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Thanksgiving, Italian Style

Surround the All-American turkey with these Italianized sides and desserts.
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When I was a kid my grandmother always turned Thanksgiving dinner into an extremely complicated affair. Like most Italian-Americans, she felt it her duty to present homeland dishes like ravioli, lasagna or stuffed artichokes alongside all the traditional American offerings. She served mini-marshmallow-strewn Waldorf salad on the same plate as sausage-stuffed artichokes, and maple syrup candied yams next to meatball-studded lasagna. We ate a first course of spaghetti with ragù and followed it with mashed potatoes with turkey gravy, string bean almandine, mashed turnips, a platter of spicy, garlicky broccoli rabe, turkey stuffed with sage, celery and preseasoned bread cubes and sometimes a side of ricotta ravioli (ravioli as a side dish? That must have been a first in either country, I imagine). For dessert, ricotta cheese cake alongside pumpkin pie, mini Italian pastries, apple pie, amaretti cookies, brownies, Sambuca and espresso. Even when I was nine I knew there was something terribly wrong here.

My solution now is to Italianize all the side dishes in place of having any traditional American ones. The turkey stays, but what I serve with it has flow and an Italian swing to it. I guess I view Thanksgiving partly as another excellent opportunity to get together with friends and family and have a big Italian meal. Nobody complains.

Each year I pick a few key flavors and then build the menu around them. Limiting my flavor options helps me produce a meal with harmony, one that doesn’t cause palate fatigue. This year I’m going with rosemary, fennel, garlic and a hint of hot chilies, working them into my turkey and stuffing preparations and into appetizers and vegetables as well (not every flavor in every dish, but picking and choosing). Since blandness is often my complaint about American Thanksgiving food, I feel the need to break out, adding more crunch, less mushiness and a little spice.

Below are some of the Italian flavor-infused dishes I’ll be serving this year. –Erica De Mane (check out more of Erica’s recipes at ericademane.com).

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