Gobble, gobble, gobble…
Thanksgiving is upon us and there is nothing Italian about this very American holiday—well, except that it is a time when families gather together to eat a single meal. In that sense, Thanksgiving is very Italian.
Tacchino (pronounced “tahk-keen-oh”) is the Italian word for turkey and, surprisingly, Italians eat a lot of turkey. I always think of turkey as being a strictly American food and, had I not lived there, I would not have believed that turkey was eaten in Italy. But trust me, it is.
While I was living there, we prepared turkey filets rolled up with prosciutto and sage, sautéed in olive oil before being braised in white wine. Nonna and I also breaded and grilled turkey cutlets. One of the more involved turkey recipes used an entire turkey breast that had been filleted into one large piece. A veal meatloaf mixture was spread across the turkey and six hard-boiled eggs where placed in a line, end-to-end, along the veal. The whole thing was rolled up and tied with butcher’s twine. The rollè was seared and then braised in white wine. When sliced into ½-inch rounds, each piece of the rollè had a bright yellow center (from the egg yolk), ringed in white, surrounded by a dark brown ring of the meatloaf mixture, and then the beautiful white turkey as the outside.
Last year we happened to be in Viterbo with the family on Thanksgiving Day, or what was Thanksgiving Day back in America. We were grilled about what foods were served at this famous American holiday and, since Richard is from Birmingham and I am from Chicago, we each had a different list of the usual Thanksgiving fare. I grew up eating stuffing (cooked inside the bird), broccoli casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, along with pumpkin, apple, chocolate, and lemon meringue pies. Richard’s menu included some of the same, his also had differences: cornbread dressing (cooked outside of the bird), sweet potato casserole, and pecan pies.
Nonna said that sweet potatoes are not available in Italy. In the 1970s she and her husband vacationed in NYC in July and were served a complete Thanksgiving meal by the people they were staying with. Alessandra insisted that we return in Nov 2009 and cook a Thanksgiving meal for them. Nonna said that we’d have to smuggle in the sweet potatoes. I can only imagine how to do get through security with those.
When I called the family in Viterbo four weeks ago to say that we’d be visiting this November, Alessandra was quick to remind me about cooking a turkey with all the trimmings for them. “Marco, I will go get the biggest turkey I can find.”
Yikes!!! Her words unnerved me. The thought of having to whip up Thanksgiving in a foreign country for my “family” terrified me more than having to cook for in-laws.
Considering all of the turkey that is served and consumed in Italy on a daily basis, I assumed that she was serious and that we’d end up spending an entire morning preparing “Thanksgiving.” Luckily, once we arrived in Viterbo, Alessandra informed me that she could not find a whole turkey at any of the local grocery stores. I tend to think the reason for that is that most Italian ovens aren’t big enough to hold a turkey of any considerable size. We were spared having to cook an early Thanksgiving while in Viterbo and I think that was probably a good thing. I’d rather eat Nonna’s cooking over my turkey any day. Although I was thankful not to have been given a turkey to cook, I am feeling now that the experience of serving Thanksgiving to Italians might have been tremendous fun—or quite possibly a major disaster!
I was most thankful for Nonna’s pasta e fagioli alla veneta (pasta and beans) and her pollo di limone (lemon chicken) while we stayed there.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
**I took this photo~ a ceiling fresco in Siena. I thought it looked very “harvest festival.”