My First Italian Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is all about tradition. Turkey, mashed potatoes, (at least) two kinds of pies, and green bean casserole. Oh yes, I love me some Thanksgiving.
The Best Thursday of the Year
In recent years my tradition included a morning run, breakfast casserole, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Bloody Marys (Dear GOD, I MISS BLOODY MARYS AND NO IT’S NOT JUST TOMATO JUICE), an oyster shooter (OPERATION: oyster dressing prep), PBR, wine, and a feast.
I knew this year would be hard because while my heart was on Revere Street in Aurora, Colo., I was in Alba, Italy, where a proper Bloody Mary, PBR, a whole turkey, and my best friend are hard to come by. It was clear my only choice was to wipe my tears, put on my big girl panties, and plan my own Italian Thanksgiving dinner. (Did I mention, besides my annual mashed potatoes, wine, and occasional green bean casserole contribution, I’d never made Thanksgiving dinner before?)
5 Italians, 2 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 German Walk into a Bar (or our apartment)
I planned the menu meticulously. You see, I was serving delegates from four countries: five Italians experiencing their first Thanksgiving dinner, one American cook, a Brit who makes a mean mustard mashed potatoes, and a German birthday boy. I had to bring my A-game.
Two days of cooking
I went dessert first – apple pie. We don’t have a rolling pin and I turned Il Ragazzo down when he wanted to buy one. Nope, we were set with an unlabeled bottle of rosé. Wash the bottle thoroughly and voila: a rolling pin.
>> RECIPE: Old Fashioned-Apple Pie
Then, I baked the cornbread for the stuffing.
Based on my McGyver-style rolling pin you may have guessed that I’m no baker. This was all new to me, but by day’s end I was cautiously optimistic I could pull off this coup.
On Thanksgiving I did my obligatory Turkey Day run (not nearly as fun without PBR BFF, but the show must go on), then got to work finishing (my first ever) stuffing. I decided to get crafty and use local specialities of porcini mushrooms, pancetta, and hazelnuts. Try out FineCooking.com’s Create Your Own Stuffing tool. It builds a recipe based on your ingredients. I call it Piedmont Stuffing.
>> Complete recipe at the bottom of the post.
Next up, my traditional browned butter mashed potato from a recipe I scored years ago in Food & Wine magazine. It calls for crème fraîche and in my former life I made my own. But, in Italy cream options are lacking. So, I had to buy the goods pre-made at the grocery store. Do yourself a favor, be a bit more generous with the butter than the recipe suggests, and salt / pepper to taste.
>> RECIPE: Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
For veggies I did sautéed spinach with pancetta and dried cranberries (Il Ragazzo was the big winner at the grocery store when he found them for me) and simple oven roasted carrots with olive oil.
>> RECIPE: Sautéed Spinach with Pancetta and Dried Cranberries
What about the turkey, you ask?
Good memory, as I mentioned whole turkeys aren’t so easy to find here. So, I improvised. A whole chicken + a turkey breast. C’mon, what’s Turkey Day with out turkey? I enlisted the help of my domestic hero, Martha Stewart. She’s never let me down and I was familiar with her Perfect Roast Chicken. Martha doesn’t mess around with the word “perfect”. All hail the Queen. And, I made up my own recipe for the turkey.
>> RECIPE: Perfect Roast Chicken
RECIPE: Turkey Breast
Garlic slivers in the turkey, sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, white wine, salt, pepper, cut up one lemon – squeeze juice of one wedge, place remaining wedges over the turkey; cook for 1.5 hours at 200C.
Last but not least, the gravy. Our German pal suggested nebbiolo in the gravy in place of white wine. Why not? It was an Italian Thanksgiving after all. And, you know what they say about using local ingredients! It was good and oh-so-deliciously rich – perfect for a frigid Alba night.
Before I knew it, it was dinner time. The table was set, friends were arriving, we were pouring Deltetto Extra Brut for a welcome toast, and Il Ragazzo was carving the chicken and turkey.
Italian Thanksgiving is served
I had no idea what to expect. Would they like it? I watched in utter amazement as everyone took more stuffing, more chicken AND turkey, more gravy – even more veg! The night’s big winner was the gravy and bread salad, aka stuffing.
Oh, wait! The wine pairing. Sorry ’bout that. We went simple and did a 2009 Fratelli Alessandria Langhe Nebbiolo.
To keep with tradition we lingered over a Demarie Roero Riserva till it felt like a smidge more food could go in our tummies. Then, it was apple pie time. Wine Pairing: 2013 Ca’ del Baio Moscato d’Asti.
Everyone headed home close to midnight. It was strange to spend the day on my own since everyone was at work. While I missed the festivities State-side (true story: I tried to live stream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, no go), I loved bringing what I could to Alba, and finding ways to make Piedmont a part of a new Thanksgiving tradition. I loved the excitement – most of my guests had never experienced this tradition or tasted these foods. What a special evening. And, while I do hope to celebrate The Best Thursday of the Year on Revere Street in the years to come, I have a new tradition now: My Italian Thanksgiving. Even when I return to Colorado for the big day, I’ll always host a chicken and turkey dinner here.
And, since I missed it this year I thought I’d introduce another American Thanksgiving tradition in lieu of a song choice: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. PS – don’t forget to scroll past the video for the Piedmont Stuffing Recipe!
Happy Holidays! V-dawg OUT.
Video Pick: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
RECIPE: Piedmont Stuffing
- 1 14- to 16-oz. loaf freshly baked cornbread, cooled completely
- 3/4 lb. bacon, diced
- 1-1/3 cups chopped apples
- 1-1/3 cups chopped celery
- 1-1/3 cups chopped onion
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms (such as oyster, porcini or shiitake), rehydrated in hot water and coarsely chopped
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
- 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
- Kosher salt
- ground black pepper
- 2 cups turkey or chicken broth, more as needed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- vegetable oil or cooking spray, for baking dish
Break the cornbread into roughly 3/4-inch chunks. You should have about 8 to 10 cups. Set aside.
In a large skillet, cook bacon or sausage over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and fully cooked. Add the apples, celery, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re slightly softened but still have some crunch. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in hazelnuts and dried mushrooms.
Add the bread to the large mixing bowl, along with the sage, rosemary, and thyme, and toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour 1-1/2 cups of the broth, plus the wine, over the stuffing. If the liquid isn’t immediately absorbed and pools at the bottom of the bowl, you have enough; just toss the mixture occasionally for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. At first, the bread cubes may feel wet on the outside and still be dry on the inside, but they’ll even out as the stuffing cooks.
If the bread immediately sucks up the initial 2 cups of liquid, add another 1/2 cup of broth and taste the mixture. The bread should be moist but not soggy. Add up to another 1/2 cup of broth if necessary.
Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as needed. If the mixture doesn’t taste as rich as you’d like, add enough melted butter or olive oil to suit your taste. Once you’re satisfied with the flavor of the mixture, stir in the beaten eggs.
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with oil or cooking spray. Spread the stuffing in the dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is lightly browned and crisp, another 20 to 30 minutes.