Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

We asked 4 of Philly’s top chefs to make Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s what they cooked.

And because chefs can’t help but cook fancy food, we also asked for ways to make the recipes simpler.

A South Philly chef Thanksgiving spread: (clockwise from top) honeynut squash with stracchino cheese, 'Nduja vinaigrette, and candied pumpkin seeds; aromatic sausage stuffing loaded with garnishes; spiced apple almond cake with brown butter whipped cream; Italian mac and cheese; and spatchcocked turkey over roasted vegetables.
A South Philly chef Thanksgiving spread: (clockwise from top) honeynut squash with stracchino cheese, 'Nduja vinaigrette, and candied pumpkin seeds; aromatic sausage stuffing loaded with garnishes; spiced apple almond cake with brown butter whipped cream; Italian mac and cheese; and spatchcocked turkey over roasted vegetables.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Michael Ferreri’s home kitchen is small, and the oven is even smaller, but he’s hosted two Thanksgivings in this second-story Pennsport apartment. It’s his favorite holiday.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Ferreri, the executive chef at Res Ipsa, was prepped to host another.

He had a fully cooked, 14-pound spatchcocked turkey resting in a roasting pan, nested atop a bed of herbs and roasted vegetables. A skillet of sautéed apples with vanilla, star anise, and cinnamon sat on the stove; a plastic tub of brown butter whipped cream was at the ready, waiting to top an almond-flour cake. Three more chefs were en route with stuffing, mac and cheese, a side of squash.

The occasion: A photo shoot for The Inquirer’s Thanksgiving spread, set to take place on his roof deck.

The day before, when Ferreri had prepped his bird — cutting out the backbone, massaging it with kosher salt, letting its skin air-dry overnight — the temperature had been in the mid-60s. Today, though, the city saw its first snowfall. Happily for the photos’ sake, the chefs weren’t deterred by the cold.

“I mean, if the Instagrammers can do it, we can do it,” Ferreri joked.

One by one, the other chefs rolled in, each of them enthusiastically greeted by Ferreri’s dog, Harvey Dent. Mike Strauss, owner of Mike’s BBQ in South Philly, came early to get a tray of panko-crusted Italian mac and cheese in the oven. It’s a variation of a recipe he makes for an employee Thanksgiving dinner at Taproom on 19th, but he’d been continually futzing with it as he formalized the recipe — taking it from a stir-together mac and cheese with pappardelle noodles to one with a full-on béchamel sauce.

“I tweaked it again this morning while I was making it,” he laughed. (That’s how crispy pancetta made it in.)

Ed Crochet, co-owner of Queen Village’s Fiore, arrived with a plastic bin of roasted honeynut squash, sage leaves, spiced pumpkin seeds, 'Nduja vinaigrette, and a welder-sized blowtorch.

“Don’t take a picture of this, it’s cheating,” Crochet said as he browned the orange wedges with blue flame. “This is not what we really do.”

“I heard that’s how everything’s cooked at Fiore,” another guest quipped.

Last but never least, Chutatip Suntaranon — better known as Nok — made a grand entrance, wheeling a blue cooler up the steps in a red dress, black stockings, and high heels, Harvey bounding up after her. The chef and co-owner of the Thai BYOB Kalaya had brought the same sausage-based stuffing she makes for the family-friends’ Thanksgiving dinner she goes to every year. But before it would be ready for its closeup, she needed to put on the final touches.

The simple dish slowly transformed into the prettiest stuffing anyone had ever seen as Nok carefully distributed whole chestnuts, fresh cranberries, snipped sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley, and lavender, and finally, little sprays of marigold petals. (She almost forgot the extra bacon.)

“Everything besides [cranberries] and chestnuts are picked from my garden,” she told the incredulous chefs taking in the panoply of garnishes. “And besides the rosemary, because mine was dead.”

“Is the bread from your garden, too?” Strauss wisecracked.

The chefs and their dishes took turns getting photographed on the frigid deck before crowding back inside to devour the now-lukewarm spread, taking up every square inch of Ferreri’s counter. They scooped through the stuffing’s rainbow-colored surface. Tangles of cheese- and cream-covered pappardelle were twisted onto plates. The spoon-tender squash was gobbled up, and squares of cake were dipped straight into the tub of whipped cream. Harvey looked around pleadingly for scraps.

Ferreri carved the turkey and fished pan-dripping-bathed potatoes from the bottom of the roasting pan. “Mike, do you need any garnish?" Nok chimed in. “I have everything!” The crowd burst out laughing.

As they ate, they marveled over the moistness of the turkey; brokered deals on Kalaya’s vault of excess duck fat, then schemed about what to do with it; and traded go-to cheesesteak spots (Angelo’s Pizzeria was a favorite). Ferreri broke out a bag of potato rolls and ducked out to pick up some to-go containers. Nok asked everyone to squeeze together for a group shot.

“The food is really good,” Nok pronounced. “You guys should be chefs.”

Spatchcocked Turkey over Roasted Vegetables

Vegan baker Fran Costigan's cranberry chocolate pecan cake.
Monica Herndon/Staff Photographer
Michael Ferreri’s spatchcocked turkey over roasted vegetables.

Spatchcocking is a method for cooking poultry in which you remove the backbone, then spread out the bird. While it changes the shape of the traditional Thanksgiving bird — and requires a bit of culinary fortitude — it results in faster, more even cooking (and a moister bird). Michael Ferreri likes to rest the turkey on fennel stalks overnight to act as a buffer between the meat and the wire rack. Some grocery stores sell fennel with stalks; if not, ask the produce department if they have stalks in the back (Whole Foods often does). Ferreri cooks the bird directly over vegetables, which soak up the pan drippings as they cook. Fresh bay leaves can be found in the produce section with other fresh herbs. You can add the backbone and neck to the roasting pan with the vegetables; it will only contribute to the flavor of the pan drippings. Serves 6 to 8.

One 13- to 14-pound turkey

1 bulb fennel with stalks, stalks separated

Kosher salt

1 red onion

1 carrot

4 stalks celery

8 to 10 small Yukon potatoes

3 heads garlic

1 bunch parsley

4 sprigs rosemary

4 sprigs thyme

4 sprigs sage

4 fresh bay leaves, roughly torn

Chicken fat (schmaltz) or butter

Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup white wine

½ cup chicken stock or water

Extra-virgin olive oil

Using kitchen shears, remove the turkey’s backbone: Start at the tail end, cutting on either side, maneuvering around the thigh; when you’ve cut about halfway, stop, then cut from the neck end. Turn the turkey skin side down and make a few cuts into the chine bone, at the base on the neck. Press down on both sides of the breasts to flatten the turkey out completely. Turn the turkey skin side up and cut off the wing tips (this prevents burning and also helps the breast meat cook more evenly). Rinse the turkey all over, then pat dry.

Set a wire rack in a large sheet pan, then place the fennel stalks in a row on the rack. Measure out 1% of the turkey’s weight in salt (for a 13-pound bird, use slightly more than 2 ounces kosher salt). With the turkey facing skin side up, massage about a third of the salt all over the skin. Flip the bird over, then massage the remaining two-thirds into the meat. Set over the fennel stalks onto the wire rack. Let sit at least 8 hours or up to 2 days, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut the fennel, onion, carrot, celery, and potatoes into large pieces, leaving the root intact on the onion and the fennel. Remove and discard the top third of the garlic heads. Place the vegetables and the garlic in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the herbs and bay leaves on top of the vegetables, and then dab a few scoops of chicken fat (or butter) over the herbs. Pour the white wine and stock (or water) into the pan. Set the turkey, skin side up, over the vegetables and herbs. Crack fresh black pepper on top of the turkey and lightly drizzle olive oil over the skin (or dot with pats of butter).

Place the turkey in the oven. Making sure to baste the turkey and rotate the pan every 20 minutes, roast for 30 to 40 minutes (roughly 6 mins per pound) at 450°F, then lower the oven to 375°F and cook for another 40 to 50 minutes. Using a digital meat thermometer, take the temperature of the thickest part of the breast. When the breast reaches 150°F, remove the turkey from the oven; it will continue to cook and will reach an interior temperature of 165°F (this is paramount to achieving a moist turkey as it ensures that the turkey gently cooks for the last 15 degrees). Let sit for at least 20 to 30 minutes to ensure the moisture stays in the turkey. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the pan and transfer to a serving dish.

Carve the turkey, always cutting against the grain of the meat when slicing.

Make this simpler:

Skip the spatchcocking: Cure the turkey in 1% salt overnight and arrange the vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan as above. For cooking, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the turkey in a roasting pan back side up and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, baste, then turn the turkey over so the breast faces up. Roast for 2 hours and 15 minutes. (These times are for a 13-pound turkey; a good rule of thumb for this classic roasting style is 15 minutes per pound.) Take the internal temperature of the breast and the thigh in the thickest parts, being cautious not to let the thermometer touch bone. Roast until the breast reaches 150°F, then remove from the oven. If desired, increase heat to 450°F or use the broiler for a few minutes (no more than 10) to crisp the skin and deepen its color — keep a close eye on the turkey, it can burn very quickly. Let to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Make it more complex:

Make gravy: After the turkey is roasted and rested, remove from the pan and place on a carving board. Remove the vegetables and set aside. Strain the pan drippings through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a large saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the drippings to a simmer. When simmering, gradually whisk in white flour until the gravy reaches your desired consistency (more flour will result in a thicker gravy). Taste and season with freshly ground black pepper, kosher salt, and a few drops of lemon juice.

— Michael Ferreri of Res Ipsa

Italian Mac and Cheese

Vegan baker Fran Costigan's cranberry chocolate pecan cake.
Monica Herndon/Staff Photographer
Mike Strauss’ Italian mac and cheese.

For this cheffy take on macaroni and cheese, elbow noodles are swapped for broad, flat pappardelle. A classic béchamel — a roux, plus milk — serves as the base for the cheesy sauce, but you can skip it, too (see below). Serves 6 to 8 people.

1 pound pappardelle noodles

1 stick butter, plus more for the pan

½ cup white flour

4 cups milk

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 ounces Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling, grated

2 ounces mozzarella, plus extra for sprinkling, grated

2 ounces provolone, plus extra for sprinkling, grated

2 ounces Locatelli, plus extra for sprinkling, grated

2 ounces fontina, plus extra for sprinkling, grated

2 cups heavy cream

⅔ cup panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, but do not rinse. Grease a 13-by-9 baking pan or dish with butter or oil.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, start making the béchamel: In a medium pot over medium heat, use a wooden spoon to combine the butter, flour, and salt, stirring continuously until the mixture is smooth and has a slightly nutty smell, about 10 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Continue stirring for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.

Gradually add the cheese and continue stirring until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the heavy cream, stir, then remove from heat.

Add the al dente noodles to the pot. Using tongs, toss and stir the noodles until they are completely coated with the cheese sauce. Transfer to the prepared pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko, olive oil, and parsley. Grate a little extra of the assorted cheeses to get 2-3 ounces more, then sprinkle over the noodles. Evenly sprinkle the panko mixture over top.

Bake until brown and bubbling. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Make this simpler:

Skip the béchamel — forget about the butter and the flour. In a large pot over medium-low heat, combine 3 cups milk and 2 cups heavy cream and heat until just simmering, stirring frequently. Gradually add the cheeses, whisking each addition until smooth before adding more. Add the al dente noodles to the pot and proceed with the recipe.

Make it more complex:

Add pancetta to the mix. In a small skillet over medium-high heat, sauté 5 ounces pancetta (chopped) until crispy. Add to the cheese mixture, then proceed with the recipe.

— Mike Strauss of Mike’s BBQ

Roasted Honeynut Squash with ’Nduja Vinaigrette, Stracchino Cheese, and Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Vegan baker Fran Costigan's cranberry chocolate pecan cake.
Monica Herndon/Staff Photographer
Ed Crochet’s roasted honeynut squash.

Honeynut or koginut squash are rich, sweet, and have a smooth, tender texture when roasted. If they are not available, use sweet potatoes or yams rather than a different variety of squash; do not use butternut squash. ’Nduja is a specialty Calabrian sausage that is whipped with chilies; it’s spreadable, spicy and delicious. Find it at most high-end Italian delis, like Claudio’s or Di Bruno Bros. Stracchino cheese, also known as crescenza, is similar to ricotta, but smoother and quite acidic. You can find it at the same delis that carry ’Nduja, but it’s wise to call ahead to check if it’s in stock. Finally, caramelized mirepoix is made by cooking minced carrot, onion, and celery over medium-low heat in a large volume of olive oil for a few hours until all of the vegetables have taken on a rich, brown color. It’s useful as a flavoring base in ragus, sauces, and vinaigrettes. Serves 4 to 6.

3 medium honeynut squash (about 1 pound each)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ pound stracchino cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:

½ pound ’Nduja

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 ounces caramelized mirepoix

1 shallot, minced

1 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the candied pumpkin seeds:

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Rinse and pat dry the squash. Place on a sheet tray, being careful that they are not touching. Bake about 30 minutes, until squash is just soft when gently squeezed between the thumb and forefinger. Remove from oven and let cool.

Halve squash from the top to the bottom, then scoop out the seeds. Do not peel (the skin is completely edible). Cover and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette: In a large skillet over medium, heat the canola oil until it just begins to smoke. Add the ’Nduja, spreading it with a spatula in one thin layer. Moving quickly, cook until the ’Nduja is caramelized on one side, 30 to 40 seconds, then flip and repeat on the other side; this process should not take longer than about 90 seconds. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the mirepoix, shallot, vinegar, and oil. Taste and season, then set aside.

Make the pumpkin seeds: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients. Spread in a single layer on a lightly oiled sheet tray. Roast until the spices and seeds just begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place halved squash flesh-side up on a sheet tray, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for 5 minutes, or until squash is just warm inside (you can use a cake tester to check: Pierce the flesh of the squash vertically in the middle of the top section. Leave for about 3 seconds, then quickly remove the tester and place on your bottom lip; the metal should feel warm. If it is still cool, return to the oven.) Top with the cheese and return to oven until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Transfer to a serving platter. Top with a generous amount of vinaigrette, pumpkin seeds and some nice finishing salt. Enjoy!

Make this simpler:

Substitute more common ingredients; there are several options. Instead of stracchino, use mozzarella or Parmesan or, if you prefer a stronger cheese, Taleggio. Instead of ’Nduja, use chorizo or andouille — just be sure to chop them well prior to mixing with the other ingredients, and to cook them all the way through. Or, if you prefer a vegetarian dish, skip the ‘Nduja (and the cooking) and swap chopped preserved tomatoes (the jarred, oil-marinated kind, not sun-dried tomatoes) into the vinaigrette. And instead of caramelized mirepoix, substitute Dijon mustard, store-bought marinated mushrooms, or even crushed chicken or beef bouillon cubes.

Make it more complex:

Make your own stracchino. There are plenty of videos available online, and it’s a fun and relatively easy process.

— Ed Crochet of Fiore Fine Foods

Aromatic Sausage-Mushroom Stuffing with Cranberries

Vegan baker Fran Costigan's cranberry chocolate pecan cake.
Monica Herndon/Staff Photographer
Nok Suntaranon’s aromatic sausage-mushroom stuffing.

Nok Suntaranon had her first Thanksgiving dinner around 2003, when she prepared it for guests at her Italian restaurant in Bangkok. Her first impression of the traditional spread was not exactly favorable: “Who would believe you’re going to put sweet potato with marshmallow? Just kill me.” Nok has come around a bit more in Philadelphia, where she started to go to family-friends for the holiday. She brings this stuffing, which relies on good ingredients, a mix of textures, and time. She prepares it two days ahead, to let the flavors meld and fully develop, then finishes cooking at dinner on the day of. She uses a mix of ground sweet and hot Italian sausage. The pièce de résistance of Nok’s stuffing, as we discovered, is her lavish array of garnishes, most of which are sourced from her garden. Serves 6 to 8.

4 celery stalks, trimmed, cut into 4 or 5 chunks

2 medium carrots, cut into 4 or 5 chunks

1 medium onion, quartered

1 or 2 medium garlic cloves

7 ounces bacon (about 6 slices), chopped

1 tablespoon butter

10 ounces button mushrooms, chopped

1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage

1 pound ground spicy Italian sausage

One 12-ounce bag bread crumbs

2 cups chicken or turkey stock, plus more as needed

1 cup dried cranberries

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

10 ounces chestnuts, blanched, peeled, and coarsely chopped, plus more whole chestnuts for garnish

1 bunch parsley leaves, chopped, some whole sprigs reserved for garnish

Fresh cranberries, rosemary, thyme, and lavender sprigs, and marigold petals, for garnish

In a food processor, combine the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic. Process until finely chopped. Set aside.

In a very large skillet or pot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Separate the bacon from the rendered fat using a slotted spoon or a sieve set over a bowl; return the fat to the skillet and reserve the bacon.

Return the heat to medium and add the butter to the skillet. When the butter is melted, add the aromatics mixture from the processor.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture softens and is fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushroom and cook until the mushroom releases its liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the meat, until the liquid has been absorbed into the mixture, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the bread crumbs, 2 cups stock, and cranberries, tossing the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper, then fold in the chestnuts. Transfer to a casserole dish or container and refrigerate for up to two days, or freeze for longer (thaw before cooking).

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 350°F. Stir the parsley leaves into the stuffing mixture. Transfer to a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until hot in the middle and well-browned on top. (If keeping warm for later, reduce heat to 200°F.)

Remove from the oven, then garnish with whole peeled chestnuts, fresh cranberries, the reserved bacon bits, tips of parsley, rosemary, and thyme sprigs, lavender sprigs, and marigold petals.

Make this simpler:

Substitute toasted walnuts or hazelnuts for the chestnuts.

Make it more complex:

Use homemade stock, which is useful for gravy, too (not to mention soup!). Nok has also stirred foie gras into stuffing, if you’re so inclined.

— Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon of Kalaya Thai Kitchen

Spiced Apple Almond-Flour Cake

Vegan baker Fran Costigan's cranberry chocolate pecan cake.
Monica Herndon/Staff Photographer
Michael Ferreri’s spiced apple almond-flour cake.

Michael Ferreri uses almond flour to make an ultra-moist, gluten-free cake with frangipane (almond cream) flavors. You can layer thinly sliced apples on the top before baking, or you can make the apples on the side. Ferreri uses a stand mixer for this recipe, but if you don’t have one you can easily do this by hand — it only requires a little elbow grease and some patience. Makes one 9-inch cake.

1 stick (½ cup) butter, at room temperature

1 cup white sugar, plus extra for apples

1 vanilla bean pod

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cardamom

A few rasps of fresh nutmeg, or ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 eggs, at room temperature

2½ cups almond flour

¼ teaspoon salt, plus extra for apples

⅛ teaspoon baking soda

2 apples (Honeycrisp or Granny Smith, or both)

Lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, start to whip the butter. Gradually add the sugar, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding more. The butter and sugar should start to aerate and become pale and creamy. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla pod down the middle lengthwise; use the knife to scrape the seeds out. Add the vanilla seeds, both zests, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg to the butter-sugar mixture. With the mixer running on low, add one egg in at a time, allowing each to incorporate before adding the next. Stop the mixture and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on low, gradually add the almond flour mixture; mix until completely incorporated, but do not overmix.

Thinly slice the apples, then toss with lemon juice and a little sugar (about ¼ cup) and salt, to taste.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then grease the insides of the pan with butter. Pour the frangipane cake batter inside the pan, then arrange the apples around the tart artfully, pressing them into the batter.

Bake for roughly 30 to 40 minutes, rotating every 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Make sure to test the cake in a part that doesn’t have any apples for an accurate test. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the springform pan. Cut and dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon if desired.

Make this simpler:

Bake the cake by itself, and cook the apples on the stove: Chop the apples into bite-size pieces. Toss them in a medium bowl with ¼ to ⅓ cup white or brown sugar, a pinch of salt, a torn fresh bay leaf, 1 star anise pod, and the leftover vanilla pod from the frangipane. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes and place in a small saucepot. Add a small amount of liquid (apple cider, apple juice, marsala, port wine, sherry, etc... anything but water if you can help it) and place on a simmer with a lid. Stir every 5 to 10 minutes until the apples are soft and cooked through. The apples will produce a delicious sauce that you can drizzle over the frangipane. The cake is cooked as is above, just without apples pressed into it.

Make it more complex:

Make brown butter whipped cream: Place 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter in a small saucepan and add a pinch of salt. Set over medium-high heat and move the butter around the pan constantly so the solids do not stick to the bottom and burn. Once the butter becomes light brown and fragrant, and stops sizzling, remove from heat. Carefully add a splash of water or a couple drops of lemon juice (this stops the cooking). Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the brown butter, reserving the rest for another use (keep the extra in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and use with anything and everything). Let cool slightly before making the whipped cream.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup heavy whipping cream, ¼ cup powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt. Whisk until the cream starts to thicken and stiffen, then slowly add the melted butter. Continue whisking until you reach the desired consistency.

— Michael Ferreri of Res Ipsa