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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Add An Italian Touch To Thanksgiving

Pigging Out On Turkey Is Not An Italian Tradition

Thanksgiving is not a thing in Italy. Italy has festivals of thanksgiving scattered around the calendar honoring various saints, but a day set aside strictly to pig out on turkey and watch football is not an Italian tradition. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a whole turkey in an Italian market. Thanksgiving might be observed in the homes of American expats, but American visitors in Italy looking for a traditional holiday meal on the fourth Thursday of November can only hope to luck upon a tourist restaurant serving a close approximation of a Thanksgiving dinner. No, Thanksgiving as we know it is an American-born and bred holiday. But that doesn't mean you can't throw in a few Italian touches.

Most Italians living in the United States have given themselves over to the lure of a big “turkey and all the trimmings” family meal. Most Italian-American families also celebrate the day with a traditional turkey dinner. But both frequently add some recipes with an Italian flair. My family does turkey and trimmings. In fact, by the time I've made the rounds of family and friends over the course of several days, I've usually wound up cooking and serving three or four turkeys and tons of trimmings. I've known some Italians who roast the turkey with Italian herbs and spices. Okay, but not for me. I go with more traditional American tastes for my bird. But I will occasionally “Italian-ize” a few sides. For example:

ITALIAN SAUSAGE STUFFING

Here's what you'll need:

1 loaf Italian bread, preferably day old, cut into 1-inch cubes *
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 mild Italian sausage links, casings removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large white onion, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary, finely chopped
Fresh parsley for garnish, optional
*(Otherwise, cut up fresher bread and oven dry it)

And here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the cubed bread in a bowl and set it aside. Pour the chicken broth into a small saucepan and warm it over medium low heat.

In a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula, and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but a couple of teaspoons of the rendered fat.
Add olive oil, butter, onion, and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

Turn off the heat and add the sausage back into the skillet. Then add the bread and herbs, stirring carefully to combine. Add the warm broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to incorporate, until all the liquid is absorbed by the bread. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer your oven-safe skillet to the preheated oven. (If your pan is not oven-safe, transfer the stuffing mixture to a large baking dish.) Bake until the stuffing is slightly browned and crispy on top but not entirely dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Top with fresh parsley, if using. Serve warm.

Yields 6 servings

Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple, right? Well.........not always. I introduced my in-laws to fondant potatoes one year and that preparation became the new “go to” potato dish for several holidays to follow. And roasted potatoes are always a hit, especially when you give them an Italian twist.

PARMESAN AND HERB ROASTED POTATOES

Here's what you need:

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (or your favorite roasting potato), cut into wedges
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Here's what you do:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier cleanup. Place the potatoes in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Toss the potatoes to coat evenly. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with any remaining oil and seasonings from the bowl. Bake for about 10 minutes. (Baking briefly before adding the cheese ensures the potatoes will cook through before the cheese burns.)

Remove pan from the oven, evenly sprinkle with the Parmesan, and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown, fork-tender, and done.

Garnish with parsley before serving. Serve warm.

Serves 4 to 6

For another taste of fall with an Italian flavor, try:

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH PANCETTA

Here's what you need:

2 medium butternut squash
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 very thin slices of pancetta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sugar (optional)

Here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Set the squash on a rimmed baking sheet, cut sides up. Put a piece of butter in each cavity and season generously with salt and pepper. Drape the squash halves with the pancetta slices. Roast the squash for 45 to 50 minutes, or until tender.

Transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain. Crumble and set aside. Scoop the squash flesh out of the skins into a bowl.

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add 2 of the thyme sprigs and the bay leaf. Stir in the squash and the broth and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer the soup for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and puree until thick and creamy-smooth, about 1 minute per batch. (You can also do this with an immersion blender) Transfer the soup to a clean saucepan. Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper (and sugar, if desired).

Ladle into 6 bowls. Garnish the soup with the crisp pancetta, the leaves from the remaining 2 thyme sprigs, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm.

Serves 6

Buon appetito e felice giorno del Ringraziamento!

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