Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

I still remember the first time I cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was four years after my husband and I had married. Up until that year, my mother-in-law always made Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was her specialty and that was fine with me. I was never really a fan of turkey and all the trimmings and, since I spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I got to spend Christmas with my family. This arrangement was fine with my husband because my mother always made lasagna on Christmas.

How I came to make Thanksgiving Day dinner was not for a joyous reason. My father-in-law passed away at a young age about a month earlier and the family was devastated. I offered to make dinner in place of my mother-in-law, who wasn’t up to the job and didn’t even want to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t want her to be alone and convinced her to have dinner with us.The rest of my husband’s family was also invited.

This was a big deal for me because I had never cooked a turkey before, but I welcomed the creative challenge. It was fun planning the menu and I came up with recipes that reflected my Italian heritage. Unfortunately my creative endeavors were not met with rave reviews (other than my husband’s) because I did not make the traditional side dishes that my in-laws were used to having with their turkey dinner.

Nevertheless, I continued to try my hand at different side dishes through the next few years and as my children grew, their likes and dislikes played a great part in how these side dishes evolved. My mother-in-law continued to have dinner with us on Thanksgiving and actually looked forward to my new approach to developing our own traditional meal.

The following are the favorites my family have come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time (with the exception of the cranberry sauce) but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting. All you need is a turkey or a turkey breast,  a stuffing of your choice (see post for recipes: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/11/09/choose-your-stuffing-or-is-it-dressing/) and 3 or 4 of the side dishes below and your feast menu is ready to go.

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh and frozen cranberries work equally well. If you are using frozen, add one to two minutes to the cooking time.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup Truvia for Baking or Domino Light sugar or 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

 Directions:

Bring orange juice, sugar, and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and simmer until slightly thickened and two-thirds of berries have burst, about 5 minutes. Stir in orange zest Transfer to serving bowl and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Serve. (Sauce can be refrigerated for 1 week.)

 

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.

Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Sometimes I cook chopped kale with the potatoes and mix it all together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

 In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat together the milk, garlic, rosemary, and thyme then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Strain the flavored milk through a fine sieve, add the olive oil and gently reheat. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes with olive oil and milk until smooth. Add some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

Celery Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole bunch celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Wondra all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs

Directions:

Separate celery stalks and leaves. Reserve leaves and cut stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Put celery in a medium saucepan and fill halfway with water. Add salt, bay leaves and place celery leaves on top.Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook 5 minutes uncovered. Discard celery and bay leaves. Drain and set aside; reserving a 1/2 cup of the celery cooking water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the same saucepan add evaporated milk and flour; whisk. Add butter and turn heat to medium and cook sauce, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in celery cooking water.

Spray a medium baking dish with cooking spray and add half the celery, half the sauce and sprinkle with the almonds. Next, add remaining celery and sauce. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs.

Bake casserole 30 minutes.

 

Italian Baked Macaroni with Fontina

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half (fat free works just as well)
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta. 

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Number of servings-6

 

Balsamic-Glazed Cipollini Onions

Cipollini originated in Italy and the word means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and sugar; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Creamed Spinach

Ingredients:

  • 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil in small saucepan and add garlic; cook 1 minute

Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in center of spinach and add milk and cheese.

Heat and stir until cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/2-in. thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach; cook and stir 7 minutes. In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Add spinach and cheese to remaining crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with garlic salt and pepper; stuff with spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Toss remaining oil with reserved crumbs. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned. Yield: 6 servings.

 

Cherry-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • 3 medium acorn squash
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray.

Combine the cherries, brown sugar, lemon peel, nutmeg and salt; spoon into squash halves. Sprinkle with lemon juice; dot with butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender. Yield: 6 servings.

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Thanksgiving Day Stuffing – Or Any Day

Stuffing, also called dressing depending on where you live, is a seasoned mix of vegetables and starches and sometimes eggs that are cooked within or alongside a meat entree. Some stuffing recipes utilize other meats, such as sausage (especially popular in Italian dishes) or oysters in their mix and vegetarian stuffing is usually based on bread, rice or potatoes.

Various kinds of stuffing go as far back as the Roman Empire , where recipes appear in De re Coquinaria , a collection found within a kitchen anthology called Apicius that chronicles thousands of Roman dishes. In De re Coquinaria , chicken, rabbit, pork and dormouse stuffing are included and there are long traditions and other historical references that corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

Since humans were thought to be stuffing small animals long before the days of the Roman Empire, it seems natural that the pilgrims might think to stuff a turkey. However, there is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving, but the tradition has been long standing in America.

Stuffing is not uncommon, but is not regularly utilized in most households, other than during the Thanksgiving holiday. Turkey stuffing is the most widely used, and while many buy pre-packaged stuffing such as Stove Top, there are yet many varying family recipes that have endured over the years. Stove Top introduced boxed stuffing in 1972. It was home economist Ruth Siems who discovered how to manipulate bread crumbs in such a way that made reconstitution practical, and Stove Top, now owned by Kraft Foods, sells almost 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving.

In Victorian England, “stuffing” became “dressing” and remained so in its emigration to America.  Now “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably in America, although some places, especially in the Midwest, still refer to the dish as dressing. The famous cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking”, says that a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird, and dressing if you cook it in a pan.

Other differences are in the ingredient choices which vary according to regional locations. The base is usually a crumbled bread product such as cornbread, biscuits or bread. Most call for chopped onion and celery. Some recipes call for sauteing the onions and celery until they are tender. Another key ingredient in almost every recipe is poultry seasoning.There are recipe variations that can include sausage, walnuts, cranberries and in coastal areas, oysters.

There is a health risk involved with placing stuffing inside the turkey cavity while it is cooked. The stuffing can develop bacteria if it is not cooked to 165 degrees. The problem is that it is possible for the thigh of the turkey (where you insert the thermometer) to register an internal temperature of 180 degrees while the stuffing may not be the same temperature. If the turkey stuffing has not reached 165 degrees it must be cooked longer, which can result in the turkey being overcooked.

When it comes to the texture of stuffing, there is no right or wrong way to make it. Some people like it dry and crisp; some like it moist and dense. Soft breads produce a dense, spongy stuffing; toasted breads produce a drier stuffing because the bread crumbs can absorb more juices without becoming soggy.

To get the consistency your family prefers, follow these simple suggestions:

  • For a drier stuffing, use prepackaged dry bread crumbs or cubes and limit the amount of liquid.
  • For moist stuffing, add broth or juice until the mixture is just moist enough that it sticks together when pinched. But keep in mind that stuffing baked in poultry or in a tightly covered dish will not dry out as it bakes.
  • For fluffier stuffing, add a beaten egg or egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters. It will allow the stuffing to bake to a lighter, more airy consistency. For food safety reasons, use an egg substitute in dressing that is stuffed into poultry.
  • Ensure stuffing is done by using a meat thermometer. The temperature at the center of the stuffing inside the bird should reach 165°.
  • For stuffing baked in a separate dish, either egg or egg substitute can be used. Refrigerate leftover stuffing promptly.

If you like stuffing, you don’t have to limit it to holiday dinners. It bakes up just as well on its own as an accompaniment to chicken or other meats. Simply place stuffing in a greased shallow baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 325°F. to 350°F. for 1 hour or until heated through. For a crisper crust, uncover stuffing during the final 15-20 minutes of baking.

My Family’s Favorite

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

Yields about 18 cups, enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Ingredients:

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds bulk hot or sweet Italian sausage (or sausage links, casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tablespoon. dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside.

Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until light brown, about 5 min. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl of cubed bread. Wipe out the pan and add the olive oil, onions, celery, and garlic  and saute until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 min. Stir in the thyme, sage, salt, and peppers, cook 1 minute, and add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add some of the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined. The stuffing should just hold together when pressed together, if not add more broth.

If cooking in a turkey, put the stuffing in the bird just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the bird to 160º to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer. If the bird is done before the stuffing is, take the bird out of the oven, spoon the stuffing into a casserole dish, and continue to bake it while the turkey rests.

My preferred method:

If baking some or all of the stuffing in a casserole, pour a cup or two of broth over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the bird. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

 

Fennel, Pecan and Caramelized Apple Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 3 cups chopped Golden Delicious apple
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 16 minutes or until golden, stirring after 8 minutes. Place in a large bowl. On a separate baking sheet place pecans and bake for 6-8 minutes and add to bread cubes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables to bread mixture.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add apples and sugar; sauté 5 minutes or until apples caramelize, stirring occasionally. Add to the bread mixture.

Combine broth and eggs in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add broth mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to bread mixture; toss well to combine.

Spoon bread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes. Uncover dish; bake for 20 minutes or until browned and crisp.

You can adjust oven temperature and baking time, if you are baking the stuffing alongside a turkey or you can stuff the turkey.

 

Wild Rice Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (13 3/4 to 14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups regular long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan over high heat, heat chicken broth, wild rice, salt, thyme, and 1 1/2 cups water to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove carrot mixture to bowl.

In same skillet in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cook mushrooms until golden brown and all liquid evaporates.

Stir long-grain rice, carrot mixture, and mushrooms into wild rice; over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes longer or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in chopped parsley. Use to stuff 12- to 16-pound turkey or, spoon into serving bowl; keep warm.

Cherry Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 5 cups country bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) or frozen (defrosted) pitted tart cherries, drained
  • 1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a saucepan, saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in thyme and poultry seasoning. In a large bowl, combine bread, dried cherries and celery mixture. Add broth and canned cherries; toss to mix.

Loosely stuff turkey just before baking. Skewer openings; tie drumsticks together. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Brush with the olive oil.

Bake, uncovered, at 325°F. for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 180° for the turkey and 165° for the stuffing. Baste occasionally with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.

Cover and let stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey. If desired, thicken pan drippings for gravy. Yield: 10-12 servings (6 cups stuffing).

Note: The stuffing may be prepared as directed and baked separately in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Cover and bake at 325°F.for 50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned.

 



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