Thanksgiving in Italy

Can you believe that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Italy?!  They also don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day!  I know weird, right?!

Our Thanksgiving table is set
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Of course I love the spirit of Christmas, the fun costumes of Halloween (another holiday that they don’t really celebrate), the fireworks of our Independence Day… but nothing can match the guilt-free ability to gorge on delicious food all…day…long!  And if that wasn’t good enough, you are then permitted… nah, encouraged to lay on your duff and watch football until it’s time to re-heat a plate of leftovers.
Julia was Superwoman for Halloween this year –
even though she was one of few kids dressed up
We knew that we weren’t going to give up our tradition of Thanksgiving just because we are living in another country.  In fact, we were excited to share our holiday and traditions with Jen’s relatives. Ideally, we would have eaten our Thanksgiving dinner along with the other people in America (well, six hours ahead anyway) – but we will be out of town during the holiday.  So we decided to host our Thanksgiving dinner early.  Before we could take our first bite of that delicious dinner, we needed to plan a menu.  And if you’ve ever been around my wife when she plans an event… if we have an official menu, then we’ll also need an official outline for the entire week leading up to the event.
I had many small jobs, but the most important – procurement of the bird and selecting the wine.  For the turkey, I went to our local macelleria (butcher shop), Macelleria Ostinelli.  You see, you cannot just go down to the supermarket and pick up a whole turkey.  It simply doesn’t exist here.  Italians eat turkey, but they are either quartered or filleted – never sold whole.  In fact our macellaio (butcher), Marco had to call his “turkey guy”, Lorenzo just to confirm that they could even have a whole turkey delivered within three days.  It was the first whole turkey Marco had ever sold in 20+ years of being a butcher.  We got the green light from Lorenzo and went home to continue planning.
Inside Macelleria Ostinelli
Our macellaio (butcher), Marco prepares our turkey
His son, Paolo and niece, Francesca
“Cook me like one of your French turkeys, Jack”
The turkey was so fresh that it was still red… and needed a few extra feathers plucked
The wine was a much more complicated process.  I went into a wine shop I’ve been wanting to try; one just outside of downtown Como.  The selections of fine Italian wine seemed endless.  I chose three wines that are classified as Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), a designation that connotes some of Italy’s best-known and highest quality wine.
A trio of wine from all over Italy
I opted to start our meal with a Barbaresco (having recently come back from Piemonte).  I picked a 2003 Vigneto Loreto from Albino Rocca – a producer that obtains their [nebbiolo] grapes from the finest area in the region.  I thought that the balanced flavor profile of this Barbaresco would do nicely to awaken our palates.
2003 Barbaresco Abino Rocca, Vigneto Loreto
For our second wine, I selected a 2008 Brunello di Montalcino.  Tuscany is known for many things and their wine is nothing short of spectacular.  Agostina Pieri produces a fine example of the wine that incorporates one of my favorite Italian grapes, Sangiovese.  The bold flavors would serve as a nice progression from the more tannic and refined Barbaresco.
2008 Brunello di Montalcino Agostina Pieri
Finally, I wanted a wine to shout from the rooftops – so I chose a big, bold Amarone della Valpolicella.  Jen and I were just recently introduced to this type of wine by my uncle, and it was love at first taste.  A unique harvest and fermentation process yield a ripe, raisiny and full-bodied wine that jumps across your tongue and waltzes with your tastebuds.  How could this not be the perfect wine to finish the afternoon?!  Cantina di Soave produces a wonderful Amarone, Rocca Alata.
Amarone Cantina di Soave, Rocca Alata
The night before our guests arrive, I helped Jen set the table.  Well, I mainly played defense against Julia while Jen set the table.  I let her get a goal past me the next day when she ripped up part of the bouquet just before our guests arrived!
Jen’s table
We used seasonal flowers as part of the decoration
A place setting
A napkin before it got messy with delicious food
Center bouquet
Julia got to the other bouquet – I love her look as if to say, “I didn’t do it”
Jen had perfectly timed the turkey to come out and rest next to all of our antipasti.  I am willing to bet that we hosted one of the few thanksgiving dinners in the world to start with olives, grissini (Italian breadsticks), salami and parmigiano.  Our 7.4 kg (16.3 lb) turkey was quite the showstopper as Jen’s Italian relatives walked in.  It was one of the first times ever that I have seen Italians take out their cell phones to take pictures of food.  For them, food should be eaten – not photographed (I’ve been called, pazzo more than once).  So it was quite a reward for all our hard work to see jaws dropped and cell phones flashing.
Our welcome table
The turkey came out moist and delicious
36-month aged Parmesano cheese and olives
Speck and salami
Let’s get the party started
Let’s get the wine decanted…
This is going to be good
After proscecco and antipasti, we each took turns taking family photos on the balcony.  I’m glad that Jen suggested this – it gave each family a nice keepsake from a pleasant afternoon.
My girls
Love this peanut
Gianni and Giusi along with their son Marco and daughter Sara
Massimo and Alessandra with their daughter Bea
You know this cast – Greg and Jen with our daughter, Julia
Franco and Claudia – Franco actually smiles for a photo!!
We eventually made our way to the table for our first course, a squash soup with parmesano croutons.
Now we’re ready to really dig in
A drizzle of fine olive oil enhances the taste and presentation
Franco took a picture of the soup as well as the turkey – this was a first!
Next, we brought out all the food.  We had the stuffing (I had to explain it as “cooked bread”).  We had mashed the potatoes.  We had the gravy“questa è una salsa” (this is a sauce).  Pouring a “sauce” over everything was definitely a foreign concept.  Claudia made the vegetables – green beens and a ratatouille.  And of course, we had the turkey.  A roasted lemon sage turkey that was delicious.  I explained that the goal was to cram your plate so full that none of the plate was visible.  Jen’s cousins Gianni and Marco understood the goal… no one else quite got it.  We went around the table to say what we were most thankful for and dug in.
A plate of the carved turkey
Claudia’s vegetables
Jen’s stuffing
My plate – a proper American Thanksgiving plate
Franco’s plate – he didn’t quite get the idea to cover it
Alessandra plays around with Bea, who has likely never seen a turkey leg
Gianni brought a delicious wine that we opened
We never even finished my selections
When we had finally finished eating our dinner, it was time for dessert.  Jen made a wonderfully American apple pie.  Her cousins Alessandra and Giusi were surprised when she told them that she made her own pie crust from scratch.  When they tasted it, they both immediately asked for the recipe (which secretly filled me with pride for my wife).  Giusi was so cute, she literally took out a notepad, ready to write – Jen had to promise to work on the measurement conversions and translation and email it at a later date.  Equally as impressive was the torte (pie) that Alessandra made.  Jen’s birthday had just passed and so she added a surprise element to the dessert.  It tasted every bit as good as it looked.
Jen’s apple pie
Alessandra’s torte
I have to say – Jen’s first Thanksgiving Dinner was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!  There were no hiccups, very little stress and it was absolutely delicious!
Of course, we finished the day off with grappa and whiskey and the most important part of Thanksgiving… a game of football on the television.  Only, it wasn’t a game.  It was a match.  And it wasn’t football.  It was fùtbol (soccer).  Oh well, you work with what you’ve got.
Our grappa and whiskey
Teenaged girls are the same in any country
Julia puts on a performance
Jen did Sara’s hair – I thought she looked beautiful
Soccer plays on the TV – not quite the football game I’m used to after a Thanksgiving dinner
I hope you enjoyed!
In case you’re interested in viewing the menu that Jen created, I copied and pasted her menu (and then, without her permission… her outline)!  Shhhh, don’t tell.
Wine: Proscecco – 2012 Cantina Trevigiana
            Pignoletto – 2012 Righi Reno
Squash Soup with Parmesan Croutons
Wine: Barbaresco – 2003 Vigneto Loreto (Albino Loreto)
Roasted Lemon Sage Turkey
Mashed potatoes
Green beans with shallots
Claudia’s ratatouille
Wine: Brunello di Montalcino – 2008 Agostina Pieri
            Amarone Della Valpolicella – 2009 Rocca Alata
American Apple Pie
Alessandra’s Torta con marmellata
Drinks: Espresso, Grappa

Jen’s Outline [CONFIDENTIAL]


Iron table cloth and napkins


Make Squash Soup
Prep Stuffing
Friday Shopping
Grate Cheese
Dry the bread for stuffing


Pick up Turkey
Buy Flowers
Arrange Flowers
Brine Turkey
Make Pie
Make Stuffing
Set the table
Wash pots in the dishwasher
Make mashed potatoes
Make compound butter for turkey


6:30 – Turkey comes out of the refrigerator and 2 sticks of butter
7:00 – Take compound butter out of the refrigerator and prep turkey
7:15 – Pre heat oven
7:45 – Turkey goes in the oven
8:00 – Jen and Julia shower
9:00 – Make croutons and fry sage for soup
9:30 – Take stuffing and potatoes out of the fridge
11:15 – Turkey comes out of the oven to rest and stuffing needs to be made
11:25 – Prepare Gravy
11:50 – Greg to cut salami and speck
12:00 – Put stuffing and potatoes in the oven and set up Antipasti
12:30 – Guests arrive
1:00 – Lunch is served

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in Italy”

  1. I follow your posts all the time and I do not leave comments often. But this time I thought that everything was exceptional, the Baby girl and Dad was just the sweetest thing ever. I had seen the pointer on better writing skills, but I must admit that it was useful to refresh my memory. I loved, loved your pictures of the food, I think I will get off work early and look for an Italian store. You made me hungry. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Go Jen!!! Wow you did a really wonderful job! That was a LOT of work and it’s so nice that Greg really appreciated it. xo

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