It all started quite simply. Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, is not an Italian holiday. We had doctor appointments that day and a dinner reservation at Sesto Senso. Sure, I love my USA family and friends but did I need a Thanksgiving dinner to speak to them? Nope. That is what FaceTime is for. The day moved smoothly along until we were sitting down at Sesto Senso. We always make a reservation for 8:00 PM and are usually one of the first couples in the place but something felt wrong. It was Thanksgiving and we are surrounded by …
Chaos! That is what one has on Thanksgiving! Too much food, screams of laughter, sighs of stuffed tummies and general mayhem. I had tuna tartare and no bloat. This night just felt wrong. I had to do something in a hurry. Without thinking it through I contacted my cousin Carmella and invited her and my extended Italian family for a real American taste of Thanksgiving. Since it was going to be on Sunday, I stole a moniker from my friend Janet. Same food, same chaos, different date equals Fakesgiving.
Friday Morning. Fifteen people are coming on Sunday. Where do I find a turkey? Do they sell stuffing in a bag? The mayhem I craved roared into my life. Take a breath Jack intoned. Grabbing a piece of paper I made a menu – my mom’s 1960s menu. Appetizers and cocktails – deviled eggs, doctored cream cheese stuffed celery sticks, cute pitted olives and cheese cube on a toothpick. Main – turkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, green vegetable, three bean salad and succotash. Dessert – pumpkin pie, apple pie and whipped cream. Feeling so much calmer now that I had a plan, I leaped in the car. First stop the Marcelleria. Butcher, Stefano, said sure he could order a turkey breast and a turkey leg/thigh for Saturday. It would be enough for 15 people. Whew. One check on my list. Knowing I wouldn’t find canned broth for the stuffing or gravy, I bought about 3 pounds of chicken wings. Next, on to the vegetable store. Nicole found me apples, celery, onions, potatoes and joy of joy – broccoli. Lima beans, fava beans – any small green bean for succotash was out of the question. I grabbed a bag of dried white beans. At Diglio Forno I bought two loaves of bread. Next stop – Conad – pumpkin puree in a can – WHAT this is the land of homemade. My mind flashed to our veranda. My landlord had decorated with giant pumpkins. I could roast one and make my own puree. I decided to cheat and buy refrigerated pasta sfoglia for pie crusts. Heavy cream came in these little boxes on the shelf and required no refrigeration – hmmm. Cream cheese, of course they had Philadelphia. I loaded my cart with everything else I could think of. We had tons of olives processed after the harvest, so I didn’t need those. My last stop was a quick run to the cheese store. Check, check and check. Did I mention it has been raining for five days. Every time I went into a store I got drenched. Drenched and more drenched. The very dry Jack and I unloaded the car and I grabbed a pumpkin. The stock pot was loaded with the chicken wings and what ever vegetables were turning in my refrigerator. The chicken stock would slow cook over night. Sigh… What was I thinking.
Friday Afternoon. Desserts. Today, I will simply focus on making dessert. “Jack,” I bellowed, “Can you cut his fahkackatah pumpkin in half?” Jack ambled into the kitchen and pulled out a big knife. He looked at me. I looked at him. I left the room. A few hacks and curses later the pumpkin was halved and seeded. It was so large, I put the oven tray on the lowest rack and only roasted one half at a time. While the roasting was happening I commandeered Jack to start peeling apples for the apple pie. I was madly toasting bread – two cuts at a time – to get dried bread for stuffing. Other cuts of bread were stuffed in the oven around the pumpkin.
Ok. Now I have roasted pumpkin. What I do not have in Pontelandolfo is a food processor to turn the roasted pumpkin into puree. I call Carmella. She has something called a Vorwerk Bimby – food processor, cooker and fairy godmother. We dumped in the still warm pumpkin and out poured puree. So much puree. I mean buckets of puree. Soup! I’ll add pumpkin soup to the menu! Yeah, Midge why not just make more work for yourself. Chaos! I craved the chaos. Apple and pumpkin pies were made. The chicken stock was simmering. The ugly white dried beans I would use for the succotash were soaking. The table cloth and napkins were on the table. Broccoli was prepped. Vodka was poured.
Saturday. Rats. It is raining – AGAIN. Another drenched to the skin trip to the butcher. Mancini Marcelleria was packed. What are all these people doing standing outside in the rain waiting to buy meat? Covid rules – only two at a time in the store. From under my umbrella and with wet feet, I texted Jack. “This sucks.” Stefano knew I was there for the turkey parts. He went in the back and groaned under the weight of the package. The thigh and leg was so freakin’ large I started laughing. Is that from a dinosaur I asked? No, I was told a “tacchino maschio.” Man those Toms sure grow up here in the hills. If I were a hen turkey I’d be running the other way. The breast had to be ten pounds. I figured I had twenty pounds of turkey pieces. I lugged them home, hand rubbed them with herbs. Since they were sadly skinless, I layered pancetta over all of the pieces and squished them in the fridge. Saturday was a blur. My eyes were tearing from all the onions chopped. Eggs were cooked, three bean salad tossed, stuffing made, potatoes peeled, celery sliced, cheese cubed, beans cooked, pumpkin soup recipes searched, table partially set. Vodka poured.
Sunday – Fakesgiving. Like everyone who makes a turkey that weighs more than most cars here, I was up early. The turkey was weighing down the counter and the oven was preheating. I figured it would take five hours. I was wrong. I have a great convection oven and the turkey was in parts! It only took 2.5 hours and was done in advance. NOOOOOO! That wasn’t the only drama.
“Jack,” I queried, “where are the rest of the wine glasses?”
“Why didn’t I know that?”
“You didn’t break them.”
Breathe. Not everyone drinks wine and a little mix and match is charming. I found a great recipe for pumpkin soup. Since I made the incredible chicken broth for the stuffing and I had puree all I needed was heavy cream. Plop. Yes, plop. The heavy cream that comes in the little boxes and don’t require refrigeration literally plop out of the box in one big disgusting white plop. Making the pumpkin pies, I had experienced this the day before, but it seemed grosser plopping into the orange soup. Tons of sage later, the soup was bubbling away. To add color to the cooked white bean and corn succotash, I diced jarred roasted pepper and tossed in some red. Potatoes were mashed. Broccoli started to steam. People arrived. We ate every bit of that menu. Giggles turned into guffaws over the 1960-esq appetizers – but I noticed all the stuffed celery was eaten.
My pumpkin soup was a smash. They adored the stuffing, vegetables and turkey. Antonio said, “Do this again next year.”
I looked around the table at the smiling faces. Remembered I had missed the chaos and said, “Certo.”
Vodka was poured.