Recently, my daughter asked me an important question about Thanksgiving.
"Does everyone eat pasta before the turkey on Thanksgiving?"
Poor kid. I'm not sure how long it had been weighing on her. But it was time for the truth.
"Is it because we're Italian?"
I also told her our Italian heritage accounts for the large antipasto brimming with five different cheeses, three types of olives, and at least four types of cured meats that we eat before the pasta, turkey, and seven different desserts. It’s baked into our DNA and sealed with a layer of melted mozzarella cheese.
“It’s best not to fight it,” I told her before offering up my best advice. “Wear Lycra from head to toe so your body has room to expand during the eight-hour eating marathon. Remember, it’s better to put your eating clothes on at the onset. That way, you won’t have to pass up a cannoli and cappuccino later on.”
Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time when Italian Americans everywhere stuff the Thanksgiving manicotti.
It’s also time, apparently, for some straight talk about how our family celebrates a national holiday. Or any holiday for that matter. It was best that my daughter heard it from me.
Truthfully, I don’t cook nearly as much as my grandmothers did on holidays. I don’t cook as well either and I’m worried many of their signature dishes won’t survive my generation. That’s why I’m thankful a relative on my dad’s side of the family took the time to gather recipes from any family member who wanted to contribute and had them bound into one collection. Three of my grandmother’s recipes are in this cookbook.
This holiday season I’d like to pass along two of my favorites to you. On a side note, some Italian Americans call red sauce, or marinara sauce, “gravy”. This is not to be confused with actual gravy that gets poured over turkey and stuffing.
1 can whole tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs. meat loaf mix (ground meat)
20 manicotti shells
1/4 cup olive oil
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed until dry
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic crushed
Sauté onions and garlic in heated olive oil until tender. Add meat and brown. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Stuff manicotti shells.* Put an adequate layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of an oblong casserole dish. Layer stuffed manicotti shells on top of the sauce.
Cover stuffed shells with more sauce. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour until shells are cooked. Check occasionally to make sure the sauce has not dried out. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
*Note: Manicotti shells can be boiled beforehand until they’re just shy of al dente then rinsed in cold water, covered, and set aside. However, this recipe did not call for boiling the shells first, but I had to trust these ladies knew what they were talking about.
Sunday Gravy (a/k/a marinara or red sauce)
3 boxes Pomi strained tomatoes (Imported)
1 can Cento crushed tomatoes
1 can imported tomato paste
2 bay leaves
12 leaves fresh Basil chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. minced garlic
In large 12 qt. stock pot cover the bottom with olive oil and turn heat on low to medium. Add minced garlic and cook until golden brown. Add 1 can tomato paste and 1 can water and blend with garlic and oil. Next add Pomi tomatoes, Cento Crushed tomatoes, basil and bay leaves. Stir thoroughly. Add salt, pepper and sugar and bring sauce to a boil. Lower gas and simmer with lid covering the pot at an angle. Do not completely cover. Simmer sauce for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.