"Thanksgiving was the one and only big family meal of the year. It is by far my favorite holiday," says Sonja Finn, chef/owner of East Liberty hotspot Dinette. "Even when my mother worked 12- to-14-hour days, my parents still made dinner every night. Many days, that meant we ate dinner at 10 or 11 p.m., but we still ate together. My husband and I try to do the same with our son."
They've also established traditions of their own, like starting the Thanksgiving meal with tomato-fennel soup. "Soup is a good way to begin, because it easily gets everyone to the table and eating," Finn says.
What other advice does Finn have for home chefs? "Holiday meals are often filled with high-fat dishes, many of which have sweet accents," she says. To "break up the richness," she suggests serving "slightly bitter, hearty lettuces like radicchio, Belgian endive, escarole, treviso, frisée."
One last tip: "It's good to have a glass of wine with you in the kitchen."
Sonja Finn's Thanksgiving Tomato-Fennel Soup (serves 8)
Ingredients: Extra-virgin olive oil 1-2 teaspoons chili flakes 2 large yellow onions 3 heads fennel 3 32-oz. cans plum tomatoes Heavy cream and salt to taste
Trim fronds off fennel bulbs; save one for garnish.
Cut fennel bulbs and onions into 1-inch pieces. To a soup pot, add olive oil to just cover the bottom. Add chili flakes, fennel and onion. Sweat ingredients until translucent, trying not to brown anything.
Add water to just cover the ingredients and let boil to soften fennel — about 30 minutes.
Crush tomatoes with your hands and add them to the pot. Cook rawness out of the tomatoes, about 15-20 minutes on low heat. (The sugars in the fennel and tomatoes can burn very easily, so stir frequently.)
Purée in batches in a blender, then push through a fine-mesh strainer.
Return soup to a clean pot. Bring to a boil and add cream and salt to taste. Add water if necessary to reach desired consistency.
Garnish with Parmigiano Reggiano and some tiny green fennel fronds.