A Thanksgiving Menu
Like all of us, I love Thanksgiving. But, of course, there is no such holiday as Thanksgiving in Italy. They celebrate food all year long!
Here at home we celebrate food in a big way on one day, and it can be stressful for many because the expectation is an extravaganza. In the menu suggested below from my latest book, Ciao Italia Family Classics, there are several things you can do ahead. The antipasti can be assembled the morning of Thanksgiving. The soup can be made several days ahead and re-heated when ready to eat. The frozen dessert can be made a week before. The chestnuts can be roasted AFTER dinner to enjoy with port or a glass of wine.
Besides planning and making things in advance, another important tip is to use the right tools. Nothing is more disappointing than an anemic looking roast turkey or capon. Solve that problem by using a heavy duty roasting pan -- not one of those flimsy aluminum disposal pans that do not retain heat. Worse than that of course is an under- or over-cooked bird.
Get an instant read thermometer and take the guesswork away! Use a bulb baster to help gather up the cooking juices to baste the bird. Use oven-to-table casserole dishes for the sides so you don’t have a mountain of serving dishes to wash later. With a good knife, you'll carve the bird, not your finger!
On to the menu!
Classic Antipasti (Ciao Italia Family Classics, p. 21)
Roast Capon (Capone al Forno, p.285)
Except for the occasional stuffed turkey breast, a roast turkey was a rare sight on my family dinner table at holiday time. Mom stuck pretty much to Italian tradition and always served capon (capone), which, to be blunt, was a castrated male chicken that was very flavorful and moist. And to this day, that is what I serve on Thanksgiving and Christmas, too.
But I do something very non-traditional with the bird, I brine it first. Since capons are smaller in size, anywhere from 6 to 11 pounds, this recipe is perfect when you don’t want a large turkey.
10 whole cloves
4 whole bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
2 quarts apple cider or apple juice
2-½ cups brown sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
3 oranges quartered
2 large lemons, quartered
1 capons weighing between 10 and 11 pounds, rinsed and dried
Place the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a small bundle with kitchen string. Set aside.
Pour the apple cider into a large soup pot and stir in the sugar and salt. Add the oranges, and lemons and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and let the mixture come to room temperature. (This can be made and refrigerated done several days ahead).
Place the capon in a large clean garbage bag. Carefully pour the apple cider mixture in the bag. Tie the bag tightly.
Place the bag in a large roasting or disposable aluminum-roasting pan and refrigerate for 2 days, turning the bag often to evenly brine the capon.
When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425F.
Drain the capon from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine. Place the capon, breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan and brush the skin all over with olive oil.
Roast for 1-½ hours or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the bird registers 165F and the juices run clear.
Allow the capon to sit loosely tented with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes before carving.
Roasted Squash With Honey and Hazelnuts
Here is a great side for roast capon or turkey and so easy to make.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup warm honey
1 medium size butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt to taste
1 stick butter
¼ cup minced fresh sage leaves
½ cup toasted hazelnuts or walnuts
Combine the oil, honey and salt in a large bowl. Add chunks of squash and toss to coat well.
Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes in a pre-heated 350F oven until tender.
Meanwhile melt butter in small saucepan and add the sage leaves. Turn off heat and let steep. When squash is cooked toss with the butter mixture in a bowl; sprinkle with nuts and serve.