Oh yeah, it’s that time of year again. This is my fourth Thanksgiving here in Italy and as you know Italians do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but I have turned it into my tradition that I do every year here. I celebrate this holiday as a time to be thankful for all the blessings we have. Although I am thankful everyday, I love that this day emphasizes on all that we are grateful for in our lives. Last year I hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner with our friends at the villa, Aia Vecchia, and it was a wonderful evening shared by all. It’s worth it all when I take that first bite of the meal that I worked hours preparing for. I would say this meal has got to be my “comfort food”.
Good luck trying to find a whole turkey for sale at the grocery store here in Italy until Christmas. I order my turkey from the butcher shop a week or so in advance to make sure I have one in time. The great thing about that is that I know for a fact it’s fresh and caught out in the forest from a hunter. Can’t get any fresher than that!
Here’s my tips to have yourself the best roasted turkey that is crispy and brown on the outside and deliciously juicy inside.
First tip is that I brine my turkey the night before. You can also do it a couple of days in advance if preferred. Here is my list of things I brine my turkey with. Adjust measurements for size of turkey.
1 cup kosher salt
2 liters (half gallon) of apple cider
1 liter stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 liter water
1 tablespoon peppercorns
small handful of cloves
3-4 bay leaves
Combine all the ingredients together in a large pot cooking until dissolved over medium heat. Then take of heat and let it cool completely. You can also add a bunch of ice right before putting it over the turkey. IMPORTANT; you must make sure the brine is completely cool before you place in contact with the turkey. I like to put my turkey in a large safe plastic bag and stick it in my cold fridge for the night, but if you don’t have room in your fridge, you add ice in the brine and place in the coldest spot you have available.
Once i’m ready to cook the turkey, I take it out of the brine and rinse with cold water, then wipe dry with a paper towel. Make a foil cover by matching the shape of the turkey that we will use later. I then rub sunflower seed oil (or canola oil if available) all over the entire turkey and season well with salt, pepper and a little hint of sweet paprika. Before placing in the pan I have a row of carrots, celery and onions on the bottom of my roasting pan to set the turkey on top of. (this adds flavor for when I make the gravy) I then stuff the turkey with one apple cut in half, half a lemon, half an orange and fresh sprigs of rosemary. At the highest temperature your oven goes to, mine is 260C (500F) I put the turkey in for 35 minutes, uncovered, until the skin is browned. I then lower the temperature to 175C (350F) covering it lightly with my foil cover and leave it at that temperature until it is cooked all the way through.Basting every thirty minutes for maximum juiciness. For my 5 kilo (11 lb.) turkey and my small oven it took my turkey about 4 hours to cook but it all depends on your oven. Don’t forget to baste every thirty minutes. These tips have really helped me succeed in making the perfect Thanksgiving turkey!
I was so excited to share this meal with our Italian friends and entertain at one of my favorite places in the world, Aia Vecchia Villa, one of E and family’s tuscan villas they own. Everyone was curious and excited to try all the things I had cooked and baked which made me happy. I wanted to make sure I captured the moments of the night so I asked my friends who would take over the important role in being the turkey-cutter. Our friend Marco stepped right up.
Tuscan Style Stuffing
serving size, 8
4 cups toasted tuscan bread cubes
1 large yellow onion diced
2 large celery sticks diced
1 large apple diced
( I prefer to use a sweet apple such as Fuji or Golden Delicious)
2 italian sausage
1 1/2 cup roasted chestnuts
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 free-range egg
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt & pepper
Over medium heat sauté with olive oil the onions, celery and italian sausage together until onion is translucent. Place toasted bread cubes in a large bowl and pour the onion mixture into the bowl, adding the diced apple, chestnuts and fresh thyme. Pour stock in and add the egg while mixing together. Season and place into dish cooking at 350F (175C) for about 25 minutes, until golden on top.
I love decorating the table to make a nice ambiance but who needs to go out and spend money when you can find beautiful natural decorations from things you find outside?
Of course, serving only the best wine and my personal favorite, Aia Vecchia’s Lagone and SorUgo red blend tuscan wines from Bolgheri. (E’s wine company!) They sell in many countries world wide, so go to your local wine shop or grocery store and ask if they sell it there. Here is their website; http://www.aiavecchiabolgheri.it/en/winery/
I have yet to come across fresh cranberries anywhere, as they are not used here, but I do know where to find dried cranberries and they work just as well when making this sauce. I am a huge cranberry lover and was delighted when I was able to figure out how to make the perfect cranberry sauce.
Cranberry Clementine Sauce
2 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
In a small pot over medium heat place dried cranberries and fill water until just covering the berries. Add sugar and clementine juice and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This forms a syrup type sauce and it’s oh so yummy. I also like to add a little clementine zest on top before serving.
I have to admit that when it comes to this holiday, I like to stick with the basic dishes but add a special touch to spruce it up a bit. When I was younger my favorite thing at Thanksgiving was the green bean casserole. Some may scorn away at this dish, but let me tell you, this recipe I came up with puts any old green bean casserole to shame.
Upgraded Green Bean Casserole
3 cups french green beans
about 2 cups béchamel sauce
1 cup diced champignon mushrooms
1 yellow onion diced
1/2 cup chopped pancetta
1 garlic clove
1 cup bread crumbs
salt & pepper
Over medium heat sauté olive oil with the diced onion, whole garlic clove, pancetta and mushrooms together until onion is translucent. Blanch the green beans and put in ice water. Place béchamel sauce with sautéed vegetables (taking the garlic clove out) and mix with green beans, season with salt and pepper. Place in dish and sprinkle bread crumbs on top and a little olive oil. 350F (175C) for 25 minutes.
NOTE; Here italians use béchamel sauce for things that some Americans would Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. Here is a basic recipe from Mario Batali that I like. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/béchamel-sauce-recipe.html
It is way too easy to ever buy any substitute. Bonus is you know exactly what is in it. Win!
I also make the traditional mashed potatoes and gravy made from drippings as well to complete the meal.
I don’t think a proper American Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without the oh -so-popular pumpkin pie, my personal favorite dessert of the season. My Italian friends were a little skeptical trying a dessert made from a squash but I assured them that once they tasted it, they would like it. And if they didn’t like it thats okay, that just means more leftovers for me. ‘wink’
Italian Approved Pumpkin Pie
1 1/2 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoon melted butter
2 whole cage-free eggs
1 cage-free egg yolk
1 cup cup sugar
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
fresh whipped cream to top with
Pie crusts and I do not get along. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the taste of pie crust, because I do, I love all the pies. I just can’t make pie crust! Bah! Too complicated and fussy. Hats off to those who can! For my pumpkin pie version I use a graham cracker crust instead.
Graham Cracker Crust
In food processor pulse together the cookies crumbs and melted butter, it should feel like wet sand. Then spread onto a 9 inch pie pan and press down with the back of a spoon or your hands.
I also make my own pumpkin filling because you won’t see any canned pumpkin in the aisles of any grocery store here in this Tuscan town. It’s actually not as hard as you think, just a little more work, but that’s okay because I plan to eat all the calories I burned while making it. In fact here is my secret; I make it with butternut squash. “GASP! WHAT A FRAUD!” But butternut squash is actually much sweeter and I love the texture. I cut the squash in pieces and place in a large pot with water and place the lid on until the squash bits are soft. Let them cool, scoop it in the food processor and there you go!
Blend together the pumpkin puree, spices, eggs, egg yolk, sugar and heavy cream until combined. Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 275F (135C) for on hour or longer, just until it’s set. Cool in fridge and serve room temperature. I always like to make this the day or night before so I’m not running around like a mad woman the day the turkey is in the oven. Hand whipped cream is the cherry on the top with this pie. SO GOOD. Also might I add, that this is a great leftover for breakfast served with a strong cup of coffee. (Pfsh, like there will be any leftovers) One skeptical Italian friend of mine tasted it and came back twice for more.
Let me know and comment below if you try any of these recipes. I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!