I remember my first Thanksgiving ever away from my family. I was 18, and a foreign exchange student in Switzerland. Thanksgiving Day came and went, and we talked a little about the American holiday, but that was all there was to it. And then on Saturday we went out to dinner at another Swiss family’s house, and when I opened the door I knew it was Thanksgiving. I could just smell it. My host family had quietly planned this dinner with some Swiss friends who had lived in the States, and while it wasn’t “just like home”, it was so heartfelt and recognizable that I was ever so grateful!
So, since this is our first year in Italy over Thanksgiving, we decided it needed to be done right. We invited an Italian couple over to celebrate, and I planned for more than a week on how to pull this off. We wanted to make a good impression of an American tradition for these Italian friends.
I’d like to point out that we live in a town of 7,000 people up in the mountains. We do not have a lot of options when it comes to unusual foods, and I’ve relied on amazon.it and myamericanmarket.com for some ingredients that were simply not to be found when I’m trying to replicate things from the US. Sometimes it’s quite successful. Other times, well, not so much! So I was a bit anxious about the entire process.
Firstly, our kitchen is small. We have an old oven that is not only small, but it just has three settings, and seems quite unreliable. I honestly have no idea what temperature it’s going to be until it finishes heating up. One day setting 3 will be 450˚F, and then next day 300˚F. I purchased an oven thermometer just to try to keep things in check, but roasting a whole turkey was simply out of the question. So, I decided a turkey breast would be good enough. However, every time I was in a butcher shop, all of the turkey breasts were skinned. I’m a turkey skin lover, and the idea of a skinless Thanksgiving turkey was simply out of the question! There is a poultry butcher, and I went there to ask and he said “of course – just drop by the morning you need it and I’ll do it.” So I had intended to go see him, but earlier in the week was at my normal butcher shop and asked the butcher there about skin-on turkey breasts. He said he didn’t have them, but could probably get me one. I mentioned the poultry butcher and he smiled and told me that is his father! After a brief conversation our butcher said that we should come by on Thursday morning. He’d get a turkey breast from his father and we could pick it up there.
So, Thursday morning I went in and there it was a WHOLE 15 POUND TURKEY BREAST! So, we opted to take only half. The butcher then asked if I wanted all of the skin (well d’uh), so he skinned half of the breast while still connected together, and wrapped the remaining skin around the half breast we were buying. He then weighed the skinned breast, because he said he wouldn’t dream of charging me for skin!!!
So here on our table are the fixing for our menu, which consisted of:
- warm artichoke and cheese dip with crackers
- turkey breast
- cranberry sauce
- cornbread sage dressing
- sweet potatoes
- mashed potatoes
- brussels sprouts with pancetta
- nut pie with coffee
Alas, I was too busy cooking most of the day to bother with photographs of the event! You’ll have to take my word for it that it turned out pretty darned good. Other than the mashed potatoes and the brussels sprouts, not one recipe could be prepared without some modification.
The dip was mostly the same, except sour cream really isn’t quite a “thing”. I used plain greek yogurt instead.
As noted above, we ended up with a half turkey breast. I have no idea how large these turkeys are! I know that in the States it is normal for them to sell turkeys “family sized” and for other turkey meat processing they are pretty big. I just know that our 7 pound half turkey breast had easily as much meat as a 20 pound whole turkey 🙂
I looked for fresh red cranberries and came up wanting. So I purchased whole berry sauce from My American Market!
Cornbread Sage Dressing
I’ll point you to my cornbread trials for the basic cornbread. Generally, with good, homemade cornbread in hand, my only big challenge here was the sage. I had to use sage leaves rather than “rubbed” sage. It was still pretty perfect!
We’ve had sweet potatoes a number of times, and each time they were white inside. The Monday of Thanksgiving week I found sweet potatoes with red skin, and asked the merchant if they were white inside. He said they were “yellow”, which I took to mean they were probably the yellow/orange potatoes we know and love. They were white! But they still tasted great.
Not too hard to replicate anywhere! But we don’t have a mixer OR a blender, so I bought a potato ricer. Apparently a potato “masher” was not something our little town’s kitchen supply lady knows about. Now I have a potato ricer. Bonus!
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
No modifications necessary, and the pancetta cost about 1/4 of what I would pay in the US!
This was the biggest worry, and actually, I think it turned out the best! My recipe (very similar to one my Grandmother made for years), called for a 9 inch pie pan. I could find neither a slanted pie pan of any size, nor a cake pan of 9 inches. The 28 cm cake pan I got is the rough equivalent of 11 inches. So, I made the recipe 1-1/2 times the amount. I have no rolling pin! I rolled the pie crust with an empty Prosecco bottle (I knew that would be a handy item, so I make sure I always have one full and one empty on hand!!!). I also bought Karo corn syrup from My American Market. But I was worried that the size of the pan, the “guess work” on the 1-1/2 recipe, and any other number of factors might make it a total flop. It was the star of the evening! For many Americans, this would be a pecan pie. My grandmother used pecans sometimes, but because walnuts were plentiful in the San Joaquin Valley where we lived, more frequently she just used walnuts. So that’s what I’ve always made for myself, and I love it. I think it was a great hit with our friends, as it is the one thing they asked to take home!
So, a very successful Thanksgiving at Casa Zanrè. And we have so much to be thankful for! Joe and I are living a great dream together, and we have a healthy family that we will see next month for Christmas. I hope your Thanksgiving was also a great beginning of the year-end festivities in your lives!