Italians living in Italy do not celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do in the United States, in fact many Italian kitchens could barely contain a full-sized turkey in their ovens! There are many Italian holidays called La Festa del Ringraziamento, or Festival of Thanks, which are religious holidays held throughout the year to honor patron saints. The closest celebration for Italians to Thanksgiving as we know it, would be the harvest celebrations held throughout the fall. Italians who have immigrated to America however, have certainly embraced Thanksgiving and in their own unique way, have made it their own. We love any holiday that brings together friends, family and food. Every family of Italian heritage has their own unique traditions for the celebration of this traditionally American holiday. As well as the expected turkey and side dishes there will always be special Italian recipes to grace my table. It just wouldn’t be the same without chestnuts cooked in the oven with red wine and grapes, a large antipasti with eggplant, artichokes and imported Italian cheeses such as Robiola, Teleggio, Asiago and Gorgonzola Dolce.
Italian cuisine lends itself well to holiday entertaining as many dishes can be prepared ahead of time and simply cooked when needed. Here are a number of recipes for holiday entertaining that would be perfect for any Thanksgiving dinner.
Risotto alla Zucca
This is a wonderful fall risotto made with butternut squash I like to make for special celebrations such as Thanksgiving, but once you taste it, you won’t want to save it just for special occasions! I keep my version of this recipe simple, although I did roast my squash before adding it to the risotto to enhance the flavor. Try adding the Gorgonzola to the dish. I recently enjoyed it this was in Santa Margarita on the Italian Riviera and it is extraordinary.
For the squash
1 small Butternut Squash,
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
For the risotto
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
4 cups homemade chicken broth, heated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Finely sliced fresh sage leaves
¼ lb. Gorgonzola cheese, cut into ½” cubes
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds and cut into 1” dices – about 3 ½ to 4 cups total. Toss the squash pieces with the olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet. Cook until tender when pierced with a fork and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, then remove from the oven. In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat in the onion and oil, cooking it for a few minutes.
Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost absorbed. Begin to add broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring continually until the rice has cooked for 10 minutes. Add the squash, stir and continue to add broth, stirring until each addition has been absorbed until the rice is tender but still slightly firm to the bite. Stir in the butter and ½ cup of the grated cheese. Serve in individual plates and add a few Gorgonzola cubes to melt into the risotto and sprinkle with some chopped sage.