Thanksgiving is the day when family members gather in the kitchen to prepare an incredibly large meal with an array of delicious components, all the while playfully teasing one another and bickering over various family-related foibles. It all culminates in the entire family unit sitting down for an hours-long eating marathon around a long dining-room table—or a makeshift puzzle consisting of a row of smaller tables.
While this is indeed a special day, it sounds like an ordinary Sunday for most Italian-Americans.
The classic Italian-American Thanksgiving meal is very much like any typical turkey day in America. The centerpiece is, of course, a giant turkey weighing in at no less than 20 pounds. The turkey surfaces from either a wet or dry brine, and is dressed with plenty of butter, hunks of aromatics like onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and the holy trinity of turkey seasoning—thyme, rosemary, and sage.
After at least four hours or so roasting in the oven and filling the house with that comforting aroma, the bird emerges and shines with lacre-like golden brown skin, and rests before the ceremonial slicing. In an effort to stave off any unfortunate dryness, the turkey is always accompanied by expertly refined, flavorful gravy made from the turkey’s precious drippings and valuable giblets.
Besides the bird, all the trimmings also make an appearance at an Italian-American Thanksgiving—there’s stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, probably much more.
Putting The ‘Italian’ In ‘Italian-American Thanksgiving’
“Restraint” is definitely not the word one would use to describe an Italian-American Thanksgiving. In fact, the turkey day meal gains pound upon pound of extra weight when it’s prepared in an Italian household. Before the turkey and side dishes even land on the table, an entire Italian feast is served, stuffing guests to near capacity with classical components like pasta, meats, cheeses, and more.
It all begins with antipasti dishes, which kick off the meal with various appetizing offerings. There’s the cured meat category, with a veritable charcuterie board populated by nutty prosciutto, dry-aged capocollo, fatty mortadella, robust soppressata, and other forms of dried Italian sausage featuring beautifully flavorful flecks of fat. These meats are typically paired with a variety of Italian cheeses for the ultimate holiday cheese board. There’s robust and rugged parmigiano-reggiano, firm and salty pecorino, creamy and sweet gorgonzola, fresh and delicate mozzarella, mild and fruity taleggio, along with many other possibilities.
This meat and cheese collection has its own array of surrounding food items. These include multiple styles of olives; a selection of preserved vegetables like roasted bell peppers, aubergines, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms; cold seafood salad; anchovies in olive oil; and more crusty Italian bread than you’d ever think to have on hand at one time.
Some Italian families also include soups during this Thanksgiving antipasti course—like Italian wedding soup or tortellini en brodo.
How Italian Cuisine Factors Into Thanksgiving
When it comes to the main course-type dishes, Italian-Americans are adamant about injecting their own cuisine favorites into Thanksgiving. After all, what’s dinnertime without dishes of baked, cheesy pasta and pots of sauce with meatballs, sausage, and braciole bobbing below the surface?
One of the most common Italian preparations to make its way into Thanksgiving is lasagna. There’s just something about this legendary Italian staple that makes it fit perfectly into the Thanksgiving game plan—perhaps it’s the way the broad, al dente pasta sheets cling to sauce and cheese, while bite-sized pearls of sausage are dotted throughout a baked block of perfection that’s soft in the middle and downright crunchy in the corners.
Other baked Italian favorites that are often enjoyed on Thanksgiving are the tubular and cheese-packed baked ziti, along with ricotta-heavy stuffed shells and manicotti. These baked dishes mark the ideal precursor to the turkey’s grand entrance—but before cutting into the bird, scooping the dishes, and pouring gravy over the top of the entire affair, a decent break in front of the football game on television might be in order.
An Italian Twist On Thanksgiving Favorites
With Italians in the kitchen, chances are you’re not going to see the standard turkey day fare. Instead, Italian-American cooks will put their own traditional spin on the foods we normally enjoy on Thanksgiving. Most prominently is the Italian take on stuffing—which, by the way, is better when prepared in a separate pan rather than stuffed inside of the bird.
Italian stuffing is more rustic, rich, and intense than a typical Italian stuffing—especially compared to that “stuff” in the red box. It’s made with round Italian loaf, cut into rough-hewn cubes that are much bigger than other stuffing variations. It also includes sweet Italian sausage crumbles, which delivers an aromatic kick of fennel and other spices to an already fragrant mix of herbs.
Another side dish that you’re likely to find in an Italian-American home on Thanksgiving is stuffed artichokes. A traditional Italian comfort dish, stuffed artichokes are a staple around the holidays in most Italian homes—and it really doesn’t get more comforting than artichokes stuffed with bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil and cheese for a resulting dish that is cheesy, garlicky, and full of flavor.
Italian-Americans Also Treasure Dessert
Though it might seem impossible that anyone is still hungry after all that, dessert is just as important as the meal itself. And while Italian-Americans bring plenty of pies to the Thanksgiving affair—whether that’s apple, blueberry, chocolate cream or lemon meringue—traditional Italian desserts also make themselves known. Piles of cannoli give way to piles of pignoli and rainbow cookies, while flakey sfogliatelle provide a sweet end to the eating festivities.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an eating event without some strong espresso amped up with sambuca. And when you’re finally ready to call it a night, finish off with a touch of Frangelico or a nice vin santo, perhaps Rivetti Moscato d’Asti La Spinetta, the refreshing apricot-honeysuckle flavored dessert wine that is simply fantastic with pumpkin and apple pie.
Stock Up On Paesana For Thanksgiving!
No matter which Thanksgiving Day course you’re preparing, Paesana has the gourmet products that make the perfect ingredients. With array of pasta sauces and cooking sauces, you’ll have plenty of options for Italian Thanksgiving’s meal before the meal. And with our gourmet array of condiments and olives, you’re guaranteed to fill the antipasti course with delectable and appetizing treats.