Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and because it embodies the essence our immigrant culture and lends itself to many wonderful interpretations. I have seen Thanksgiving meals with a Southern spin, Latin or Asian spice, as well as farm to table vegetarian renditions. However, my most memorable Thanksgiving dinner was my first, East coast Italian-American Thanksgiving at my husband’s aunt’s place in Massachusetts; the same year we were married.
Aunt Virginia was a tall, elegant woman with giant, bejeweled glasses and large manicured hands. She was the sister of my husband’s father whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Aeolian Islands; off the coast of Sicily. I remember her demonstrative reception at the door as she ushered us to the dining room table that was set up like a buffet. At the time, I thought it was the dinner buffet but little did I know it was just the antipasti. Stuffed artichokes, prosciutto with melon, mortadella, sorpressata, olives, pepperoncini, bread, white bean dip, caponata. Then out came cheese ravioli and a large platter of meatballs. I ate heartily and was relaxing over a glass of wine pondering what elaborate desserts would appear when out came the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other fixings and more wine. OMG!
Somehow I made room for the turkey and fixins’ and the five-hour dinner was full of laughter as Aunt Virginia told stories of her youth, her Italian family and her three husbands. All of this as she smoked a cigarette, in between courses, from a long tip cigarette holder in her long dress and gold slippers.
Over the years I have come to learn that this type of dinner is not so uncommon. You may find yourself lucky enough to be invited to a Thanksgiving dinner of a family whose roots date back to some part of Italy, a generation — or two or three ago; during a time when the family was everything.
I asked a colleague to share her own family Italian-American Thanksgiving menu to see how it compared to Aunt Virginia’s and sure enough, the menu even rivaled hers in variety, abundance and flavors. Even if you don’t have the amount of family or helpers on hand to pull off this incredible menu, you may at least benefit from the mostly cook-free antipasti table. We are hoping this menu will inspire you to ask an aunt or grandparent for a recipe that has been passed down over the years. Maybe it will prompt the sharing of photos, some family history or some connection to the past. Maybe this will bring a new appreciation for the present and for what the future has to hold.
Here’s to the memory of all Aunt Virginias out there! May we forever celebrate them. Che mangiamo e beviamo nel tuo nome!
Zollo-DiMaggio Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Cheese and Crackers
Roasted Red Peppers
Olive and Mushroom Tapenade
Fresh, Sliced Mozzarella, Tomatoes, and Basil
Baked Shrimp Monachina
2nd Course – Pasta
Lasagna with Homemade Tomato Sauce
3rd Course – Classic Thanksgiving
Fried Turkey and Oven Roasted Turkey
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
Sauteed Green Beans
Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli, Beets, and Carrots
Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Simple Balsamic Salad
6 Layer Chocolate Trifle
Homemade Vanilla Cream Puffs
And in the true spirit of this Italian-American Thanksgiving feast, we recommend a light bodied red called La Fontana from Raphael Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island as well as their Chardonnay.