When celebrating the signature American holiday of Thanksgiving, those of us who claim Italian heritage love to add antipasti and a pasta dish – often lasagna – to our already overwhelming afternoon meal. While Thanksgiving offers a plethora of goodies for everyone at the table, Italian Americans take their Thanksgiving tradition from their ancestors who arrived in America not knowing what the holiday was because it isn’t celebrated in Italy. They then “Italianized” it and made it a bountiful food holiday. There will always be special Italian recipes to grace my table.
We know that after eating tacchino (turkey), lasagna and all the rest of your family’s Italian and American favorites, you will be wondering how you’re going to manage to fit into your festive New Year’s Eve dress…not to mention how you’ll be able to clean the kitchen…while the men in your family, feeling the effects of tryptophan, sleep on the couch.
This week we offer some delightful dishes that will satisfy your desire for Italian cooking and also ‘lighten up’ your Thanksgiving festa, only a little. Enjoy the holiday season…Thanksgiving reminds me of my mother’s house that smelled like fall. It made me feel warm, cozy and happy.
Tips for a Perfect Turkey
Create a simple Italian dark Karo glaze to add a sweet kick to your turkey. Use the following recipe, but increase or reduce liquid amounts based on the size of the turkey. This recipe is for a turkey about 18 to 20 pounds.
2 cups dark Karo
cups hot water
3 strips of bacon
salt and pepper, to taste
Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Bring the hot water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the Karo and stir until it dissolves. Pour the glaze liberally over the turkey. Add the bacon strips across the turkey breast and hold in place with tooth picks. Cook at 350F covered and then one more hour uncovered. Base cooking time is 20 minutes per pound. When the turkey is fully cooked, let it rest for about 30 minutes so that the juices settle before carving. Separate the legs and wings to ensure the best possible cuts.
Be sure to use a very sharp knife to carve the turkey. It will help to smoothly cut thin, even slices without shredding the meat.
My Mom’s Stuffing – Easy, Breezy
1 large onion
celery, mostly use the leaves and some stalk
1 stick butter
2 cups chicken broth
1 large loaf white bread (depending on the turkey size – this is for a 15lb. Anything larger use 2 loaves)
salt and pepper to taste
All Fresh Herbs
flat leaf parsley
1 spring rosemary
sage, a few leaves
thyme, about 1 tablespoon
Melt butter in skillet, sauté the onion and celery until soft. In a large bowl, stir together the broken loaf of white bread, the onion and celery, the fresh herbs and chicken broth. Add the egg last. Mix it in with a little more broth.
Here you can choose: I stuff the turkey right before it goes in the oven. I also drizzle a little Karo in the stuffing. Or you can opt to put it into a greased 9 x 13 inch Pyrex dish and dot the top with butter. (I like Karo instead because it gives a sweetness to the turkey). Bake until done. Whichever you choose, this is the easiest recipe, not particularly fancy, but very good. If you desire to ‘Italian it up,’ add cooked sausage crumbled or double thick bacon in pieces to this recipe.Y
No Bread Stuffed Artichokes
3 tbsp olive oil, plus ¼ cup
1 lb button or Roman mushrooms, trimmed and chopped, about 4 cups
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 slices prosciutto, about 2 ounces, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
½ cup grated Parmigiano
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 fresh artichokes, trimmed and cleaned
2 cups white wine
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until mushrooms are tender and onions are golden. Transfer mushroom mixture to a medium bowl and let it cool slightly. Add prosciutto, parsley, Parmigiano, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Gently pull apart the leaves of the trimmed artichokes to slightly widen the spaces between the leaves. Stuff mushroom mixture in the spaces between the leaves. Place artichokes in a heavy, high-sided pan so they fit snugly enough to stay upright. Pour wine and 1 cup of water into the pan. Pour ¼ cup of olive oil over the top of the artichokes. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Cover pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour, until artichokes are tender.
Risotto alla Zucca
I like to make this wonderful fall risotto made with butternut squash 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 Gorgonzola to the dish. I enjoyed it when I 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 cups Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
4 cups homemade chicken broth, heated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
black pepper, freshly ground
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 in the onion and oil, cooking it for a few minutes.
Add the wine and cook until it 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 and 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. Sprinkle with some chopped sage.
Autumn Truffled Potatoes
Here is a delicious change on a jacketed potato. The creamy texture and richness of the truffles will delight your family and guests.
6 russet potatoes
½ to 1 ounce truffles, grated
2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
2 tablespoons butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes. Using a zester, “rib” the outside of each potato and cut the bottom so it stands upright. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 250F oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Unwrap and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Cut a cap from the top of the potatoes and set aside. Scoop out the pulp, leaving enough of a wall to support the stuffing. Mix the potato pulp with the grated truffles, cream, salt and pepper. Place the mixture in a pastry bag and pipe it into the cavity of each potato shell. Replace the cap and brush each potato with butter.
Place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and golden brown.
Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie
Pumpkin pie is the most traditional dessert to complete the Thanksgiving celebration. Here is an Italian twist on what is sure to make your dinner’s finale an instant classic.
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons of chilled vegetable shortening, cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup (or more) ice water
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounce container mascarpone cheese
Whipped Cream and Mascarpone Topping
1 cup chilled whipping cream
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the crust – Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ¼ cup ice water; pulse until dough begins to clump, adding more ice water by the teaspoonful if dry. Gather into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes. The crust can be made a day ahead of time.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough on floured work surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 1 inch beyond rim. Crimp edges. Chill crust while making filling.
For the filling – Using an electric mixer, beat pumpkin and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs and next 7 ingredients and beat until blended. Add mascarpone cheese and beat just until mixture is smooth. Transfer filling to prepared crust.
Bake pie until custard is set, about 55 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool. Tent with foil and chill.
For whipped cream and mascarpone topping – Combine ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat to soft peaks. Add topping before serving.
Did You Know?
The turkey was brought to Italy in the early 16th century. Whole turkeys are a rarity in Italy. Turkey breasts are more common, but whole turkeys only tend to make very limited appearances in Italy during the Christmas season.
Porcini lovers can be found traversing the forests of the Piedmont in search of these wonderful members of the funghi family after a generous rainfall. These persistent Italians need only a ‘vimini’ basket and a hooked knife to complete their task.
Italian farmers grow ‘baby artichokes,’ which are tender and sweet and can be eaten just as they are without the need to remove the inedible choke. In fact, these ‘carciofi’ are not babies, they are actually fully grown artichokes that develop at the bottom of the stalk where the sun doesn’t reach. Therefore, the chokes remain soft, fuzzy and delicious.
Prickly pears are called Fico d’India in Sicily and southern Italy, where they are grown in abundance due to the suitable climate. The ‘fico’ grows from cactus plants and were brought to Italy by international explorers during the 15th century.
In Parma, a pumpkin, or zucca, as they are known in Italian, are not symbols of Halloween or autumn. Rather, zucca is a vegetable that is served all year round, producing a delicious filling for ravioli and flavoring for tagliolini.
During the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621, with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony, no turkey was served. From what history tells us, lobster was the main course!
MY FAVORITE THINGS
Let the Dollar Tree serve as a great and inexpensive way to decorate your table. Use some of my ideas here to create a beautiful table for cheap – cheap! A little $ and some creativity can make the day.