Few things are as uniquely American as the feast of Thanksgiving. Regardless of where Americans are that day, most cannot help but remember past meals. With memories comes the attempt to try and recreate Thanksgiving, despite the difficulty of finding the distinctive ingredients. Creating a Thanksgiving celebration in Florence requires a bit of ingenuity and some pre-planning, but it is possible and—with the exception of fresh cranberries—you can find everything you’ll need right here. Even certain staples such as pumpkin pie filling and Ocean Spray cranberry products have made their way to Florentine specialty markets over the past few years.
A traditional Thanksgiving feast in Italy is a rare culinary opportunity and many of your Italian friends will be honored to have a place at your table during this particularly American celebration. And if you give this wonderful gift of bounty—which is what the holiday is truly all about—be prepared to give them some history about the origins of the feast. Here is a menu and a few recipes for a memorable Florentine Thanksgiving, along with some shopping advice, including where to get your delicious turkey dinner if you aren’t in the mood to cook. Happy Thanksgiving!
Roast turkey with cornbread and sausage stuffing gravy
Baked sweet potatoes
Roasted green beans and root vegetables
Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Roast turkey, stuffing and gravy (for 10)
Wash turkey, (about 5.5) kilos inside and out, and pat dry. Sprinkle some salt on the inside and stuff with the cornbread and sausage stuffing. Rub a little butter over the skin and season well with salt and pepper. Tuck the wings in, and tie or spear the cavity closed so that the stuffing stays in the bird. Place in a large oven pan and roast in a 325F/165C oven for 3 ½–4 hours. For the first three hours, the turkey should be covered with an aluminum foil tent. Every half hour or so, remove the tent and baste the turkey with its own juices. For the final hour of cooking, uncover the turkey so that it will brown. Continue to baste every half hour until it is golden brown in color and until its juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let stand for a half hour before carving and serving.
Gravy. After you have removed the turkey from its baking pan, stir the browned juices and pan drippings that remain. Pour into a bowl. Using the same pan in which you roasted the turkey, place 4 tablespoons (60 mL) of the pan fat and drippings, turn the heat on to medium high and begin to stir. Add 4 tablespoons (60 mL) of flour and whisk while the flour browns a little. Slowly add 2 cups (500 mL) of hot water, whisking continuously to avoid lumps. Just as the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat, adjust salt and pepper if needed, and whisk well.
Cornbread and sausage stuffing. This is a two-part recipe: first you must make the cornbread and then cook the other ingredients, which will be combined with the cornbread to make the stuffing.
Part 1 (cornbread)
1 cup (250 mL) flour
¼ cup (60mL) sugar
4 teaspoons (5 mL) baking powder
½ (2 mL) teaspoon salt
1 cup (250 mL) cornmeal
1 cup (250 mL) milk
¼ cup (60 mL) shortening (I use sunflower seed oil)
Sift flour with sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cornmeal. Add eggs, milk and shortening and beat well until the mixture is very smooth. Pour into a greased cake pan and bake at 425F/220C for 20 minutes. Let cool.
Part 2 (cornbread and sausage stuffing)
1 pound (450 g) sausage (remove the meat from the casing)
2 onions, chopped finely
2 cups (500 mL) celery, chopped finely
½ teaspoon (2 mL) chopped sage leaves
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
pepper to taste
2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth
In a large saucepan, brown the sausage meat in a little olive oil, add the onions, celery, sage, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes so that flavors will blend. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. In a large bowl, crumble the cornbread you have made into small pieces, add the sausage mixture, and begin to add the chicken broth, a bit at a time, until the mixture is fully moistened and easily formed into a ball. Stuff the cavity of the turkey with this mixture.
1 large pasta frolla (pre-made pie crust)
1 ¾ cups (425 mL) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
2 teaspoons (10 mL) cinnamon
2 teaspoons (10 mL) nutmeg
2 cups (500 mL) pumpkin, cooked
2 cups (500 mL) evaporated milk (or panna per cucinare)
To cook fresh pumpkin, peel and cube the pumpkin, boil the flesh in water until fork-tender, and then mash well or put through a food mill. Drain off any excess liquid. Set aside two cups for use in the pie filling. (If you have more than you need, it’s an excellent pureed vegetable dish when seasoned with a bit of salt and some cinnamon).
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices. Mix thoroughly. In another bowl, beat eggs well and add the cream and blend well. Slowly pour this mixture into the pumpkin mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour filling into pie shell and bake in a very hot oven (400F/205C) for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350F/177C for another 40 minutes. The pie is done when a knife inserted into the center of the pie comes out clean.
Serve with whipped cream that has been sweetened with a bit of powdered sugar.
Sweet potatoes, called patate dolci in Italian, are typically imported from Israel. Ask your greengrocer to order them for you, or visit the outdoor fruit and vegetable stand Ambulante di Frutta e Verdura on the corner of via Senese and via Metastasio. Be sure to order a few days in advance.
Cranberry products and pumpkin pie filling can be found at various specialty food markets in the center of town.
Pegna, via dello Studio, 8, tel 055/282701
Vivi Market, via del Giglio, 20/22r, tel. 055 294911
Old England Stores, via Vecchietti, 28r, tel. 055 211983
Ask your butcher for a whole turkey, cleaned and ready for stuffing: tacchino intero, pulito, per fare ripieno. Depending on the size of the bird you are looking for, you might want to ask for a femmina, which is usually a bit smaller and more tender than the maschio. Try Grandis Macelleria, via Senese, 22r, 055/221778 (order one week ahead).
Dining out for Thanksgiving
Feeling daunted by the shopping list? Then consider treating yourself to a traditional Thanksgiving feast at one of the local restaurants decked out for the special occasion. Olio & Convivium and Ristorante Accademia will feature favorites like turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread, apple and pumpkin pie.
Olio & Convivium is located on via Santo Spirito, 4. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 055/2658198. Dinner costs 45 euro per person. The restaurant will also cater a Thanksgiving dinner according to your specifications and deliver it to your home. For catering information, call 055/6811757.
Ristorante Accademia in Piazza San Marco is celebrating the holiday with its 7th annual Thanksgiving dinner. There will be two seatings—one at 6:00 pm and one at 8:30 pm. Dinner costs 28 euro per person (drinks not included) and 15 euro for children under 12. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 055/217343.