By: Francesca Montillo, The Lazy Italian
Growing up in Southern Italy, my mother — who had been raised in the U.S. years prior — would often tell my sister and I stories about Thanksgiving.
“There’s always a giant turkey,” she would explain to us, and everyone expresses what he or she is thankful for. I must admit, in hindsight, my 8- or 9-year-old self didn’t much grasp the concept of this Holiday.
For one thing, turkeys are rare in Italy, so I had never seen one, let alone stuffed!
Picturing one roasted was a bit hard! And why a day to say thanks? Can’t it be said everyday? Despite my hesitation toward the holiday, I was very much looking forward to it in 1988, our first year in the States.
My mom, whose heart had always longed to return to Boston, was very excited about it, and eager to teach us what this Holiday meant.
It was her favorite one after all, and it would soon become mine as well.
Gaining some popularity in Italy as La Festa Del Ringrazziamento, Thanksgiving still remains to me very much an American holiday.
History suggests that the Pilgrims and Puritans, having settled in modern day Plymouth, Mass. from England, were celebrating a particularly good harvest.
To celebrate a period of fasting, a feast was born, one lasting several days!
And what better way to celebrate than with food and family? They had a lot in common with Italians!
I am often asked if my family and I eat turkey on Thanksgiving. I think they expect me to say no, but of course we do!
After all these years living here, our cultures have fully blended and “the giant turkey” my mom used to talk about in Italy gets an Italian makeover.
Our sides, or contorni, are traditional Italian dishes, (sorry cranberry sauce, no room for you at our Italian table!) and the meal typically ends with an Italian dessert or two.
I apologize in advance to the apple pie lovers reading this.
Here are a few ideas on how to “Italianize” your Thanksgiving this year.
There’s nothing I love more than a good antipasto plate, to be displayed on the coffee table or kitchen counter and to be nibbled on while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on in the background and the main meal cooks. In this picture, you can see that we have prepared a platter of cheeses, cured salami, mixed olives, roasted peppers and some pickled mushrooms and artichoke hearts.
This is not cooking but just assembling and it’s delicious! Add a few Parmesan crackers, add a little glass of vino and you have the perfect snack while the turkey cooks. Nibble at these, but don’t let it spoil your main course!
“The Giant Turkey”
Oh, what would Thanksgiving be without the star of the table? To give your turkey an Italian twist, very generously season it with traditional Italian herbs and spices. In this image from last year, we created a buttery paste by blending one stick of room temperature butter with dried oregano, rosemary, fresh basil, parsley and crushed garlic.
The paste is then “gingerly” rubbed underneath the skin. This creates a super moist layer and ultimately helps in preventing the bird from drying out, particularly the white meat. The top is then rubbed with a similar paste and additional dried herbs are added on top.
Place the bird on a bed of onions, carrots, celery, lemons, and we added some inexpensive white wine at the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. This gives it a bit of flavor, especially when preparing the gravy with the juices! The bird is stuffed with citrus fruits and fresh rosemary, which add flavor and moisture. You can remove and discard them after the turkey is cooked. The juices that remain in the pan after cooking create a very delicious gravy.
The options are limitless with the side dishes! If you will be serving a pasta dish, allow me to suggest a side of orecchiette with sausages and broccoli rabe. Avoid heavy pastas like lasagne or stuffed shells, these will likely be too filling, when so much other food will be served.
A lovely mushroom risotto also seems fitting for Thanksgiving! See the recipe here. But if you’re thinking of skipping the pasta all together, why not opt for stuffed mushrooms instead. Very traditional, at least in my household, stuffed mushrooms are our go-to side on Thanksgiving. Since the oven is already turned on, place the mushrooms on the top rack and cook for about 20 – 25 minutes, during the last 20 – 25 minutes of your turkey’s cooking time, or while the turkey is resting. See the recipe below for stuffed mushrooms.
Another Thanksgiving classic on our family’s table is broccoli rabe. Simply sautéed with garlic and a high-quality olive oil after they have been par-boiled. In this image, we’ve added a can of par-boiled cannellini beans, which have been drained and rinsed.
8 large stuffing mushrooms
2 garlic gloves, thinly minced
1 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (plus extra for topping)
1/3 cup grated parmigiano cheese (plus extra for topping)
*dices of chopped cured salami (optional)
- Preheat over to 375F. Spray a baking sheet with Pam cooking spray and set aside.
- Wash mushrooms under cold water and dry them thoroughly with clean paper towels.
- Remove a very thin layer off of the bottom of the stem and discard. Gently remove the stem, making sure you do not break the mushroom cap.
- Using a teaspoon, very gently scrape the inside of the mushroom; this will give you more room for stuffing.
- Chop the stem finely and add it to a bowl.
- To the bowl with the chopped stems, add the chopped garlic, parsley, olive oil, breadcrumbs, cheese and salt. Add cured salami, if using.
- Blend all ingredients well.
- Stuff mushroom cups and add them to the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little bit of extra breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until fully cooked and crust is formed on top. Serve hot.