Growing up in an Italian-American family, Thanksgiving wasn’t always about sweet potatoes and green bean casserole for me. It usually began with various antipasti, followed by rich lasagna, and then somewhere along the line we visited the turkey. Almost an afterthought. Sides usually included stuffed mushrooms, fried artichokes hearts – you know, the Italian thing. That changed when my Uncle Angelo married Carol. A young, Irish-American beauty, she was somewhat intimidated by the old country culinary skills of my Mom and Grandmothers. She did, however, possess an impressive knowledge of the all-American Thanksgiving dinner. Hence, this became her holiday. And what a spread she’s laid before us each year since.
It was at Aunt Carol’s celebrations that we learned about bread stuffing. My Nonna always prepared this trimming with rice and Italian sausage. Carol’s is all about a chunky bread base and ground pork, enhanced with aromatics such as onions, carrots and celery. She flavors it with parsley and sage, of course, and dots it with various dried fruits. The apricots are my favorites. Very American, and yes, very traditional in most homes across America.
It was at Aunt Carol’s home that we were also introduced to the turnip. I remember, one Thanksgiving my Aunt Angelina and Uncle Arturo were in attendance. When the mashed turnips arrived at the table, Aunt Angelina whispered to me “Ma cos’e questo?” Translation, “What’s that?!” One taste and my dear old auntie was hooked. She insisted on the recipe.
We also had our first encounter with creamed onions at Carol’s feasts. She always uses fresh, tiny pearl onions. A real chore to peel. But it’s the cream sauce that’s so luxurious. I’ve tried to recreate it, but mine always turns out a bit too watery. One thing is for certain, a grind or two of nutmeg is one of the keys to the depth of this otherwise simple dish. I especially adore the way the cream and bite-size onions lovingly interact with the stuffing on my plate. So sumptuous and no need for gravy, really, when you can enhance your stuffing experience with a bit of cream.
Other foreign-to-the-Italian additions at Aunt Carol’s Thanksgiving meals – ones that have become highly anticipated by my family now – include Brussels sprouts. She roasts them in the oven, with just a bit of olive oil, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. You know they’re good, because my Mom, who had never tasted a Brussels sprout in her life, now includes them in her special occasion meals.
The question of bread was also quite a shocker to us in the beginning. Of course, we were used to a basket of sliced Italian bread on the table at all meals. Aunt Carol introduced us to cornbread at Thanksgiving, which we at first thought was only appropriate as a muffin for breakfast. We were wrong. She also offers cheddar biscuits, which I love with her gravy. Very different at first. Now a must.
It’s a funny thing, Thanksgiving. A purely American meal that so many cultures have embraced with open arms. And while the Italians might still begin the repast with baked pasta, or the Puerto Ricans need to include a spicy chorizo in the stuffing, the main event most always still features our native Turkey, as well as mashed potatoes and candied yams. Did you ever stop and think about the fact that everyone in our nation is eating more or less the same meal on that last Thursday of November? Quite something, really. Very unifying. And unity, after all, is one of our most prized American traits. Who says the turkey isn’t a smart creature? I think it’s pure genius.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Turkey Tips for the Holidays
With Thanksgiving upon us, you may well be overwhelmed by so many tips on roasting a turkey. To brine or not to brine? To use an oven roasting bag or just a roasting pan? To stuff or not to stuff? If you have in mind an old-fashioned turkey that is bronzed and succulent, let me add my two cents and suggest a few tips that have worked well for me over the years.
1. As to what size turkey to buy, figure that a 15 pound turkey feeds 10 people with leftovers for those great sandwiches later on. Go from there.
2. If you’ve selected a frozen turkey, thaw it properly in the refrigerator. It will take three days for a 20 pound turkey to thaw. Rinse the turkey with cold water inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Defrosted turkeys take a little longer to cook than fresh turkeys. Figure 20 minutes per pound for a defrosted turkey and 10 to 15 minutes per pound for a fresh turkey in a 350 degree oven.
4. We all know that stuffing from inside the bird tastes best, but you might consider cooking it in a casserole dish to avoid overcooking the turkey. The stuffing is fully cooked at 165 degrees at which point the white meat may become dry. What I do is infuse the dressing with a few tablespoons of the cooked turkey juices to give it a roast turkey flavor. Fill the cavity loosely with aromatic vegetables such as celery, carrots, onion, garlic as well as fresh greens like parsley, thyme and tarragon.
5. Tie the legs together with the tail and fold the wing tips under for more even cooking.
6. Before roasting, use your fingers to loosen the breast skin carefully without tearing it. Rub softened butter under the skin and coat the outside of the bird as well. Salt and pepper the bird. The turkey should be placed on a rack in a roasting pan. You can tent the breast with a piece of aluminum foil to make sure it doesn’t brown before the bird is done. Remove it about 45 minutes before the bird is done.
7. You may be tempted to baste the bird, but every time you open the oven door, you lose heat and risk a dry bird.
8. If your bird has a pop-up thermometer, don’t trust it. Use a meat thermometer or instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey. Test the temperature in more than one place including the thickest part of the thigh. When the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, take the turkey out. Tent loosely with foil for at least 15 minutes before carving.
9. Present your glorious bronzed bird to your guests’ oohs and aahs and then whisk it back to the kitchen to carve. This way you can carve it on a proper cutting board and sneak a piece of crispy skin. Carve your turkey with a very sharp knife.
10. I like Sara Moulton’s carving advice. She suggests pulling the leg back until the joint “pops”. Then cut at the joint to remove the legs and separate them between the drumsticks and thighs. Similarly, the wings can be pulled back and cut at the joint.. The wishbone should be removed with a small sharp knife, thus allowing the breast halves to be easily removed and neatly sliced. An attractive arrangement can then be placed on the serving platter. Bon Appétit!
Photographer Bill Brady <a href=”http://bit.ly/9wFYxm” target=”_blank”>http://bit.ly/9wFYxm</a>
Written by Victor Ribaudo <a href=”http://theribaudogroup.com” target=”_blank”>theribaudogroup.com</a> theribaudogroup.comRecipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika <a href=”http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com” target=”_blank”>http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com</a> http://sweetpaprika.wordpress.comFood Stylist <a href=”http://www.preston-campbell.com” target=”_blank”>Brian Preston Campbell</a>Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com <a href=”http://datingsymbol.com/” target=”_blank”>http://datingsymbol.com/</a>http://datingsymbol.com/