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Entries in Italian Thanksgiving (3)

Monday
Nov262012

Highlights from Thanksgiving 2012

Another Iaciofano Thanksgiving has come and gone. As you may recall from reading posts of Thanksgivings past, our family Turkey Day is a small affair. And as Aunt Olga has left us, to hopefully dine at pearlier Thanksgiving day tables, it has become even smaller.

Nevertheless! The Iaciofano's put on quite a show, gastronomically speaking, that is. But as with any show, we must begin with the warm up, the intro, the....well the schlepping.

Yes, the holiday schlepping. I have before intimated that I might require my own personal sherpa (please post applications in the comments section). This past Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no different. I and about 298,461,928,317,318,291,283 other turkey revellers descended on Penn Station at 4pm to catch a train to the New Jersey suburbs. However, I am about 99.99% convinced that I was the only passenger carrying the following items:

1. 4 different camera lenses and a camera

2. A tripod (that got repeated dirty looks from other travellers)

3. 2 pairs of sneakers

4. 2 different types of squashes

5. Cranberry sauce of my own making

6. Various plates (sandwiched in between clothes for cushioning)

7. A computer

8. Heavens only knows what else

I carried these items to accomplish cooking, photographing and a little racing. Enthusiastic, I know.

And so, we (by which I mean myself and all my gizmos, accoutrements and sneakers) arrived in Morristown, NJ ready to go. 

And go I did! I began the day with a little warm-up: The Morristown Turkey Trot at Ginty Field. It's nice to get out and trot with turkeys before you devour them. And it's even nicer when you place 1st in your age group of turkeys! Toby pictured above was overjoyed by my win (as you can see), as was The Box, who complained repeatedly of the cold weather, stole all the granola bars from the post-race buffet, and insisted we stay for the award "ceremony".

Anyway, I brought the extra sneakers for the race. They're racing sneakers, see....and I have this wackadoodle idea that they make me go faster. And they're pink.

And now, on with the show...Thanksgiving Day Dinner! There were a few stand-outs to the meal, one of which was ALLLL MINE MWAH HAHAHAHA!!

No seriously, I made it myself. Concocted it in my head, in fact, based on previous stuffing knowledge, some crazy theories and a sprinkling fairy dust. This miracle of carbohydrate and vegetable was the:

Stuffing with Winter Squash, Fig and BACON!

Also known as: The Best Stuffing in the UNIVERSE

What You Need:

This recipe serves 10-12

2 loaves good-quality white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 20 cups)
Roasted chestnuts, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 leeks, (just the white parts), trimmed rinsed well and diced
6 pieces cooked bacon
6-8 dried figs, diced
1/2 delicata squash with seeds removed
1/2 butternut squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 acorn squash, peeled with seeds removed
1/2 Kabocha squash, peeled with seeds removed
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus a few more leaves for fried sage garnish
5 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper

*A note on the squash - you could use more or less of any of the varieties listed, depending on availability. You could also use pumpkin!

What To Do:

The night before, you can slice up the squashes and roast them. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash into thin slices - there's no need to remove the skin from this little guy, as it's edible and very delicate....get it? Delicata??? ... ok, moving on.

Peel the butternut and slice into small cubes.

Th Acorn and Kabocha squashes are a challenge to peel because of their odd shape. Half these and remove the seeds. Then, place them, cut side down and brushed with a little olive oil, on the baking sheet. They may require a little more roasting time, but they will get nice and soft, and you can remove the insides after roasting.

Place all your sliced and cubes squash on the baking sheet as well. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage (use more if you like, but be warned that sage is a powerful herb!).

Roast in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. As I said the halved squashes may require more time. If so, remove the sliced varieties and let the other bake an additional 10 minutes.

Now onto the stuffing part! For the bread cubes, you can either buy a bread, cube it, and spread the cubes in single layers on baking sheets, letting them dry at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.

But, you could also use pre-dried bread cubes. Look for those in the Thanksgiving section of your supermarket. I won't judge you...I used the pre-dried version this year on account of juggling 14 different squashes, 4 camera lenses, a tripod, rolling suitcase and two pairs of running shoes (we'll get to that later) through Penn Station at 4pm the night before Thanksgiving.

Rinse and chop up your leeks. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet, stirring, until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh sage; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup stock; cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon. I use the microwave for this task. Mostly because I love how once you use your microwave for cooking bacon, any time you heat it up after that for at least a month, it smells like bacon is cooking. Ever noticed this? Try it now. I place 2 paper towels on a plate, and place the 6 slices of bacon on top of that, evenly spaced, all lying next to each other. Then I put one more paper towel on top. Bacon likes to be tucked in, you see?

I cook the bacon in 30 second intervals to my desired degree of crispness. Don't crisp the bujeezuz out of it, as it's going to bake in the oven afterward.

Now grab a LARGE bowl. How large? In charge, people, that's how large.

Transfer the leek mixture to the large bowl. Add remaining 4 1/2 cups stock, the chestnuts, bread, salt, cooked bacon, figs and all the squashes; season with pepper. Toss to combine. If not stuffing turkey, transfer to a buttered 17-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake until hot and golden brown, 30 minutes more.

You will love this. John even loved it. Aaaaand, I must toot my own horn here, AUNT EMILY EVEN LOVED IT. No joke, people. She said it was "unique" and she actually meant that in a good way. Huh.

The next was Marmo's creation, from a recipe from the Silver Palatte Cookbook:

Ginger Pumpkin Mousse

What You Need:

4 eggs

7 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (or canned pumpkin)

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 cup heavy cream

minced crystallized ginger for garnish (don't eat it all before you garnish!)

What To Do:

Beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is light colored and thick. Add the gelatin and beat to blend well. Mix in pumpkin puree and spices and chill mixture until it begins to set.

Whip the heavy cream with a hand-held or standing mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour into 4-6 dessert dishes (like small ice cream bowls or ramekins). 

Chill for 4 hours. Before serving, decorate with crystallized ginger.

And then we commenced lying about. In the living room. With the Jets game on.

Let's not talk about the Jets game. But I will give you a sampling of Iaciofano Thanksgiving dialog, unrelated to football:

John: (Glancing at the fireplace) We should light a fire.

The Box: LIGHT IT UP!

Me: (from the opposite couch, and apparently newly awake): LIGHT IT UP!!

John: LIGHT IT UP!

Marmo: Who's going to CLEAN IT UP?!

John: I'll start it! (walks away to get some wood)

Me: LIGHT IT UP!!!

Marmo: Oh jeez.

The Box: Lighter's in the kitchen!!!

Toby: BARK BARK BARK!!! (translation: Light it up!)

And so we did. We lit it up. And then we watched more football (egads), and I fell asleep hours before normal people do. In fact, I was getting so much sleep, I decided to hang out in the burbs for the weekend.

On Saturday, I declared it my Family Birthday Dinner. We had not celebrated my birthday as a family yet. Hurricanes and power outages and train disturbances had postponed it. What did I want for my Family Birthday Dinner? Chinese food. Yes, I did! Chinese food from Bill and Harry's in East Hanover, NJ and Gruner Veltliner. 

And so, we lit it up (by which I mean started the car), and off we drove to sample the Szechuan Dumplings in Spicy Peanut Sauce that the Box and I had an argument about.

Me: I want the Szechuan Dumplings.

The Box: They don't have those at Bill and Harry's. You're thinking of the other place.

Me: No, they have them at Bill and Harry's. They have that spicy peanutty-saucy thing. 

The Box: No.

Me: YES.

The Box: No, you're imagining it.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I imagined them all the way into my mouth because lo and BEHOLD - there they were on the menu. LIGHT IT UP!!


We polished off a bottle of this stuff (and then another one)...

which The Box actually liked even though he claims to never have heard of Mr. Veltliner.

And then we all learned a lesson from our cookies:

The Box: Courageously shouldered the mistake in his recollection of Bill and Harry's appetizer menu.

Marmo: Did what was right and let herself be seen in public with all of us.

Me: I'm really not sure what this fortune is talking about. Imperfections??

John: Discovered his new talent: lighting it up!!

Happy Holiday Season everyone - and so it begins!

Monday
Nov192012

An Italian Thanksgiving Antipasto - Part 3

This is the third and final installment of Creating an Italian Thanksgiving Antipasto.

So far, we've covered bread and where to buy it, given you olive recommendations – including a recipe for marinated olives, and also made some cheese selections.

Now we move onto the fruit and crazy....I mean fruit and nuts. Because it's gonna get kinda...nuts, that is.

Are you following me? Most likely not. 

If you still are with me (bless your souls), we are going to focus on figs. At this time of year, fig season is starting to wind down. It closes in around December and then you won't see the little guys until June, so in order to give them a proper send off, I suggest you eat all the fresh ones you can. 

WHAAAT? Can't find fresh ones, you say? This is indeed sad, but not tragic, as the dried ones are quite juicy and will be a welcome addition to any antipasto.

If you can locate fresh figs, I suggest toasting them up a bit. You can do this easily in a frying pan with a little water and brown sugar. Here's how:

What You Need:

1 basket fresh, ripe figs. Ripe figs will be slightly soft to the touch. If they are too firm, they're not ready yet. You can use either Black Mission Figs, or White figs, which actually look green.

1-2 Tablepoons brown sugar

2 Tablespoons water

What To Do:

Using a knife, cut the figs in half.

Heat a frying pan on your stove top over medium heat. Pour in the water and sprinkle in the brown sugar. Allow it to heat up a bit, but don't let it burn. Prevent burning by stirring with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.

Add the figs and let them soak up the sugary juices for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a small bowl.

Serve along side the above-mentioned bread, olive and cheese. Add in some roasted chestnuts (you can purchase them pre-roasted, or use our recipe here), freshly made cranberry sauce. I make a wonderful (if I do say so myself) Orange Spiced Cranberry Sauce. If you'd like to make it too, here's how to do it:

What You Need:

12 ounce bag of cranberries

1/2 cup of honey

2-3 T firmly packed brown sugar

2 three inch cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

3/4 cup water

Half an orange or tangerine

What To Do:

Cut the orange into wedges and pierce the outer skin with 3 whole cloves a piece.

In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves stuck in orange wedges, nutmeg and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. Can be made 2 days in advance, covered and chilled.

Monday
Nov122012

An Italian Thanksgiving? Have Some Apple "Pie".

I'd like to discuss an oxymoron: Italian Thanksgiving.

As you know, Thanksgiving is an American Holiday. Italians have similar feast days of thanks, called Le Feste di Ringraziamento, but these are usually religious holidays, held at various times of the year.

Thanksgiving comes but once a year. And "thanks" be for that...there is only so much gin on the planet to appease Aunt Emily's tolerance for turkey. And speaking of turkeys, you most likely wouldn't find one on a table in Italy, as they are pretty hard to come by in that country.

Which brings me to my point: What we have here is an Italian-American Thanksgiving, and as such, it presents a challenge to John and myself. You see, our passion for Italian food extends to protecting the authenticity of its traditions....when and where is limoncello served? Why are rice dishes more popular in the North of Italy? And etcetera.

So where Thanksgiving is concerned, we really only have our Italian-American family traditions. However, many of these (except for serving Aunt Emily copious amounts of gin) are derived from actual Italian food and holiday traditions. And with Thanksgiving on the horizon, this is what we would like to focus on:

How to incorporate traditional Italian foods into your feast, giving your holiday some Italian flair.

And in true John and Elana fashion, I will begin with pizza.

I can't think of a dessert more American than apple pie, or more appropriate to Thanksgiving. Except when the "pie" in question is, in fact, a pizza pie. I think this is the beauty of pizza – its versatility. A traditional Southern Italian food, pizza has been adopted by American culture wholeheartedly (admittedly not always in the healthiest ways).

This particular "pie" is a true collision of Italian and American cultures. It combines an earthy whole wheat crust with farm fresh apples, thinly sliced gouda cheese, plump cranberries, fried sage and a smattering of honey.

This pie works as an appetizer, a wonderful addition to an antipasto plate, or as a sweet and savory dessert, to be served along side a selection of other cheeses and fruit.

Here's how you do it:

What You Need:

1 recipe whole wheat pizza dough (found here). This recipe makes 4-5 personal sized pizzas. You can also purchase uncooked pizza dough from your grocery store or local pizzeria.

3 apples, thinly sliced. Use what your local orchard is dishing out. I like Honey Crisp, but I also threw in some Golden Delicious and a tart Granny Smith.

1/4 Gouda cheese. You want something semi-soft.

1/4 cup dried cranberries

6-8 sage leaves, fried in olive oil and crumbled

honey - as much as you like

salt to taste

What To Do:

Place a pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven and heat to 500 degrees for at least a half hour prior to using it.

In the meantime, thinly slice the apples. I sliced mine to an 1/8" thickness. 

Next, slice the cheese.

You can also prepare the fried sage by heating tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, place in the sage leaves. They won't take long to fry, about 30 seconds or so. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to absorb the oil (like bacon!). You can crumble them with your hands, and once the pizza pops out of the oven, sprinkle them on top.

Sprinkle some semolina flour or cornmeal on a pizza peel and stretch out a pizza dough round to about 10-12" in diameter.

Place some of the apple slices down on the dough. Don't overload it with slices at this point, just about 8 should do it. 

Follow up with some slices of cheese, and then another layer of apples.

Don't make your pizza too heavy – save some toppings for the other pies! 

Sprinkle with a little salt and a handful of cranberries.

Drizzle with honey. 

Shimmy the pizza into the oven and bake for about 8 minutes. 

Using the pizza peel, remove the pizza from the oven, drizzle with a little more honey and sprinkle with the crumbled, fried sage.

Buon Appetito!

What You Should Drink:

I politely begged Jameson Fink of Wine Without Worry to give me a pairing recommendation for this pizza. Here is what he suggested:

When Elana asked for my help picking a wine to pair with pizza, I said, “No problem.” Tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni? Have a Chianti. Boom. Done! Then I actually paid attention to what she told me: a pizza topped with apple, gouda, cranberries and fried sage. Gouda grief! I’d have to put on my thinking cap.

In honor of Elana’s family heritage, I’m sticking with my initial thought of an Italian wine. And in honor of my personal penchant, I’m selecting a rosé. Which gives me the opportunity to go on a mini-wine rant. You think rosé is just for summer sipping? Let me give you my best John McLaughlin: WRONG! My pick, the 2011 “Il Chiaretto” from producer Azienda Agricola San Giovanni, has year-round charm and appeal. It’s from the region of Lombardy, not far from the lovely shores of Lake Garda. A refreshingly unusual blend of four grapes (Groppello, Marzemino, Barbera, and Sangiovese), it is pizza-ready.

So let’s take a look at Elana’s culinary creation, starting with the cranberries. (Especially since Thanksgiving thoughts are turning in my head.) A dry rosé has a reminiscent tartness; a fine match whether cranberries are a side dish or atop a pizza. And rosés also have a savory, slightly herbaceous quality perfect with crispy fried sage. Plus the acidity in the Il Chiaretto will play nice with crisp apple, and cut through the rich gouda to get you ready for another dang slice.

Last but not least, it comes in a squat, stubby, attention-getting bottle. Turns out it’s a bottle with a purpose. I asked Birk O'Halloran, who is a manager for the company that imports the wine (A. I. Selections), about the bottle. Here’s what Birk had to say:

When I spoke with [owner/winemaker] Paolo, he told me that by his calculations about 70% of the total carbon footprint of wine comes from the glass. The bottles he uses are about 30-40 grams less than a conventional bottle. This has been one of many ways he tries to minimize the carbon footprint of his wine. If you look on the back label you can find amount of carbon produced by the production of the wine. Since he has started recording it he has lowered it every year.

I would also add that this design makes it less difficult to knock over on a table crowded with pizza and friends.