Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past, Present, Future and Italian cranberries

If the long post of Italian Thanksgiving tales overwhelm, simply scroll down for the "cranberries in wine" recipe.

This Thanksgiving will start as most of our celebrations do - with a cheese platter. Simple. Although my family had a difficult year, there is much to be thankful for. There always is. Our traditions have evolved over the years and they are evolving now. I am reminded of my Italian-Thanksgivings in New York - when I first brought Paul to meet the Italian family.

Shortly after my marriage to a Minnesotan, I decided he needed to experience a New York City, Italian-American holiday season. We settled on Thanksgiving because it segues into the holidays and New York dresses for the holiday ball.
Thanksgiving Dinner would be at Aunt Fay and Uncle Canteo's - four blocks from where I grew up in the borough of Queens. We arrived about 2 p.m. An assortment of cheeses (provolone, Parmigiano-Reggiano, asiago, gorgonzola and inexplicably some French brie), olives, meats (prosciutto, salame, mortadella) and shrimp was spread out with breadsticks, crackers and breads. And we all ate. Sharp, earthy nutty cheeses imported from Italy. Fat-laden luscious aged salami hand-picked by my aunt from her carefully selected Italian deli. None ate with more vigor than my 6'4" Midwestern husband. I told him to pace himself. But he was in Italian-appetizer heaven. Round 1 of the Thanksgiving Day feast.

Things went well. There were 16 of us. Nobody was late so Aunt Fay hadn't threatened to throw the dinner in the garbage.

Wine and cocktails were freely dispersed and hours later, we sat down to dinner. Out came the ravioli. Round 2 of the Thanksgiving feast flew around the table. Huge squares of plump cheese-stuffed pillows of pasta swimming in an herb-filled, savory tomato sauce. "Did anyone want seconds?" My husband raised his hand. He wondered why nobody else did. An hour later, my husband whispered that although the food was excellent, he had hoped for turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is 4 days away and I haven't yet decided if I will serve pasta. Ravioli is sounding very good - maybe with butter and sage. Or a simple spaghetti. Do you think the red sauce is too much? I may not decide until Thursday morning.
The gargantuan and now empty ravioli platter was whisked away and out came a turkey larger than the wee ones at the table. Lusciously browned and stuffed with savory herbs, sausage and fat-soaked bread cubes. Nobody was terribly hungry but the aromas and appearance of the Thanksgiving turkey whetted appetites. The dining table and sideboard groaned under yams, mashed potatoes, gravies, two types of stuffing, carrots, mushrooms and a proper salad. Round 3.
Everything was devoured. All chatted noisily and then there would be sudden silence - the sound of 16 people chewing. There would be one big swallow and then the clattering chatter would begin anew. Until something new was speared and eaten.
As a newly-minted family member, my husband was passed platters again and again. And he ate - again and again. And finally one could see he was finally caving under the pressure. A small sigh before a bite. A forkful slowly going into his mouth. The eagerness was waning. An Italian feast is not for the faint of heart.
Female cousins cleared the dining room table as male cousins found refuge on the couch. Unable to move, my husband stayed at the table with Uncle Cantaneo while freshly roasted chestnuts appeared. To cleanse the palate? My uncle cracked open a chestnut and presented my husband with the meat. Again and again. After thirty minutes, the chestnuts were consumed. Signalling the start of Round 4.

Last year, the turkey was made with an salted-clementine zest rub. This year, it will either be with a rosemary garlic paste or a thyme-butter rub with ginger gravy. I'm not sure. I may have an entire new idea by tomorrow.

Pumpkin-mascarpone pie. That will happen. Luscious - your all-American scattering of autumn pumpkin pie spices enriched and deepened with some dollops of mascarpone. Find the recipe here. And then there will be a chocolate pecan pie or a cranberry upside down cake or an apple pie or all of them. I'll decide on Wendesday.
As Italian-Americans, Thanksgiving has always been a day to honor America. My grandmother was fiercely proud of her citizenship papers and passed that love to her children. So in honor of America, the stars and stripes and Thanksgiving Day, out came the pumpkin pie, the mince pie and the pecan pie. And because the family is Italian, a ricotta cheese cake, cannolis and other assorted pastries. For sixteen people. Two of whom were under the age of eight. My husband tried everything.
It's a meal I'd love to emulate. But the days of four aunts cooking for a week in the kitchen are now part of our family lore. The excess has been scaled down. Pasta before the turkey dinner is slowly disappearing. But on that Thanksgiving Day, we understood what a true feast was. In the grand Italian tradition, breaking bread together equals love. And we were fed love for years. Even if someone "threatened to cut your heart out" or "throw out the lamb," - we got it. We still do.

Italian Cranberries?

Disclosure: Yes, the photo was taken with a flash. This is November in Minnesota. I may not be able to take a sunny picture until January. When it will be minus fifteen degrees out. I take advice very well if someone wants to help me through my "taking photos of food with a flash" challenge.
Back to the cranberries:
I'm sure you know about all the hidden cranberry bogs in Italy. Or not. When you're determined - you can make almost any recipe Italian. I came upon a recipe from Bon Appetit and played.
Cranberries in Marsala Wine
  • 12 oz bag - WI cranberries or other cranberries
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine

  • 1-1/4 cups sugar

  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (optional - adds extra tartness)

  • 1 tablespoons Pomegranate syrup

  • 2 tablespoons Italian herbs

  • garnish: chopped toasted pecans, lemon zest, orange zest

Stir to dissolve the sugar in the wine. Heat till boiling and boil down to 1 cup, stirring occasionally. (About ten minutes.) Stir in cranberries and pomegranates. Bring to boil and boil till cranberries pop and sauce thickens. (about eight minutes.) Boil down to desired consistency.
Remove from heat and stir in pomegranate syrup and Italian seasoning. Can be made one week ahead. Cover in airtight container and store in fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving. Optional: Top with chopped, toasted pecans or lemon and orange zest.
Future: Just as I adapted from my NYC Thanksgivings of my youth to my Thanksgiving traditions in Minnesota: 2 Thanksgivings
a. Midwestern, chaotic and traditional farm-fare food the afternoon with 18 nieces and nephews followed by
b. a smaller, somewhat Italian one in the evenings ...we adapt again.
`There will be one less person at my dinner table on Thursday who is greatly missed and deeply loved. We will celebrate with turns of merriment and wistfulness. With thanks for all those past Thanksgivings that taught both me and my family the importance of coming together. Gratitude is to be practiced every day.
And continuing with that sentiment, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. May you always have grace and thanks at your table.
`I have been tagged by the lovely and creative Sophie of Sophie Foodiefiles and I will respond after Thanksgiving. After I make up my mind as to the menu (input desired!) and done with the cooking and the dishes are washed and put away and the table is broken down and I am happily writing while sending everyone to the fridge for leftovers.


Proud Italian Cook said...

What a beautiful post Claudia, you certainly have some wonderful holiday memories! I'm like you I still don't know everything I'm making, ( I work good under pressure) Oh yeah there is one thing I know I'm making, your cranberries! I love the marsala and the pom seeds inside! Thank you! Happy Turkey Day Claudia

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I loved reading about the past present and future Thanksgivings in your life, Claudia!

I know exactly how your husband felt eating his first genuine Italian holiday family dinner as I went through almost the same experience on the first holiday I shared at my husband's family on Christmas Eve many years ago! The food never stopped appearing, and one entree was more elaborate and delicious than the next!

I'm sure your Dad will be smiling in heaven as you all remember him this holiday..and he will be present in all your hearts.

Happy menu planning and cooking!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beth said...

What a great story, Claudia. I always enjoy it when you share tales from the past. Traditions change but memories never die.

Unknown said...

What a fantastic journey from past to present and back again! I love hearing about your family. And I love seeing the food you make. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Barbara GF said...

Now you know you are going to make pasta in some form or another for Thanksgiving, Claudia. What's a feast without it? Lovely post; keep those memories near and dear. A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Barbara GF said...

Now you know you are going to make pasta in some form or another for Thanksgiving, Claudia. What's a feast without it? Lovely post; keep those memories near and dear. A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!

chow and chatter said...

adore your blog and the stories the food and all

Have a wonderful thanksgiving

love Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your memories about Thanksgiving with you family! That was a great read! Can't wait to see what you will be making this Thanksgiving. And those cranberries look delightful!

3 hungry tummies said...

It must be fun planning a thanksgiving meal. Red sauce is never too much lol Love the cranberries...very naughty!

Barbara GF said...

That is one delicious-looking cheese platter, Claudia. A perfect way to start a feast. I am passing along a little award for you. Come get it here:

Bo said...

Often I use a small 8x8 mirror or a piece of aluminum to shine extra light on food. I do it even in high light to fill in shadows. In some situations it might help you avoid using a flash.

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

A truly lovely post - I loved hopping back and forth between Thanksgiving, then and now, with you :)

Italians are scary, in the best possible way ;) I would never dare challenge any Italian at the table ROFL

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

Wow its like reading my own post! This is so like what I would write about. Family foods are almost identical, and we would have the same name too! I do think back on all those foods between grandma and mom would make, and its always enough to feed most of NY! So different times are now. But I wished I had seen your Cranberry sauce before making my traditional one I would have loved to tried this, maybe Christmas. This sounds amazing. I make mine with Amaretto, posting soon. I just love your Clementine Turkey last year, and your pumpkin pie is outstanding! I want some!!!! I am not cooking anything this year, the hubby is going to fry our first Turkey talk about fat and cholesterol content omg! Happy Thanksgiving Claudia, this made me feel so good to read this, feels like at least someone out there can relate to past gatherings that were amazing like these memories!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What great Thanksgiving memories. Everyone must have an Aunt Fay somewhere in their family. That gave me a real smile this morning.

Love the idea of using Marsala in the cranberry sauce. I don't understand why anyone would ever buy the canned stuff when cranberry sauce is so easy to make.

Happy Thanksgiving Claudia.

Anne said...

This post was so interesting and very timely about your Thanksgiving Feast then and now. Just last night, a friend and I were talking about what was eaten on at The First Thanksgiving Feast. They had No Turkey, but fish, mussels, clams, and eel.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a loving bow to your heritage. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I love your "Italian" cranberries. They are almost as delicious as your humor, Claudia, I hope you and all you love have a wonderful holiday. We, all of us, have much to be thankful for. Hugs and blessings...Mary

Torviewtoronto said...

delicious pictures of the meal

Kim said...

Your post put a huge smile on my face this morning as I read on and on about all the food your husband consumed at his first Italian Thanksgiving. Sounds like quite a feast and I'm sure I would've ate it all just as he did:) Sounds like you have some wonderful memories and so much to be thankful for (past, present, and future). I know your Dad will be there in spirit and wish you and your family the a wonderful Thanksgiving full of love and laughter!

P.S. Pumpkin mascarpone pie- wow! I need to have that in my life.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...


Loved this post, you could be describing my family, makes me happy!

I say make the pasta, you only live once, right!

I heard a tip about diffusing the flash with a napkin, haven't tried it yet, but I think we will all need to do something soon.

Hope you and your family have A Very Happy Thanksgiving!

Audra said...

I love the part about your Grandmother and her love for her new country. The feast does sound like a legendary one. Happy Thanksgiving!

UrMomCooks said...

Enjoyed ur Thanksgiving post immensely! How nice that blogging connects us with lovely people and their stories at the touch of a button! And in the end, combine it with a little food and that's what it is all about!!!

joe@italyville said...

We overdo it don't we Claudia? but we sure know HOW to overdo it the right way!! At my house we repeat the same thing every year... "this year I'm going to pace myself." too bad it never works. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Mister Meatball said...

You haven't yet decided if you'll serve pasta?


I'm having a heart attack.

But seriously, folks. Have a lovely day, and season.


Wanda..... said...

I vote for your having ravioli, Claudia...I fix a spinach ravioli on Thanksgiving for my grandsons without any sauce, just olive oil, parmesean cheese and parsley!

Happy Thanksgiving...enjoyed your post!

Juliana said...

Claudia, such a nice post :-) Thanks for taking time to write cute and touching.
Now the cranberries in marsala wine looks awesome...even with the flash ;-)


What a fun post and fabulous history lesson! I love hearing about all the traditions!

Julie said...

I enjoyed so much reading about your traditions, and I'm also quite intrigued by the clementine rub. Hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Reeni said...

You described our past Thanksgivings perfectly - and almost every other holiday! We have scaled way down too and when I think of it I don't know how I managed to eat all that food as a kid! The story of your husband is real funny - did you roll him home that night? Wishing you and your family a lovely Thanksgiving! *HUGS*

La Bella Cooks said...

I adore your stories. You have an interesting life and family that sound like a blast. Wishing you the best this Thanksgiving.

Valerie said...

Okay, did I miss it? How many cups of cranberries do you use? It's not like we're having traditional (home made chicken egg rolls and hot and sour soup; chocolate/raspberry french silk for dessert)

Monet said...

Hi dear,
I love hearing about your past Thanksgiving and your plans for the present. My husband's family is Italian, and I still remember how surprised I was to see stuffed shells on the Thanksgiving table! Thank you for sharing with me...I hope you have a wonderful week of feasting, friends and family!

Claudia said...

Thank-you Valerie - you didn't miss it! I am in my cooking-unconcious mode - it's one 12-ounce bag of cranberries. (Like giving a recipe fior mashed potatoes without the potatoes). Edited the cranberries in the cranberry recipe. Whew.

Quay Po Cooks said...

I love reading about the tradition and thanks for sharing your story. I want to wish you and your family a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving!

Angie's Recipes said...

Claudia, thank you so much for sharing your memories about Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Dimah said...

What a sweet post! Thank you for sharing!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! :)

Magic of Spice said...

Lovely post...and the Italian cranberry sauce is delightful :)
I hope you and your family have a most wonderful Thanksgiving...

Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina said...

What a WONDERFUL story, Claudia! Are you still in Minnesota? I will be in Iowa for the holiday and am mentally trying to prepare for the temperature difference! I LOVE these recipes that you shared and only wish that I could make the Italian cranberries . . . maybe for Christmas, since this week I am the guest of my sister (who isn't too bad of a cook, but I don't want to tell her which recipes she should make LOL!!!)

Have a lovely Thanksgiving Claudia with your family !

Ciao, Roz

FOODESSA said...

You are as authentic as they come Claudia! Playing around with recipes to making them somewhat Italian is incredibly funny to me because I tend to do the same. LOL. It's always difficult for me to imagine at least a tinch of Italian ingredients to make the recipe just right ;o)

Fun much to be grateful for and it seems that you certainly have your heart on your sleeve ;)...which only makes your dedication to good eating that much more powerful.

Happy Thanksgiving and flavourful wishes,

Emily Malloy said...

Thanksgiving is simply the best!

Thanks for sharing your story! Absolutely lovely :-)

Jeannie said...

Whatever you've decided to cook, I am sure they will be eaten with gusto! All your dishes look so delicious and of course your past and present stories are really enjoyable too. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving Claudia:D

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I hope you and your family have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving, Claudia

Biz said...

I think pasta would be great! I actually have some gravy cooking up on my stove as we speak! :D

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jen_from_NJ said...

My best friend from high school is from a large Italian-American family raised in New York City. WOW could they celebrate the holiday right - I was just amazed and thought that we were done after the pasta course. Reading your post reminded me of how much fun I had celebrating Thanksgiving with them. I felt like part of the family. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

I don’t have here Thanksgiving but you have it so Happy Thanksgiving Claudia :)
Cranberries in Marsala wine are to die for!

All the best,


fromBAtoParis said...

I loved your memories and the contrast "past vs present"...AND your pumpkin tiramisu !!!
Have a great day with your family!!

Chef Dennis Littley said...

you take me back to my first Italian Thanksgiving, where platter after platter came out with an assortment of pasta, smelts and salads. I was very happy with all the food, but a little disappointed there had not been turkey.....well, when the turkey did come out and after being so stuffed I could barely move, I realized just how much I loved Italian food...sigh.....Now I pace myself!
Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories and for sparking mine!

theUngourmet said...

I don't believe I've ever had pasta for Thanksgiving but I must say the Ravioli does sound like a great idea!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sutapa said...

Happy Thanksgiving!
Enjoyed your past memories and your present stories thanks for sharing your precious moments!

Kristen said...

What wonderful memories. I cannot imagine the sheer amount of food that must have graced those tables of Thanksgiving past. I'd have wanted to have a little bit of everything, but probably would have been too stuffed after round 2 to even try the later foods. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

tasteofbeirut said...

Happy memories around food! Interesting to meld two cultures. Love the description of meals.
This cranberry sauce is one I have not seen before and sounds delicious and unusual. To remember for next time.

Megan @ Foodalution said...

Hi Claudia! Love this post... you write amazing stories... they always captivate. And I just love hearing about the Italians aunties in the up a storm - makes me smile.