Countdown to Thanksgiving, Richly Flavored Turkey Stock Basics

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My sister, niece, and paternal cousins have been reminiscing about the Italian-American food traditions of our childhood, and especially holiday traditions. We all recall that my father made the best turkey gravy ever–none of that pale yellow sauce. He created a rich, deep brown, full-flavored, savory, silky smooth gravy every time! He made his base stock from scratch. My dad was a very hard-working man with professional responsibilities, and he and mom were raising five children. But, this did not prevent him from taking over the kitchen frequently and cooking fantastic meals from scratch. I think that it was his real passion. He came from a family and a cultural tradition of creating handmade food from fresh, seasonal ingredients. and he believed in “the right” techniques. So, I come by my food philosophy honestly, learning by osmosis from my dad and then from other experiences.

The day prior to Thanksgiving, dad would brown turkey parts in his largest stock pot–remember those Silver Seal Dutch ovens that every family of the 1950s bought from door-to-door salesman?
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Dad used the largest oval Dutch oven to brown the turkey parts, add vegetables, aromatics and water, and then simmered it for hours. The aroma would waft through the entire house, and dad would eventually chop up any gibbets and meat finely to add to his stuffing and the gravy. If we were lucky he’d smile and offer us a nibble. He always had plenty of stock to make gravy, to baste the turkey, and to flavor and moisten the stuffing before he tucked it into the turkey. He was a master at making roux, which accounted for his silky smooth gravy. So, I learned some important basics from dad.

One of the tricks that I learned somewhere along the way in my culinary adventures, is to brown the turkey parts, carrots and onions in the oven at a high temperature, which provides caramelization and brown fond on the bottom of the baking tray. When that tray is deglazed with white wine, it provides the basis for rich stock color and flavor. Here is my basic Homemade Turkey Stock recipe.

Homemade Turkey Stock

Makes approximately 4 cups of stock

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F

Ingredients
Olive oil to coat the turkey pieces and vegetable chunks
Several pounds of fresh turkey parts–backs, necks, wings (in my case, parts were scarce, and I settled for 3 pounds of legs)
1/2 pound turkey giblets (hearts, gizzards, livers)
1 pound of carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
2 large sweet onions, scrubbed, quartered
3 ribs celery with leaves, cut into large chunks
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons peppercorns (I used the blend of green, black and pink)
2 large bay leaves
a few sprigs each of fresh parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme if you have it.
1 cup white wine
slosh brandy
5 cups cartooned turkey stock.

Method

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You will need a large rimmed baking tray and a 5 quart stock pot good for slow cook method.
Coat the turkey parts and carrots and onions with olive oil and place on the baking tray.
Roast for 30 minutes at 475, until you see lots of browning action and brown fond on the bottom of the tray.
While the turkey parts are browning, place the cut up celery, giblets, herbs and seasonings into the stockpot.

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Add the turkey parts and vegetables to the stockpot.
Place the baking tray over tow burners on medium-high heat and add a slosh of brandy and then 1/2 cup dry white wine to deglaze the pan. Scrap up the brown fond carefully with a wooden spoon, bubbling it over the heat for just 2-3 minutes.
Carefully, pour the liquid into the stockpot.
Add the cartooned turkey stock or water and stir.

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Bring the pot to just a boil and lower to simmer.
Simmer for abut 1 and 1/2- 2 hours.

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Cool, ad then skim any excess fat off.
Remove the turkey parts and the vegetable chunks to a large bowl.
Strain the stock into a large container with a lid that seals. Refrigerate.
Strip and chop finely the turkey meat and the giblets, if you like them, and save in a sealable storage bag to add to your gravy or stuffing/dressing, if you like.

This method produces a very concentrated, rich-in-turkey flavor, so when you reheat it on Thanksgiving Day to baste and to moisten and flavor your dressing, you can add some additional cartooned stock if you need to do so to have the amount that you need. Just choose the best quality stock that you an source.

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On Thanksgiving Day, when I roast the turkey, I always add a mound of chunks of carrot and onions beneath the turkey, as well as some wine, which then creates some additional stock as the turkey roasts. Some liquid in the roasting pan aids in keeping the turkey moist, as well. While my turkey rests, I will make a nice brown roux with butter and flour in order to thicken my gravy to the desired consistency. But, you will have to wait until the evening of Thanksgiving Day for my post about the Roast Turkey with Sage, and all of the trimmings! My husband is currently snacking on the carrots and celery that were strained out of the stock!

Readers, please share your favorite tips for roasting succulent turkey, for creating a great gravy or memorable side dishes! You can use the Comments box below!

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: An Autumn-in-Italy Inspired Mushroom Soup

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Autumn in Italy! This is season of the grape harvests for wine, of “zucca.” or pumpkins and winter squashes, of sweet chestnuts, and of mushrooms and truffles. In October, you can smell the sweet, fragrant chestnut trees and you can pick beautiful brown chestnuts up from the wide tree-lined path as you stroll the rampart of the old wall that surrounds Lucca in Tuscany. In October-November, in Central Italy–Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany–the hunt is on for mushrooms, “funghi,” of many varieties. Imperial mushrooms, chanterelles, morels, oyster mushrooms. and a variety of white mushroom that has more flavor than the white button, which is the most common type that we find in our American supermarkets. This is the time for the porcino, that much-loved, delicately earthy-flavored mushroom that begins appearing in pasta dishes, risotto, in soups. We often find porcini dried in packets, and they are very flavorful when reconstituted. Then, there are the exquisite, other-worldly white and black truffles, hunted out by dogs or pigs, with certain regions and towns renowned for their truffles, such as Norcia in Umbria for “tartufo,” or truffle.

My introduction to mushrooms was by my Italian-American father, who loved to sauté then in butter, sprinkle in fresh parsley and then top a inexpensive cut of steak to feed our family of five children. Thanksgiving Day Capon, which is preferred to Turkey by Italians, appeared stuffed with dad’s Italian sausage stuffing, which contained chopped mushrooms. We were a working class family, so there were no expensive morels, porcinis, no truffles! My introductions to the world’s variety of mushrooms and the flavor of truffles came as my husband and I travelled the regions of France and Italy, and returned home to search for markets to source mushroom varieties beyond the white button and portabellas.

However, so many varieties remain out of reach price-wise for so many people, and prepared properly, the common white button mushroom can pack a lot of great earthy flavor. When I decided to test some mushroom soup recipes, I decided that while I might splurge for a small package of porcini, I would otherwise limit my selection of mushrooms to white button and baby portabellas for the sake of economy. I also decided that, given the amount of cream, butter and animal fat that goes into Thanksgiving Day dinner, that I would try a mushroom soup that was not made with heavy cream. I came upon a recipe by Jamie Oliver, The Real mushroom Soup retrieved from jamieoliver.com today.

This soup is a darker, deeper, richer mushroom soup that uses reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, red onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, lemon zest and stock, with a small addition of mascarpone to intensify the earthy flavor. When plated, it is served with a drizzle of truffle oil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. This is an amazing soup!

Two cook’s tips: It is good to have a digital scale for cooking and baking. This recipe called for 600 grams of mushrooms. I selected a bowl, placed it on the scale, zeroed out its weight, and added mushrooms until I had 600 grams. Second tip is to simply brush off mushrooms with a mushroom brush to clean. As an alternative, you can wipe them with a damp paper towel, changing the towel as needed. Do not peel or wash them in water.

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The Real Mushroom Soup, recipe by Jamie Oliver, jamieoliver.com, retrieved today and paraphrased by me here
Serves 6 first course servings
Ingredients
1 ounce dried porcini
3 Tablespoons olive oil
600 grams mushrooms total (I used half white button, half baby bellas, all sliced, but you can use any combination that you like)
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 red onion, finely diced
1 handful fresh thyme leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried thyme leaves
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 handful (bunch) fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 heaping soup spoon mascarpone cheese
zest of one lemon and juice of 1/2 lemon
Truffle oil (I used Kalamazoo Olive Company White Truffle Oil)

Method

Soak the porcini in 1 cup boiling water, just enough to cover the porcini, and leave to soak.
Heat a 5 quart soup pot and add 3 Tablespoons of oil to start.
Add the sliced mushrooms and stir, cooking over medium high heat for just a few minutes, until the mushrooms give off their liquid.
Add the diced onion and the garlic and stir.
Add salt, pepper, thyme.
Add the porcini, half of it chopped and half left in whole slices.
Strain the porcini soaking liquid and add to the pot, along with a 1/2 cup dry sherry or marsala, my touch.

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Cook for 20 minutes, or until most of the moisture has evaporated.
Add the stock, and cook for 20 minutes more.
Use your immersion blender to puree the soup, leaving some large slices of mushrooms and small bits of mushrooms.
Add the parsley and lemon zest.
Add the mascarpone and stir well.
I added just 1 Tablespoon very cold butter and stirred it into the soup to give it a glossy appearance.
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Take a look at Jamie’s plating suggestions. I think that a grilled small slice of baguette, topped with browned mushrooms and parsley would make a great garnish. I used a shallow bowl, and I drizzled a bit of lemon juice into the center of the bowl, as he suggested, and I drizzled the soup with white truffle oil.

This is not a cream of mushroom soup. This is light but rich, earthy, with decadent flavor from the porcinis, the Marsala and the truffle oil. The parsley and thyme complement mushrooms so well! The lemon zest and juice just add a spark, brightness–not too much acid or citrus flavor. This is a luxurious soup, yet light and perfect for an Autumnal first course, or as a meatless meal, accompanied by a mixed green salad, crusty bread and some good cheese! Perhaps a glass of Pinot Noir!

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Readers, I would love to hear about your favorite mushrooms and mushrooms dishes; and, do you think truffle oil is worth the price? Please use the Comments box below.

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: Winter Squash Velvet Soup

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One of my favorite seasonal ingredients to cook with is the family of winter squashes. They are colorful, have a warm and slightly sweet flavor, are nutritious and are very flavorful. Winter squashes actually begin appearing in late summer and are bountiful in the markets through December. There are many varieties–the pale skinned Butternut squash, the deep blue-green Hubbards from New England, the deep green skinned or golden orange Acorns, and many others. The winter squashes and pumpkins are original to South America, and were introduced to North America by Columbus. Eventually, they appeared in Western Europe.

“Zucca,” which includes pumpkins and winter squashes in Italy, and “Potiron,” or pumpkins and squashes in France, are grown in various regions and in many varieties. In the Piedmont, or “Piemonte” region of Italy, Parma and Ferrara are famous for their very sweet and moist winter squashes, which appear as fillings in tender pasta pillows, ravioli, or in Cappellacci, or “little hats.” They may appear in a soup, or even in a sweet, such as a Pear-Butternut Squash Ginger Crumble. In Italian cuisine, you will find pasta sauces made with “zucca,” or risotto with tender cubes of butternut squash. In French cuisine, you may find “potiron” in soups or in gratins.

This year, I wanted an alternative to the ubiquitous Pumpkin Soup for holiday gatherings. I found a wonderful recipe by Chef Jacques Pepin, in his cookbook, More Fast Food My Way. His Velvet Soup is a savory soup made from Butternut Squash. I had a beautiful Butternut Squash on hand, with its pale golden skin and orange flesh. But, I also found an intriguing organic Red Kuri Squash at mu local Italian market, Mazzaro’s. It looked like a misshapen pumpkin but with a very deep orange exterior. It is a very hard squash, very difficult to peel or dice, so I halved it and roasted it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until the halves were collapsing. Once I tasted the very flavorful, deep orange flesh, I decided to use half Butternut and half Red Kuri Squash to make Chef Pepin’s Butternut Squash Velvet Soup!

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Butternut Squash Velvet, original recipe by Jacques Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, recipe paraphrased by me here, and slightly adapted

Yields 5-6 cups or 4 servings
Ingredients

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 cups peeled, cubed Butternut Squash (I used 3 cups and I used the roasted flesh of one medium size Red Kuri Squash)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional–it actually tastes fabulous without, so you decide)

Method

Roast the Red Kuri Squash halves cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until they are collapsing. Cool so that the flesh can be handled.
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Peel and cube the Butternut Squash.
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Clean and slice the leeks, white and light green parts, removing the tough dark green leaves.
Dice the onion.
Place the butter, oil, leeks and onion in a medium size soup pot and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, a few minutes.
Add the squashes and cook just to heat.
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Add the stock, salt, pepper, herb, and bring to a boil.
Simmer for 12-15 minutes until the Butternut Squash is very tender.
Use your immersion blender to blend the soup into a thick, creamy texture. You can use your blender, taking care to work in batches and to use the lid of the carafe.
Taste and adjust seasonings and decide whether you wish to enrich it with the heavy cream. We loved it without.

This soup is richly flavored with the warm and somewhat spicy flavor of the squashes. The Red Kuri Squash is more richly flavored than Butternut, so I loved its contribution to the soup. The texture is very smooth and creamy and thick, even without the addition of heavy cream. Absolutely a knock-out!

I tried several options for garnish. I cut a triangular piece of Italian bread, brushed it with olive oil and then dipped it in finely chopped parsley. At my husband’s astute suggestion, I crisped a piece of prosciutto and topped a bowl of soup with it. The crisp texture and smoky, salty, porky flavor were an amazing complement to the soup. For one bowl, I drizzled some heavy cream on top and sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg to stir in as you taste, another great flavor addition. Finally, I garnished one bowl simply with fresh chives, standing at attention like little soldiers in the thick soup–lovely, mild onion fragrance and pretty color contrast!
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Check out your local markets and explore the various varieties of winter squash while they are abundant. If you are looking for a richly flavorful Autumn soup, this is it!

Readers, share your favorite Fall and Winter soups and your experiences with this recipe if you try it. I’d love to hear about any winter squash varieties that you love and your favorite preparations!

Countdown to Thanksgiving Day: Talking Technique, Elegant, Succulent Crown Roast of Pork!

THANKSGIVING CROWN ROAST OF PORK

Not every family loves turkey as we do; and, even we have had years when we simply wanted something different for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Last year, we found that we were in the mood for succulent, savory pork. I had experienced an unevenly cooked, dry in some places stuffed crown roast of pork, so I was fascinated to learn about a technique from America’s Test Kitchens that promised perfect results. The technique works, so I report it to you today, so that you may decide to make one of these impressive, dramatic roasts for Thanksgiving Day dinner or for another holiday.

Crown Roast of Pork is actually two bone-in pork loin roasts tied together, and its form presents a cooking conundrum. Roasted chine bone up, the heat circulates unevenly, causing some areas to be undone and others overcooked. So, after reviewing America’s Test Kitchens’ instructions and the viewpoints of other cooking professionals, here is my preparation technique.

Roasted Crown Roast of Pork with Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

1- 8 to 9 pound crown roast of pork, chine bones “frenched” by the butcher (this is about 14 chops when carved)
5 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt
Pepper
Several large carrots, scrubbed and chopped in large chunks, a few ribs of celery in large chinks, and a sweet onion, quartered

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and place a rack in the center of the oven
Rub the roast all over with oil, garlic, herbs and salt and pepper.
Place the roast chine bones down into a roasting pan.  Yes, it is standing upside down from its serving position!
Under the cavity, you can place some chopped carrots, onion and celery just to add some flavor.
Roast the pork at 425 for 15 minutes, and then lower the temperature to 375.
Continue roasting, basting occasionally with a dry white wine, until a thermometer inserted in a thick portion of meat registers 150.
Remove the roast to a platter, chine bone up and cover with foil.

Roasted Potatoes

I like the change from a bread-based stuffing to savory, crisp, petite roasted potatoes, which are placed within the crown prior to serving.

Ingredients
3 pounds petite red skinned potatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Method
Toss the potatoes, scrubbed, dried and whole in a large bowl with just 2 Tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and rosemary.
Roast for about 45 minutes during the last 45 minutes of  roasting time for the pork.
The potatoes should be tender but have a crisp exterior.

To serve, fill the cavity of the crown with the roasted potatoes, and place those that do not fit around the platter.

White Wine-Dijon Sauce

If you would like to create a quick pan sauce to serve with this roast, then place the roasting pan over the range, remove the vegetables that were tucked under the roast,
Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons butter.  Add 2 Tablespoons flour, and cook, stirring around the pan for 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup dry white wine, and stir continuously for 2-3 minutes.
Add 1 cup chicken stock and 1 heaping soupspoon of Dijon mustard, stirring until smooth, thickened and hot.
Season as needed with salt and pepper, and perhaps a bit of fresh sage.
Taste–you can add just a quick slosh of heavy cream if you would like to enrich the sauce.

Served the sauce on the side for guests to drizzle over their chop.

THANKSGIVING CROWN ROAST OF PORK

Garnish the serving platter simply with fresh sage and rosemary leaves, or, use a larger platter and garnish with orange slices or orange halves with the flesh scooped out and replaced with cranberry sauce. This will easily serve 12 persons.

We found that this technique did yield evenly and perfectly cooked, moist and savory Crown Roast of Pork. Go to your trusted butcher, and make certain that the roast is properly tied and the chine bones attractively “frenched.” We did not miss turkey last year!

So, what will it be for your Thanksgiving Day dinner this year? The traditional Roast Turkey and trimmings, or Crown Roast of Pork, or? I would love to hear about your menu choices for this year, so speak to me using the Comment box below!

 

 

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Savory Rice Dressing with Fruits and Nuts

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My father loved Thanksgiving Day. it was a day of large family gatherings, and he loved to prepare a huge Roast Turkey, or perhaps a Capon, and he made a legendary Italian Meat Stuffing! It contained sweet Italian sausage, ground beef, chopped prosciutto, chopped turkey giblets, garlic, onion, pecorino romano cheese, parsley–a highly unusual stuffing. He sometimes prepared a more traditional bread stuffing, moist with turkey stock, which he made from scratch, savory with onions, celery, parsley, mushrooms, Italian sausage, and that famous Bell’s Poultry seasoning.

Through the years, I have made many variations of Thanksgiving Day staffing or dressing, most often made with good quality bakery breads, cubed and dried in the oven, onions and leeks, celery, sage flavored sausage balls, parsley and sage, and for my special touch–diced dried apricots soaked in brandy. I have also made a traditional bread-based dressing with chopped roasted chestnuts. I ventured into Southern cuisine territory one year and prepared a dressing made with homemade cornbread and pecans. But, there are times that my menu is such that I want a lighter dressing, not meat-heavy, and not bread-based. The following is a recipe that I tested for a Savory Rice Dressing with Fruits and Nuts, and it is very flavorful, light, and is very versatile for those who like to put their own stamp on a recipe!

Savory Rice Dressing with Fruits and Nuts

Served 8
Ingredients
2 cups Royal Blend Red and Brown Rice with Barley and Rye (you can really use tour favorite rice blend)
5 cups stock, vegetable or turkey
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sweet onions, chopped coarsely
1 large leek, cleaned, sliced
4 ribs of celery, diced
8 ounces portabella mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1 cup fresh cranberries
3 small sweet apples (I used honeycrisp), cored and chopped into a small dice
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch allspice
1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley, shopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
zest of 3 oranges
juice of one orange

Method

Heat the olive oil and butter in a 12 inch, deep skillet over medium heat.
Add the onions and leeks and sauté until the onions are a bit transparent and the leeks well wilted but not brown.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the celery and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.
Add the orange juice, zest, cranberries, chopped apple, raisins, and herbs/spice.
Cook only a few minutes until the cranberries begin to pop and the apples are a bit tender but still have some crunch.
Set aside.
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Cook the rice according to package instructions, using the rice and stock, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice can be fluffed with a fork.
Toss the cooked rice with the fruit, vegetable and herb mixture and add the salt and pepper and the nuts. You can keep the dressing warm in a casserole, adding a bit of hot turkey stock as need prior to serving.

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This dressing has the nutty flavor of brown and red rice and walnuts, tartness of the cranberries, sweetness of apple and raisins, the savory flavors of sage, parsley and onion, the crunch of celery, and the fragrance of fresh orange juice and zest. You can keep it strictly vegetarian by using vegetable stock. If you would like to add a meat, either cooked sage flavored sausage or chopped prosciutto work well and add a bit of salty, porky flavor, which, I find, some people crave in their dressing!

Readers, please share your favorite dressing ideas, or your experiences with this recipe by using the Comments box below! Did you use diced dried figs instead of raisins? Chopped pears instead of apples?

Thanksgiving Day Memories of an Italian-American Family, and a Preview of Our Menu

 

 

 

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As we approach Thanksgiving Day, I have been chatting with my youngest sister, my niece, and two cousins–the daughters of my father’s much-loved sister– about our memories of Thanksgiving Days past and family and holiday food traditions. I think about the current political maelstrom about immigration and about my paternal grandfather as a 9 year old child, traveling to Rome in a cart pulled by a mule, in order to take a train to Genoa and to then board a ship bound for New York. His parents, Angelo and Michelina, already established in New York, were sending for their children as they could afford to do so. Twin children Louise and Lisa and Nancy perished in an earthquake in 1915 that destroyed their town. Angelo and Michelina must have come to this country, accompanied or followed by many other family members, seeking a better life. Surely, they contributed to the very rich fabric of this country during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries–to commerce, to cuisine, to culture, to the arts, and to the soul of this country.

My grandfather, Ambrose, arrived in New York in 1897, eventually married Assunta, also an émigré from Italy and my namesake (Assunta is Italian for Susan), and labored in stone production companies and factories until he retired and could farm as his ancestors had done in Italy. Most of my memories of my grandfather come from the time that he lived on his farm, when we visited and marveled at his beautiful garden and orchard. I remember him with deep olive skin that tanned easily from his hours spent in the garden, and as having a gruff exterior but a kind heart. He had an incredible gift for growing vegetables, but he always reserved the first row of the garden for cornflower blue bachelor buttons! My cousins and I have memories of sitting between the rows in Grandpa’s garden, eating plum tomatoes, carrots and shucked peas

My grandfather raised my father and my father’s sister following the premature death of his wife, Assunta. My father and his sister grew up to become very hard-working, family-oriented people and incredible cooks, who preserved Italian-American family and food traditions. On Thanksgiving Day, we gathered with a large extended family, including my aunt’s husband’s Italian family. Conversations were punctuated with Italian language, and we giggled as children at the words we were not supposed to know. The tables were always laden with Italian specialties, as well as those dishes that Americans consider traditional for Thanksgiving. The meal might begin with an antipasto–a platter of salami, sharp and stinky Italian table cheese, marinated vegetables and olives. Then, there might be a primi piatti, or first course, serving of Aunt Val’s Eggplant Parmigiana, or Dad’s Manicotti.

Then, it was on to the traditional roast turkey, although the stuffing was my dad’s rather famous Italian stuffing made with Italian sausage, ground beef, chopped prosciutto, pecorino romano cheese, chopped turkey giblets, parsley–amazing flavor. The sides and desserts were American traditional foods, with plenty of good vegetables and cranberry sauce. Dad’s sister made a spectacular Pineapple Cream Pie, as well as the usual Pumpkin Pie. The adults ate in the formal dining room, and the kids gathered around the large kitchen table in my aunt’s gambrel-roofed, old farmhouse-style home. There was always wine, and Grandpa always had an after dinner cigar. The kids typically retired to play board games or to put on musical shows!

Over the next few days, I will share with you some Italian-American and traditional family favorite recipes, as well as some alternatives for those who like to shake things up and create new traditional favorites. As I do so, I am giving thanks for my Italian and French family ancestors, for enriching my life and for adding their vibrant colors to the tapestry of this country.

Here is how our Italian-American Thanksgiving Day Feast menu is shaping up:
Antipasti
Fonduta, a traditional Italian hot cheese dip from the Piedmont region, made with Fontina Valle d’Osta cheese, served with toasted Rosemary Bread Cubes
Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Italian Sausage
Crostini with Roasted Pears, Point Reyes Bleu Cheese and Pear-Cinnamon Balsamic Drizzle

Prosecco for this course

Entrée
Roast Turkey Breast with Sage and Dad’s Italian Meet Dressing, with Gravy and Cranberry-Blackberry Sauce

Sides
Julia Child’s Potato Gratin Dauphinois
Sis’s Sweet Potato Soufflé
Glazed Carrots
Green Bean Bundles in Bacon, with Caramelized Onions

Pinot Noir

Desserts
Pumpkin-Chocolate Tiramisu (by special request from my niece!)
Apple Crisp with Brandied Apple Sauce and Caramel Gelato
Sweet Potato Tart with Pecan Butter Crust

Coffee and Tea

Readers, share some of your favorite childhood memories of Thanksgiving below in the Comments box. I would love to hear them!

Thanksgiving Day Breadbasket: Orange Cranberry Walnut and Brandied Applesauce Spice Quick Breads

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The tradition of creating a Thanksgiving Day bread basket is one of my favorites. I realize that the current trend is to reduce one’s intake of refined carbohydrates, which includes breads, but Thanksgiving is a holiday, and occasional indulgences in moderation are a pleasurable thing. I enjoy putting together a basket with a variety of savory and sweet breads, yeast breads and quick breads. When I know that I am creating a particularly bountiful basket, I may elect to make a lighter, nutritious, non-bread-based stuffing or dressing. The next post features a recipe for a very savory red and brown rice, barley and rye dressing with fruits, nuts and herbs.

After making a few yeast breads–which I love to do, but let’s face it, they are time-consuming and labor-intensive–I love to make a few easy but flavorful quick sweet breads. Homemade quick breads are distinctively different than those usually found at the supermarket bakery, which are often overly sweet, artificially flavored and very cake-like in texture. Homemade quick breads should have an initial crunch as you bite through the exterior, and should then have a moist, light, craggy interior. They can be prepared with all natural ingredients, some of which are sweet, so the sugar can be reduced.

Two of my favorites are Brandied Applesauce Spice Bread and Orange-Cranberry-Walnut Bread. The batters for these breads take just minutes to prepare, and within 50-60 minutes, you have two loaves of each flavor and a wonderfully fragrant kitchen! You can use all organic ingredients, as I did, but the important thing is to use the best quality ingredients that you can source that are compatible with your individual food philosophy.

Orange-Cranberry-Walnut Bread, adapted from a recipe on chow.com retrieved on 11/10/2014
Makes 2 9 x 5 loaves

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour (I used organic, unbleached)
2 cups granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 medium organic oranges
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fine salt
1 and 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
4 Tablespoons unsalted butte, melted and additional to coat each pan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure orange extract
1 and 1/2 cups fresh whole cranberries
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, your preference

Method

Butter 2 – 9 x 5 inch loaf pans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place a rack in the center of the oven
Melt the 4 Tablespoons of butter and set aside.
Whisk all of the dry ingredients together, items 1-6, in a large mixing bowl to evenly distribute the ingredients and to avoid clumps.
Whisk together the wet ingredients and eggs in another bowl just briefly, and then add to the dry ingredients.
Stir with a wooden spoon just sufficiently to combine the ingredients, but do not over-mix.
Fold in the cranberries and nuts.
Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans and make certain to push the batter into the corners and to smooth the tops.
Bake until tester placed into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
Cool for about 5-10 minutes in the pan and then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack.
Cool to just warm prior to slicing.

These loaves can be prepared a few days or a few weeks in advance, wrapped in foil and frozen in a freezer bag, and then thawed overnight on the kitchen counter prior to the day of serving. This bread should appear golden when done, should have an initial crunch when you take your first bite, and the interior should have a moist, light and craggy texture. There should be the prominent flavor of sweet orange, the tart flavor of fresh cranberries, and the crunch of the nuts.

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If you really love the addition of something special, you can either serve this bread with a Cranberry-Orange Compound Butter, or a drizzle of light Cream Cheese Glaze with Crystallized Ginger.

Cranberry-Orange Compound Butter

Soften 16 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (I like the flavor and quality of Kerrygold)
In a medium size mixing bowl, cream the butter with your mixer with 4 Tablespoons of orange zest and 1/4 cup chopped fresh cranberries until the ingredients are well-distributed. (do not use frozen cranberries–they will add too much water)
Divide the flavored butter into two portions, and shape into 2 logs, using parchment paper, secure the ends and store in the refrigerator. An alternative is to fill 2 4 inch ramekins with the butter and cover with plastic wrap.

Compound butters are best made one day in advance, and then removed from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving for the best flavor.

Cream Cheese-Crystallized Ginger Glaze

Beat 4 ounces of cream cheese with 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 teaspoons pure orange extract and sufficient half and half to created a glaze that is thin enough to drizzle. This is not intended to be a thick cream cheese cake frosting, and you just want to be able to add a light drizzle to each loaf. Fold in 1/4 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger into the glaze. I source crystallized ginger from my local Savory Spice Shop, and I find many uses for it in baking. It is a very good partner for the flavor of cranberry in the bread.

Drizzle the glaze on just prior to serving.

Brandied Applesauce Bread
Makes 2 – 9 x 5 loaves
(note: place 1 cup of raisins in brandy to cover them and soak for a few hours prior to mixing the batter for this bread)

Ingredients

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
2 large eggs
2 and 1/2 cups of Applesauce, unsweetened (I used organic, nothing in it but pure apples)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ceylon or Saigon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground Chinese Ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Allspice or cloves
1 cup raisins, soaked in brandy for a few hours and then drained
1 cup chopped walnuts

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter 2 – 9 x 5 loaf pans.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the eggs and beat for a minute or two, and then add the applesauce and beat for just long enough to combine well.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in another bowl to aerate and distribute the ingredients well.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined. Do not over-mix.
Fold in the drained raisins and the walnuts, and notice the heavenly aroma of warm spices plus brandy!

Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans and smooth the tops.
Bake until a tester placed in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Cool in the pa for abut 10 minutes and ten turn them out onto a wire rack to cool.
Served warm, this bread does not require any embellishment!

This is a moist loaf with a bit of a finer, more tender texture than the Orange-Cranberry Bread. This bread has the flavor of those warm spices that we love so much in the Fall, and just a lovely hint of brandy. If you do not wish to use brandy, you can soak the raisins in apple juice or cider. This is one of my favorite quick sweet breads for Autumn!

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I always add a savory buttermilk scone to my bread basket. It might be a Parmesan-Thyme Scone, or a Chai Spice Scone, or Gingerbread Scones My scones usually begin with a basic Buttermilk Scone recipe, so type “scones” into the search box on this site in the upper right hand corner, and you will see previous posts with recipes for scones.

Readers, share some of your favorite Thanksgiving Day food traditions, favorite breads, and, of course, do let me know whether you tried the recipes posted today and your outcomes! Tell me, how are your preparations for Thanksgiving Day going? There is a Comment box at the conclusion of each post.

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Savory Pumpkin Gratin

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In Autumn as Thanksgiving Day approaches, Americans tend to dream about the flavor of pumpkin in all kinds of sweet indulgences:  Pumpkin Spice lattes, Pumpkin Scones,  Pumpkin Cakes, Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Cookies.  However, in Italy, you are more likely to taste pumpkin in savory dishes, such as in fillings for little pillows of tender pasta, such as ravioli or agnoletti, or cooked in cubes and tossed with pasta and bacon, or in soups, gnocchi or pasta sauces.   In the Fall, I have enjoyed a number of memorable dishes in Northern Italy that contained pumpkin:  a risotto with wild mushrooms topped with shards of glazed roast pumpkin just over the Swiss border in Lake Lugano, and as a filling for handmade ravioli served in a cream sauce, savored while dining on a terrace overlooking Lake Como.  Many different varieties of pumpkins are grown in Italy, and you will find them in the cuisine in most regions.

The French are similar to the Italians, in that pumpkin is treated as a vegetable, and is prepared in savory dishes.  Dorie Greenspan, in Around My French Table, provides a recipe from a friend who lives in Lyon, for a glorious stuffed, roasted pumpkin.   David Lebovitz wrote about simply roasting pumpkin wedges in his blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris, on October 25, 2010. The French do serve Soupe au Potiron, or Pumpkin Soup.   I was intrigued by a recipe by Jacques Pepin for Pumpkin Gratin.  He spoke about eating Pumpkin Pie in the States for the first time and believing that an error had been made, because it was sweet!    Jacques reminisced that this gratin was a dish that his mother used to prepare, and he provided a simple version in his cookbook, More fast Food My Way.

Pumpkin Gratin is a very simple, rustic dish, soufflé-like in texture, but not technique, savory, golden, prepared with eggs, heavy cream and gruyere cheese.  This can be served as a holiday side dish, or could be served as a vegetarian entrée.   You can garnish it with fried sage leaves, or some sprigs of fresh thyme, or even some crumbled, crisp bacon.

Pumpkin Gratin, recipe by Jacques Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, page 138, paraphrased by me here

Serves 4

Prep time 5 minutes

Cooking time:  45-55 minutes

Ingredients

1 – 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin puree

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup grated Swiss chees (I used Gruyere)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

I added 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Softened butter to butter a 6 cup gratin dish.

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Butter the gratin dish.

Jacques combined all ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in a food processor and processed for about 15 seconds.  I simply beat the eggs and cream with a whisk, added the remaining ingredients and whisked for about a minute, and then poured the mixture into the gratin dish.
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Top the gratin with the grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, according to Jacque, until the gratin is golden, puffed in the center and set.   Mine took 55 minutes.

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Garnish as you wish with sprigs of fresh thyme, or fresh or fried sage leaves, or crumbled, crisp bacon for all those who find it hard not to have bacon included in a Thanksgiving Day dish.

This dish is much more delicious and elegant than I had imagined.  It has a soufflé-like texture, and the flavors of pumpkin, eggs, and cheese are comforting and balanced.   It is beautiful in appearance, all golden and initially puffy on top, although it deflates rather quickly.  It is very simple to prepare, and it can be versatile.  My husband, after tasting this for the first time, asserted that this should be a traditional Thanksgiving dish.  He then added that he could enjoy it as an entrée, as well, or for a brunch dish, because the eggs, cream and cheese made it a very rich, satisfying dish.

Thank you again, Chef Pepin!  This is another great example of delicious, elegant, but simple French cooking!

Readers, please share your inspirations for using pumpkin this season, and let me know your responses if you prepare this gratin. The Comment box can e found at the conclusion of the post.

 

 

 

 

Southwest France-Inspired Comfort Food for Fall: Cassoulet

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While Julia Child waxes rhapsodic about a perfect, authentic Cassoulet prepared with lamb and homemade pork sausage cakes over a three day period of time in her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, page 399, few American home cooks are going to take on this challenge! In Toulouse, in the Southwest of France, Cassoulet is made with preserved goose and sausages that are specific to that region, as well. Geese are plentiful in Toulouse, since this is the region that provides foie gras, those buttery, incredible, plump goose livers! One of my favorite good-reads of all time is A Goose in Toulouse, by Mort Rosenblum, published in 2000, and Mort describes a Cassoulet that he had in Toulouse made with Duck Confit, or duck prepared and potted in its own fat, with a layer of duck fat added at the end to crisp up the crusty top layer of this casserole, and duck so tender that a straw can be passed through to the bone.

But, Cassoulet is not fancy French food! Think of Boston Baked Beans! Cassoulet is a peasant, farm-driven dish, made with white beans and a variety of meats and vegetables and herbs, baked slowly in a rich broth in the oven and occasionally stirred about until there is a deep brown crust on top. I have found through practice, that you can produce a very rich, delicious, economical, and comforting Cassoulet in far less than three days and using common ingredients. I have borrowed some ideas from Sara Moulton, a disciple of Julia’s and a very talented chef in her own right, and one of the masters at simplifying French cooking for Americans, Chef Jacques Pepin.

Susan’s Cassoulet

Serves 8
Ingredients
8 chicken thighs, on the bone, skin on
1 pound of pork sausage of your choice (I used a special boar sausage from my local Italian butcher, because it has a very rich pork flavor and a hint of clove)
1/4 pound salt pork
2 large sweet onions chopped coarsely
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 Tablespoon dried
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 Tablespoon dried
2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
2 hefty Tablespoons Dijon mustard (or, you can use tomato paste, your choice, depending on the flavor you wish to have)
3 – 19 ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained

Method

Use a 5 quart, shallow, round enamel over cast iron Dutch oven or cocotte. This is a slow cook method, so you need a pot or casserole that is appropriate for this method.

Over medium high heat, render the salt pork until it gives off its lovely fat. Salt the chicken pieces generously, and brown them on both sides until richly browned, about 4-5 minutes each side.

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Remove them from he pan, and add the sausages and onion. Brown the sausages and onion for about 6-7 minutes.
Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown fond on the bottom of the pot.
Add the stock or broth, the herbs, the mustard or tomato paste, salt and pepper.

Mash one can of the beans with all of the garlic and a pinch of salt. Add this mixture to the pot.
Add the remaining 2 cans of drained beans to the pot, and place the chicken pieces back into the pot, nestling all of the meats into the beans and liquid.

Place the pot, uncovered into a 300 degree F oven and bake for about 2 and 1/2 -3 hours. Sit, relax, read a good book or watch a few favorite episodes of Downton Abbey or The Good Wife!

The rich aromas of roasting meats, herbs, garlic, wine and broth are so appealing! Midway through cooking, take a wooden spoon and just crack the crust that has formed on top of the casserole–don’t stir–and then finish cooking. When it is done, you will have a dark crust on top, not unlike Boston baked beans!

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All you need to accompany this very hearty, richly flavorful Cassoulet is a glass of red wine, a simple green salad, ad some crusty baguette!
The beans are creamy and soaked in the porky-garlicky, herbaceous broth; the chicken thighs are buttery tender; the boar sausage is a very rich pork sausage that has some clove added, which is perfect–some Cassoulet recipes actually have clove as an ingredient for spice. However, you can use a smoked sausage if you prefer, or an Italian sausage, or whatever flavorful sausage that you prefer.

Bon Appetite!

Readers, please share your favorite renditions of Cassoulet or your comments about the recipe and about experiences preparing Cassoulet in the Comments box at the conclusion of the post.

Autumnal Breakfast Perfect for a Chilly Sunday Morning! Pumpkin Spice Pancakes and Roasted Pears

 

We awakened to a perfect Florida Fall morning, with bright blue sky, temperature in the 50s, but with wind chill in the 40s, and an appetite for a hot autumn-inspired breakfast before our morning hike through the neighborhood. This is a quick and easy, but flavorful breakfast to fuel your morning walk. This morning will require jeans, light jackets, hats and scarves!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

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Makes 8 pancakes
Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Saigon or Ceylon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Chinese Ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin puree

2 Tablespoons butter for the griddle.

Method

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
Whisk the wet ingredients together in a medium bowl.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until well-combined and smooth.

Heat 2 Tablespoons butter on your griddle or in a large, shallow skillet until melted and sizzling over medium heat.
Add 1/3 cup of batter for each medium size pancake to the griddle, and cook approximately 3 minutes per side. Watch for bubbles to appear across the top of the pancake batter before flipping to cook the second side.

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Stack with butter and drizzle with pure maple syrup!
If you are making pancakes for a crowd, use your warming drawer or an oven warmed to 200 degrees F and turned off to keep the pancakes hot for serving.
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Roasted Pears

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Prepare 1 pear per person
Ingedients
1 Bosc or Bartlett Pear per person, ripe but still with some firm texture
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Method

Slice each pear in half and remove the core. Leave the skin on–it is thin and tender.
Spread 2 Tablespoons olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, and place the pears cut side down to roast.

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Roast at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes until the cut side is caramelized and golden brown.
Serve warm. If you would like a bit of added decadence, then lightly sweeten and whip some heavy cream and add a dollop on the side!

This Pumpkin Spice Pancake recipe cooks up light, fluffy, with pronounced pumpkin and spice flavor, perfect with melting butter and warm maple syrup from New England! The Roasted Pears are tender and caramelized with concentrated pear flavor. A cup or Chai tea, or a Viennese coffee are all you need to accompany this Fall breakfast.

These roasted pears can also be sliced atop a green salad with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and some gorgonzola, bleu or sharp cheddar cheese, or served warm over vanilla bean ice cream with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

Readers, please share your favorite Fall weekend breakfasts in the Comments box below this post, or share your experiences with these recipes!

Our walk was wonderful, by the way–the fragrance of burning fireplaces, homes decorated for Fall, still a few Halloween candy wrappers here and there on the breeze, and, because this is Florida, flowers blooming everywhere! Enjoy your Sunday!