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Creamed Pearl Onions

In theory, you can make anything you like for Thanksgiving. Of course, there are things you have to have--turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie--but you can fill in the blanks with a wide variety of dishes that will perhaps enliven the table and serve as a gustatory delight to your guests.

Forgive me for saying so, but I don't really like turkey. Your run-of-the-mill bird is generally dry and fairly flavorless, so I usually don't even eat any at Thanksgiving. For me, it's all about the side dishes. This holiday eating philosophy may shock you--after all, the turkey is the centerpiece. But I find I am just as satisfied with a little of this and that, scooping colorful and delicious things onto my plate from around the edges of the table.

The dish I am about to offer up for your feast is unassuming. Indeed, when I first read the recipe I had no high hopes for it. But it proved to be rich and satisfying without overwhelming the palate; the perfect dish for a grand occasion. Even nicer, it is easy to put together, especially if you track down peeled and frozen pearl onions (hint: Trader Joe's sells them). You can also assemble this dish a day ahead of time and then bake it just before you dine. Feel free to add seasonings of your choice. A little cayenne or red pepper flake or dried herbs would make a lovely addition.

Other articles you might enjoy: Peas With Prosciutto and Onions, Puréed Cauliflower With Caramelized Shallots and Fried Sage, Cornbread Dressing With Oysters

Creamed Pearl Onions
Serves 6 to 8

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Drop into a large saucepan half-filled with cold water:
            1 pound pearl onions
Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions. Cut off the tip end and pop the onions out of their skins, then return to the boiling water.
Alternatively, you can purchase peeled, frozen pearl onions. In either case, simmer the peeled onions until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving ⅓ cup of the cooking liquid. Transfer the onions to a shallow greased 2-quart baking dish.
Melt in a small saucepan over medium heat:
            2 tablespoons butter
Stir in:
            2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until fragrant but not colored, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved cooking liquid, along with:
           1 cup half-and-half or milk
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1/4 teaspoon black or white pepper
            (1/8 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg) 
Bring to simmer and cook, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Pour the mixture over the onions and sprinkle with:
            1 cup shredded Gruyère, Comté, or Swiss cheese (4 ounces) 
Bake until bubbly and well-browned on top, about 30 to 45 minutes. If you use a broiler-safe dish, you can brown the top under the broiler.

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Melt in a large skillet over medium heat:
           2 tablespoons butter or oil
           1 pound carrots, sliced in 1/2-inch rounds