet and sauté to soften onion, 5 – 7 minutes. Deglaze skillet with sherry, then turn off heat.

Add turkey back to skillet. Strain 1 cup of reserved porcini liquid and add to skillet. Tuck sage, rosemary and bay leaf into broth around turkey.

Cover and place in oven. Cook 40 – 45 minutes until thigh registers 170F (Breast should register 160F).

Remove turkey to a plate and tent with foil to rest for 10 minutes.

Strain the sauce, add back to the skillet, and add cold butter, 1 pat at a time, whisking it into sauce until melted. Serve sauce on the side with turkey.

Parmesan, Rosemary, and Walnut Shortbread

Makes 30 pieces


8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 oz freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (yes, buy the good stuff)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 T minced fresh rosemary

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted at 350°F for 10 minutes, then chopped

1/2 t kosher salt

1/4 t freshly ground black pepper


Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the cheese, and mix well. 

Stir in the flour, rosemary, walnuts, salt, black pepper. 

Form the mixture into 1-inch-wide logs (makes 2 logs), wrap them in plastic, and refrigerate for at least half an hour, or up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to bake the shortbread, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices, place the slices on the baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden at the edges. 

Remove the shortbread slices and cool them on a wire rack. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe for a small Thanksgiving!