Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giorno del Ringraziamento a.k.a. Thanksgiving

Preparations were most difficult for this beloved American holiday. Italy just isn't made for this sort of country-wide gluttonous feast devoted to the red-wattled gobbler. Thank God for the Native Americans and all their delicious foods that helped the Pilgrims through the harsh winters of the New World.

Fearing to be alone on such a communal feast, we invited our Danish neighbors, with whom we have become quite good friends, to share our Thanksgiving. They were quite excited to be able to come and see a real American Thanksgiving, so we felt that we needed to put together a decent spread. This, of course, required turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, ample gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, bread, and pumpkin pie, at the very minimum. Having only decided 4 days before Thanksgiving that we would be hosting the feast (we were hoping for an invite...but it never came, so we resolved to have our own), I set out looking for the proper ingredients.

But to no avail. The Italians just thought I was crazy. You want a what? A whole turkey? No, no, no; we don't have those. I had resolved that if I couldn't find a whole turkey, which was a very real possibility because I had not ordered one from a butcher several weeks in advance, I would just have to settle for turkey breasts or simply substitute a whole chicken. In the name of authenticity, especially for the sake of our Danish invitees, I opted for turkey, in whatever form I might find it. After trying four stores, I finally found a very, very large turkey breast and equally enormous legs. The turkey they came from must have been an inimitable foul. Mashed potatoes were no trouble except that we had no masher, so I sent Matt out for a handheld blender at the last minute. It worked a little too well, and they ended up being very pureed, kind of like Outback's mashed potatoes. Fortunately stuffing turned out to be a cinch, even though I'd never made it before and couldn't find poultry seasoning anywhere. I had scoured the internet for a recipe that was fairly simple and had a limited number of ingredients, finally deciding on chestnut stuffing. As for green bean casserole. . . well, cream of mushroom soup and French's french friend onions. Rather than trying to make some horrible concoction of substitutes, I simplified it to garlic string beans. At least it's a vegetable, right?

The pie was quite an affair. It certainly would have been easier to do without. But really, can you? I think that second to the turkey, pumpkin pie is most essential. I searched high and low for pureed pumpkin. (I'm beginning to think that Italians have some sort of superstition about the evils of canned food. Maybe it's the temperature change that the vegetables must go through the be put in the can. Other than tomatoes, hardly anything can be found in a can here, and certainly not pumpkin.) Okay, fine. I'll make my own pumpkin puree. Let's see just how Martha-esque I can be out of necessity. I spy the zucca. Now, how much does one need? Which kind? Lost in puzzlement over the three types: two squash looking ones and a more traditional shaped pumpkin, although very white, I call Matt on the phone to see if Google can answer my question. I guess the man next to me understood enough English to eavesdrop, though, because he began to tell me in Italian which pumpkin was best. Being a bit confused, I ask, "For cake?" (Because there's no Italian word for pie.) "Si, si, si," he responds, without seeming even a little ashamed that he heard my conversation. "And the price is better. Get this one." And then he walks away. Very mysterious. So I bought two of the kind he recommended. Whipped cream is also not to be found so I bought a carton of cream. Our Danish friends had told me that you can make whipped cream by shaking heavy cream in a ziploc bag with a coin in it. Brown sugar also does not exist in Italy, so I hoped white sugar will be okay. I stuffed my backpack with turkey, pumpkins, cream, and various spices, hopped on the bus and hauled all my groceries home, ready to begin the big preparations for Thanksgiving.

In short, cooking the food was much easier than finding it. I brined the turkey in a honey-lemon marinade, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it only took up half of our refrigerator. Then I began on the pie. Per internet directions, I had cut the pumpkins in half and placed them fleshy side down on a buttered baking sheet. I had just put them in the oven when my Indian neighbor stopped by with her little boy. Inviting them in, I explained to her that I was just about to make a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving holiday. Since she likes to cook quite a bit herself, she asked if she could watch. Of course, I say. It also dawns on me that she has a little food processor which would solve my problem of how to puree the pumpkin. So we made pie together. Scoop the baked pumpkin out. Strain it--with a t-shirt--several times. Puree it. Continue as normal. Other than being very messy and a bit flat looking (we only had a ten inch metal cake pan), everything turned out perfectly. I ended up with about 3 cups of pumpkin puree left after making the pie, however, so I decided I may as well whip together some pumpkin soup for the occasion. Pumpkin soup really is easy and delicious. Cream and pumpkin and some spice.

Everything else really turned out quite well, although while I was taking the turkey out of the oven my racks began to break and one side of the oven collapsed inward. Rather than panic, however, I took it over to our neighbors and let it cook with the stuffing that was already baking in their oven. The whipped cream also gave me a little trouble. When Andreas, Astrid, and Vilhelm came over, I was in the middle of desperately trying to shake this cream in the ziploc bag with the euro in it into something more solid. Was a euro too much? Should it have been twenty cents instead? Astrid just told me to blow more air in the bag. Oh. Then Andreas offered to take over the shaking. I was only too happy to delegate. Apparently you need to shake hard and fast. We ended up with cream in just a few minutes.

We had borrowed their table and set up a lovely spread in our little apartment. Although, to be honest, I was surprised at how little a Thanksgiving for 4 looked when we set it on a big table. It didn't matter; we set in to our feasting with great delight. I explained what all the foods were and apologized that cranberry sauce was missing. I had scoured the stores for it and could not find cranberries anywhere. They also asked about this Thanksgiving tradition of ours, and we got to tell them about the Pilgrims and their odd outfits, how they were dying of hunger and were given food tips from the Indians on how to survive these dreadful winters. We also told them about how it wasn't made an official holiday until after the Civil War. "Civil War?" they ask, looking confused. "Who fought in the Civil War?" So then we had a little diversion on the history on the enmity of the north and the south, and how Abraham Lincoln reinstated a national day of Thanksgiving for the abundant crops that were still signs of God's mercy. At Thanksgiving we still celebrate our unity and the assistance of the Native Americans. We also give thanks for all our blessings by having a long holiday and eating enormous amounts of food at noontime with dear family. Then we lounge around and watch football or It's a Wonderful Life, we visit, we nap, and then we eat lots of leftovers as soon as we feel you can eat again.

It was really hard to communicate just how lovely Thanksgiving is. We gave thanks for all our family and friends who could not share our skinless turkey breast and flat pumpkin pie with us. We drank many glasses of fine wine for you on this our Italian Thanksgiving.


  1. You are the Thanksgiving goddess. My potato rolls and cheese platter quiver in shame.

  2. Amy, I'm very impressed by your fortitude and success! Christopher and I had pasta, pesto and white wine for our Italian Thanksgiving. Not very traditional *at all.* In my defense, we were also on holiday in the north, staying in a little town without even a restaurant to its name! :o)

  3. I love this post. Having been been the recipient of your hospitality I could envision your entire Thanksgiving meal as it was being made and savored.. Your determination to pull off such a feat despite obstacles at every turn is admirable. That's my daughter!!!