Thanksgivings Past and Customer Favorites
This certainly will be another Thanksgiving to remember – still filled with zoom calls and quiet isolated dinners for some and crowded planes and icy roads for others. Since this beloved family holiday will be different again this year, I have found solace in remembering Thanksgivings past, first as a child at my Italian grandmother’s table and then as a young woman in Italy, cooking for the Ricchi’s and my new friends.
Since most of us will be enjoying turkey this week, I thought it a good idea to highlight the dishes our customers ask for the most.
Chef's Travel Notes
Who could have dreamed we would still be here? This certainly will be another Thanksgiving to remember – filled with zoom calls and quiet isolated dinners for some and crowded flights and icy roads for others. Wiser sages tell us to let go of what we can’t control and be thankful for what we have been given.
Since I realized we might have to forgo the yearly event that we treasure most in our family, I have found solace in remembering Thanksgivings past. First, as a child, remembering Nanny Russo’s table, so much more than the traditional American spread. Of course, there was turkey with all the rest, because engaging in this national tradition was extremely important to an Italian immigrant family who reveled in being new Americans. For an Italian though, a true feast must include several courses, commencing with a savory antipasto followed by an intricate pasta course. Ours was lasagna, a dish that would take days to prepare. My favorite memory of those early Thanksgivings of my youth was that of my father sitting at the empty, tomato sauce and turkey gravy spotted table, picking through warm, crackling, roasted chestnuts. As the pile of empty shells grew in the center of the table, he usually then would pull out his pipe and the holiday tableau was complete as the house filled with the scent of aromatic Flying Dutchman tobacco.
Moving to Italy as a young woman brought many discoveries and new adventures, but one of my favorites was the introduction of American Thanksgiving traditions to the Italians. They were so eager and curious to partake in this culinary extravaganza that they had seen in American movies. My Thanksgiving dinners at the trattoria in Cercina became a much-anticipated event. We closed for the day and set the table for 60 or more of our family, friends and customers. There are many, many funny stories about trying to find turkeys and cranberries, but the most memorable was the hunt for sweet potatoes (“patate Americane.”) Our greengrocer (“fruttivendolo”) couldn’t help us, but directed us to the FLORIST (“fioraio”) down the street! Remember when as children we would stick a sweet potato in a jar full of water and long green vines would sprout? I bought the whole basket of sweet spuds, but the gray mush of a sweet potato casserole did not quite meet the mark. Yuck!
Since most of us will be enjoying turkey this week, I thought it a good idea to highlight the dishes that our customers ask for the most. Penne Strascicate is a dish most emblematic of rustic Tuscan cooking and one we have had on the menu since we opened. “Strascicare” means to shuffle or drag through. In this case, the pasta and sugo (Tuscans’ beloved meat sauce) are combined in a pan and tossed together – or the pasta is “dragged through” the sauce, creating a delightful amalgama of flavors. It is our most requested pasta dish with a taste like no other.
Rosticciana con Fagioli all’Uccelletto is one of the most popular dishes both here and at the trattoria at Cercina. Rubbed with fennel seeds and mixed spices, pork ribs are slow roasted and finished on the grill with a stroke of balsamic glaze. Tuscans, known as “mangia fagioli”, bean-eaters, will almost always accompany their ribs with Fagioli all’ Uccelletto, stewed cannellini with tomato and sage.
Misticanza di Stagione has become i Ricchi’s house salad. We roast grapes to bring out their sweetness and toss them with arugula, radicchio and frisee lettuces, crispy toasted farro and parmesan shavings.
Bongo Bongo is Florentine slang for chocolate covered, cream filled profiterole. There are varied opinions as to the origin of the name of this dessert, some of which are not very politically correct. But, whatever the origin, they are one of the most popular desserts in Florence and with our Food Club!
This week may be a hard one for many, but now, more than ever, we must persevere and not focus on what is missing. Our Thanksgiving family tradition always included going around the table as each declared what they were most grateful for. Thanksgiving is about gratitude and gratitude brings happiness. At this very difficult time for me, I am deeply touched by the support and love of our customers. You are what keeps me on track, focused and grateful. Happy, happy Thanksgiving – the battle is real and we will make it through.
Here is a final thought sent from a friend…
My Thanksgiving Week TO DO LIST:
- Count my blessings
- Let go of what I can’t control
- Practice kindness
- Listen to my heart
- Be thankful for what God has given me
- Just breathe