An American Thanksgiving in Italy – A little over a week ago I took a Google-translated note to the butcher ordering a 5.5 kg whole fresh turkey to be picked up last Thursday. Since he speaks no English and I have never seen a whole turkey in Italy yet, I had my fingers crossed hoping to pick up something that resembled a whole fresh turkey. I was also hoping it was actually in the ballpark of my request size-wise because my oven is pretty small. Luckily, when Larry and I arrive to pick it up, the butcher proudly brought out what looked like a really large whole turkey surprisingly without it’s head. He immediately whacked off one wing at the last joint and looked at me and said OK? Well it wasn’t because I use those wing tips to steady the turkey in the pan, but it was too late now, so I smiled and nodded yes while indicating “no more”! I don’t know where the giblets went, but I never saw them. So we picked up some more supplies and took our prize home. It weighed in at 6.5 kg which, fortunately, still fit in my little oven. Upon inspection it looked like it put up a fight (a few bruises and torn skin) and there were still more than a few feathers which I spent about an hour plucking with tweezers. One thing that really struck me is that it looked real. I mean you could see how this guy could get up and run around. Proportionally, the legs were long and large and the breasts were, well, normal size. I always brine my turkey (if not Kosher) but I didn’t have a vessel nor a refrigerator large enough to do that. I remembered seeing something a while back in Cooks Illustrated about dry-brining, so I check the internet and read up on it. Actually, I was very pleased with the results and there were no large containers of nasty water involved. I suggest you try it on your next roast chicken if you haven’t already.
As with all American meals I try to prepare here in Italy, the real trick is finding the proper ingredients. Ina’s apple stuffing and gravy, no problem. I was delighted to find a bunch of kale (of the large black variety) in the farmer’s market last Saturday and then more in the grocery store a few days later. I am told I will not find yams here so maybe I’ll substitute butternut squash? Although I had seen butternut squash, none was to be found when I needed it so I went searching the farmer’s market again and purchased a quarter of a huge (as in larger than a watermelon) variety of green squash I had never seen before – squash is squash right? I ended up using Ina’s recipe for carmelized butternut squash and threw in some dried cranberries at the last minute, which everyone loved.
Fresh or frozen cranberries still remained illusive so I took a cab one very cold day out to Oasi, because if they don’t have it you probably aren’t going to find it, with no luck. I did find dried cranberries, but I can’t make sauce with them. I even looked for canned cranberry sauce, but after a last minute sweep of the local stores I still came up empty-handed. Cinzia and Grace were responsible for bringing the appetizers. I had already struggled through a pumpkin tart for our last dinner so, thankfully, Laura and Sergio offered to bring Mississippi Mud Pie. So our menu is complete.
I’ve had many different mud pies in my life, but this was the most gourmet version I have ever enjoyed. It started with a brownie-like shell and was filled with an incredible dark chocolate mouse. Laura said she had lightened it up by not using whipped cream but topping it with the very Italian sponge cake soaked in Aperol liquor. Once unmolded from the pan the sponge cake is on the bottom and, to make it just perfect, Laura finished it off with a decorative application of powdered sugar.
I served our dinner in the American tradition of putting everything on the table at the same time. I also put two things on my table that you rarely see on an Italian table – rolls and butter, salt and pepper.
Can you really have Thanksgiving in Italy, on a Saturday, without candied yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie – yes you can!
MENU: Fresh sausages and breads; Black Olives with Orange; Dip and Crackers; Roast Turkey with Gravy (Tacchino Arrostito con Sugo); Stuffing with Sausage, Apples & Chestnuts (Ripieno con Salsiccia, Mele e Castagne); Black Kale (Cavolo Nero); Caramelized Squash (Zucca de Carmellato); Mud Pie (Torta di Fango).