Growing up in Southern Italy, my mother, who had been raised in the U.S. years prior, often told my sister and me stories about Thanksgiving. “There’s always a giant turkey,” she would explain to us, “and everyone expressed what they were thankful for.” In hindsight, my eight- or nine-year-old self didn’t grasp the concept of this holiday much. For one thing, whole turkeys are rarely seen 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 every day?
Despite my reluctance toward the holiday, I looked forward to it in 1988, our first year in the States. My mom, whose heart had always longed to return to Boston, was excited and eager to teach us what this holiday meant. It was, and remains, her favorite holiday, and it would soon become mine as well.
La Festa Del Ringrazziamento
La Festa Del Ringrazziamento, as it is known in Italy, is gaining some popularity there. However, Thanksgiving remains an American holiday – as American as it gets! And rightfully so. History suggests that the Pilgrims and Puritans, having settled in modern-day Plymouth, MA, from England, were celebrating an excellent harvest. A feast was born to commemorate the newfound bounty, 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. Many might expect me to say no, but of course we do! After all these years living here, our cultures have fully blended. And we prepare that“giant turkey” my mom used to talk about in Italy. It does, however, get a little Italian makeover. Our sides, or contorni, are traditional Italian dishes, and the meal typically ends with an Italian dessert or two. I apologize in advance to the pumpkin pie lovers reading this.
So with that, here are a few ideas on how to “Italianize” your Thanksgiving table this year.
There’s nothing I love more than a good antipasto platter. In the picture below, (from my 30-Minute Italian Cookbook) you can see that we have prepared a platter of cheeses, cured salami, mixed olives, roasted peppers and some pickled artichoke hearts. This is not cooking but just assembling and it’s a delicious addition to your Thanksgiving menu. Perfect for nibbling on while the main dishes cook. Add a few Parmesan crackers and 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!
What would Thanksgiving be without the star of the table? Generously season your turkey with traditional Italian herbs and spices to give it an Italian twist. You can create a buttery paste by blending one stick of room-temperature butter with dried oregano, rosemary, fresh minced basil, minced parsley, and crushed garlic. The paste is then rubbed underneath the skin. The butter creates a super moist layer and ultimately helps the turkey, particularly the white meat, from drying out. The top is then rubbed with a similar paste. Place the bird on a bed of onions, carrots, celery, and lemons, and I typically add some inexpensive white wine at the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. This combination gives it flavor, especially when preparing the gravy with the juices.
If you are serving a pasta dish, allow me to suggest something light, like orecchiette with broccoli rabe. Avoid heavy pasta like lasagne or stuffed shells. These will likely be too fulfilling when so much other food is served. A lovely mushroom risotto also seems fitting for Thanksgiving. But if you’re thinking of skipping the pasta altogether, the options are limitless with the side dishes. Why not opt for stuffed mushrooms instead? Stuffed mushrooms are very traditional, at least in my household. They are our go-to side on Thanksgiving. Some lovely roasted bell peppers are also a great side dish to consider. End the meal with a light and refreshing palate cleanser like this orange and fennel salad.
Nothing like ending the Thanksgiving meal with some freshly roasted chestnuts. It’s peak season during this time of the year. And roasted chestnuts are another must on my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table. They go down very nicely (too nicely!) with a nice glass of wine.
I’ll apologize again to all the pumpkin pie lovers. We are, after all, trying to Italianize our Thanksgiving, so a nice berry crostata and some anise cookies are a must. My family also loves these hazelnut butterballs! Perhaps these are our favorites. These go well with an espresso or digestive, which you will definitely need after all the food you will be consuming. A fun, and easier take on the typical custard pie, is my Italian milk pie, which I always prepare at Thanksgiving.
Wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! Buon Festa di Ringrazziamento!
What to Pack for Italy
Cosa Mettere in Valigia per l'Italia
Everyone is always asking me what they should pack for Italy,
so I’ve created a quick reference guide that you can use for your next trip.
Hint: You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do!