Matt and I have very different childhood memories of Thanksgiving. My family is Italian-American from Dyker Heights, so turkey played second fiddle to my grandmother’s lasagna, which was the centerpiece of every holiday meal. Matt’s family is from Iowa, where they celebrated much more traditionally with dishes like casseroles. Since we’ve begun to celebrate Thanksgiving with both of our families, we’ve enjoyed putting together menus that borrow from both of our cultures, and we’ve re-imagined some old favorites in ways that are distinctively ours. Here are some of our favorites!
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
This really couldn’t be easier, and is far tastier than the boiled Brussels sprouts that so many people grew up on. I ask my butcher to cut me thick slices of pancetta (about 1/2 an inch), cut into cubes. I sauté it on high heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crazy sexy and crunchy. I then take my Brussels sprouts, cut them in half and toss them in the pancetta fat, some Sicilian sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, then roast them in the oven til they’re nice and crispy (don’t worry about the temp – just throw it in with whatever else is cooking). Then I toss them in with the pancetta bits and shave a little parmesan cheese on the top. Again, couldn’t be easier.
Italian Sausage Stuffing
The key to this is to use the BEST sausage and the best bread. For sausage, I’m a fan of Faicco’s on 11th Avenue, Bari on 18th Ave, and A&S on 5th off 86th. The best bread comes from the old Italian bakeries that have ovens practically from the Stone Age, where you can taste the history of every loaf in its complex and smoky crust. Very few are left, as the old timers have either passed on or people have modernized. After my beloved Frances Bakery closed, I now go to St. Anthony’s on 69th and Fort Hamilton Parkway.
This is Matt’s grandmother’s recipe – a classic Midwestern casserole that makes my arteries harden just by listing the ingredients, but goddamn it is SO GOOD. You take frozen hash browns, sour cream, crumbled bacon, eggs, and cheddar cheese, mix together in a Pyrex dish and bake until golden brown and bubbly. Wear fat pants for this one.
Acorn Squash Puree
This is something I used to make in my catering days as a nice alternative to apple or cranberry sauce. I roast two acorn squashes that have been split in half, then scoop out the innards. In a saucepan, I melt half a stick of butter until brown, then add the acorn squash pulp, 1/4-1/3 cup of maple syrup, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg, and stir til warmed throughout. Then I add 1/2 cup of half-and-half, and use a stick blender to make a smooth puree (if it’s a bit too thick for your liking, you can add more half-and-half or chicken stock to thin).
Individual Apple Crisps
We always buy dessert for Thanksgiving, as the week before we’ve usually made tons of cupcakes for everyone else (pre-order now!). And of course, I STRONGLY encourage people to order lots and lots of cupcakes for Thanksgiving.
However, I may very well be making these with my kids this year. It’s a variation on the first recipe I ever created when I was six years old, and it lets the kids get their hands dirty and contribute to the meal.
- 4 baking apples, peeled
- maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons soft butter
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Cut the apples in half and scoop out the seeds and core. Pour maple syrup into the cavity to fill. Give the kids a pastry brush and have the brush the tops of the apples with maple syrup to cover. No such thing as too much or too little – let them have fun!
- In a big bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and have them use their little hands to mash them all together until crumbly. Divide amongst the tops of the apples.
- Bake the apples for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
The Robicelli’s make some of the best cupcakes we’ve ever had. You can place Thanksgiving orders directly with them until Sunday, November 21. This year’s Thanksgiving cupcake flavors include Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake, Sweet Potato Pie, Butternut Spice, Apple Maple Crisp and Maple Walnut.
For details, see their website here.