Sayonara, Sad Sides

Should your side dishes need an upgrade, these chefs can inspire you

For this obsessive home cook, the sign of a successful meal is when guests are digging into the side dishes just as much as the main entree. And while it can be tempting to stick with the basics like mashed potatoes and plain ol’ green beans, we’re here to tell you that you can do better.

This holiday season, bust out of your cooking rut with inspiration from these four Salt Lake chefs who know a thing or two about culinary creativity.

Fancy Fries

›Who: Jeff Springer, executive chef at Proper Brewing Co. (multiple locations,

›What: Polenta fries with Parmesan, herbs and Thousand Island dressing

›Why: “I like this because it’s an awesome substitute option for fries. People love good creamy grits or polenta, so why not take this to the next level and throw it into the deep fryer for that crispy and creamy feel? It takes a little more love and care, but it’s so nice and crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. The dish consists of smoked butter, roasted garlic and cream, topped with a housemade Thousand Island using our house pickles, boiled eggs, aioli and ketchup [which] gives it a nice sweet richness … What can’t you like about this?”

½ cup butter (1 stick)
Mesquite wood chips
1 yellow onion, small diced
1/4 cup roasted garlic, chopped
4 cups water
4 cups milk
2 cups polenta
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup Parmesan cheese

Smoke the Butter
Place a metal rack in a 4-inch deep steam table half pan (or an old cake tin—one you don’t mind getting blackened). The pan acts as a drip tray while the metal rack holds the butter.

Quarter butter and place on the rack so it’s not touching the metal pan. Place mesquite wood chips on the opposite side of the butter in the pan. Using a torch, burn the chips until they are smoldering (you can also do this in a pan on the stovetop). Once smoldering, enclose the butter and chips with foil and let the chips burn out. Repeat this 2-3 times depending on desired smokiness.

While you are smoking the butter, in another pan, place whole peeled garlic with enough oil to cover. Cover with foil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and roast for 30 minutes. Strain out roasted garlic. (You have now made garlic oil to use in future recipes!)

In a large saucepan (one that will hold 2 gallons of liquid), melt the smoked butter and sauté onions and roasted garlic until onions are translucent. Add water and milk to deglaze and stop the onions and garlic from cooking. Bring water and milk mixture to a full boil and slowly start pouring in the polenta, whisking aggressively to fully incorporate.

Once polenta is all added, bring mixture back to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure polenta doesn’t stick to the bottom on the pan. Remove from heat and stir in salt and Parmesan to finish.

Transfer the polenta to a sheet tray that’s been sprayed with nonstick cooking oil and lined with parchment. Smooth it out so it’s about ½-inch thick, then place in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Once cooled, pop out the polenta onto another sheet tray and cut into steak fry pieces.

In a fryer or sauté pan, fry at 350 degrees for three minutes until golden brown. Sprinkle and toss with salt, herbs and more Parmesan. Drizzle with Thousand Island dressing.

Adult-y Mac ’n’ Cheese

›Who: Andy Shay Morrison, executive chef at Caffe Niche (779 E. 300 South, SLC, 801-433-3380,

›What: Risotto mac ’n’ cheese

Caffe Niche chef Andy Shay Morrison updates the classic mac ’n’ cheese with a unique cheese blend and risotto

›Why: “Our risotto mac ’n’ cheese started out as a side dish, but we agreed it was too good to not take the starring role as its own entree. This is a healthier version of classic mac ’n’ cheese, so you get all the satisfaction that a bite of perfectly cooked pasta loaded with gooey creamy cheese gives and still feel good about your decision to eat the whole bowl. It starts with a broth made from roasted carrots and golden raisins. This broth is rich and full of toasty sweet flavor, adding a similar texture to the risotto that a cream-laden pasta would have and creating layers of flavor. Then we add three cheeses: Crescenza and [Beehive] Promontory cheddar are folded into the mix, and Gold Creek Farms Romano is sprinkled on top to form a crust when it bakes. The results are decadent and unique.”

4 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee
2 cups Arborio rice
6 cups (approximately) roasted carrot
broth (recipe below)
2 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
8 ounces Crescenza cheese
3 ounces white cheddar cheese
3 ounces Romano cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat the clarified butter or ghee. Add the rice to the pan and toast for several minutes until it begins to turn very light golden brown. Adjust the heat to medium low and begin to ladle in the broth, 2 cups at a time, stirring constantly as the broth absorbs into the rice. After the first 2 cups of broth are absorbed, add the next 2 cups and continue to stir. Do this until you have added 6 cups total broth. The mixture should appear creamy but without excess liquid. Stir in the salt and pepper and taste the risotto to make sure the rice is finished cooking. If the rice is still not cooked, add and stir in more liquid until the kernels are al dente.

When the rice is cooked, remove pot from heat and stir in Crescenza and cheddar cheeses. Allow risotto to sit for about 10-15 minutes so liquid is absorbed and cheese “relaxes” into the mix.

Stir the pot again and divide the risotto evenly into 4-6 individual baking dishes or one 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the Romano cheese evenly over the top of the risotto and bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes until golden brown and bubbly on top. Allow the risotto to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Carrot Broth
Yield: 8 cups

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1½ cups carrots, peeled and
cut into 2-inch sections
½ cup shallots, peeled, end
pieces removed
3 garlic cloves, peeled, end
pieces removed
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup celery, roughly chopped
8 cups water
1 teaspoon plus 2 teaspoons
kosher salt

In a medium Dutch oven, combine the carrots, shallots and garlic. Toss with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, stirring the vegetables mid-way through cooking. They are finished roasting when the vegetables are medium golden brown and aromatic.

Remove the pot from the oven and place it on the stovetop with medium heat. Add the raisins, celery, remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and water to deglaze the pot. Allow the broth to simmer on low for about 20 minutes.

After the broth has simmered, blend it with either an immersion blender or a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix until completely smooth.

Squashing Expectations

Martine chef Jenny Cleveland’s roasted butternut squash with ricotta, brown butter, pine nuts and sage yields the perfect balance of sweet and savory

›Who: Jenny Cleveland, executive chef at Martine Cafe (22 E. 100 South, No. 200, SLC, 801-363-9328,

›What: Roasted butternut squash with ricotta, brown butter, pine nuts and sage

›Why: “I love taking dishes or ingredients that have great memories for me and turning them into side dishes.”

Serves: 8-18
1 butternut squash
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup pine nuts
1 clamshell sage
½ cup ricotta
⅓ cup shredded Parmesan
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon red wine
Pinch black pepper
1 cup cooking oil
Kosher salt

Slice butternut squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and cut into ½-inch cross sections. Dress with olive oil and a few pinches of kosher salt. Lay flat on a sheet tray and bake at 375 degrees until tender.

While butternut is in the oven, season ricotta with salt and set aside. Heat butter in sauce pan over medium heat until butter melts and solids start to brown. Remove from the heat and whisk in red wine vinegar, maple syrup, black pepper and salt.

In a small sauce pot, heat cooking oil to 360 degrees and fry sage leaves until crispy and green, not brown. Remove from oil, place on paper towel and season with kosher salt.

In a casserole pan, layer squash with dollops of ricotta, fried sage leaves, brown butter and Parmesan cheese. Top with remaining cheese and sage and heat in the oven, roughly 5-10 minutes, at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven before the ricotta breaks down.

Gnocchi Dokey

Jazz up standard gnocchi with the addition of spinach a la Charlie Perry, Eva’s executive chef and owner

›Who: Charlie Perry, executive chef and owner at Eva (317 S. Main, SLC, 801-359-8447,

›What: Spinach and potato gnocchi with peas, mushrooms and a creamy white wine sauce

›Why: “It’s simple and familiar yet unique. The flavors are rich and comforting without being too heavy.”

Gnocchi Dough
2 large russet potatoes
2 cups fresh spinach
2 egg yolks
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt

Bake potatoes until tender, then cut in half and let steam come out. Meanwhile use a blender to blend yolks, spinach and salt. Scoop the inside of the potatoes into a ricer or food mill then mix all the ingredients together. Roll with a gnocchi paddle. To cook, heat 1 gallon of water (when sauce is ready) and boil for 2 minutes before straining.

Sauce for Gnocchi
1 clove garlic,
1 tablespoon oil
½ cup sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup cream
½ cup peas
½ cup spinach
½ lemon
20 pieces of gnocchi
Truffle oil
Shaved Parmesan

Heat oil on high in saucepan. Add garlic and mushrooms. Gently add wine and reduce. Once reduced, add cream and bring to boil. Add peas, spinach and lemon juice, followed by salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over cooked gnocchi and garnish with truffle oil and shaved Parmesan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *