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Outside the good ole US of A, the fourth Thursday of November is hardly more than an any ordinary day. In Florence, however, we roasted a giant turkey had a little American style Thanksgiving celebration.
It’s nice to share a little piece of American culture with friends abroad. Compared to my Thanksgiving experience in Munich (which involved multiple turkeys, a tiny kitchen, a lot of students, and a lot of cleanup), this year’s festivities were much more intimate- I did the cooking at home for my lovely host family.
Turkey doesn’t make much of an appearance in the Mediterranean Diet and is thus not an item you typically come across at your run-of-the-mill supermarket. We hoped to find a smaller tacchina (female turkey) but upon special ordering the bird, my host mom was informed the minimum would be around 5 kilograms… that’s about 14 lbs. Yikes. A bit more than we’d bargained for. I’ll be honest with you, I’d never roasted a turkey. Chicken, sure… turkey, never. But hey, a turkey is just a big chicken, right? That’s basically how I approached it. I read a few recipes, in particular the classic roast turkey from The Joy of Cooking and made a few personal tweaks. Then, after building up my confidence, I cleaned the bird; with all my courage, tentatively rubbed butter and herbs under the skin; and dosed it with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and pepper. It cooked much faster than we expected – in just about 2 hours. To accompany the super-turkey, I prepared stuffing (another recipe I improvised and Italianized), creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, carrots confit (just a fancy way to say carrots and shallots cooked very slowly in olive oil and thyme until they take on a lovely caramelized coating), and good old fashioned american gravy. For dessert, I made two pies – pumpkin and apple. The pumpkin pie I took to school to share with my classmates, the apple (and a smaller pumpkin pie) we enjoyed with Thanksgiving dinner. Related side note – this is my favorite piecrust recipe; with the secret ingredient of vodka (which evaporates and leaves the crust flaky and perfect), it’s nearly fool proof.
It was a very successful dinner. Everything turned out great and the family enjoyed taking part in this unique American tradition.
Thanksgiving is about so much more than turkey, however. It’s a time to spend with family, to reflect, and, as the name suggests, to give thanks. I missed being at home with my family but I got to skype in for some of the festivities. I realize I’m pretty much living the post-grad dream in Italy and I am so, so thankful to have this opportunity. My family in Virginia has given me the guidance and support to make me the person I am today and they’ve allowed me to explore my dreams and to live my life to the fullest- I have you guys to thank for my strong roots at home and for the courage you’ve given me to spread my wings and to live me life. My new family in Florence is beyond wonderful. I had never expected to make such a strong connection when I began to explore the idea of living with a host family and now I can’t imagine this experience without them; they’ve been so helpful (and were very patient with our little bureaucracy hiccup!!) and have made me feel very welcome. Needless to say, I have so much to be thankful for and I feel very, very blessed.
in a little paesino between Florence and Bologna there is a restaurant called Da Giorgione, which unless you know about it, would almost certainly go unnoticed. That’d be a shame. This half grocery store – half restaurant serves authentic, delicious Tuscan fare.
The dining room is very plainly decorated and the tables are tightly arranged to accommodate the guests. Service here is hardly a strong point… you’ll have to assertively claim your table before it’s too late and then you’ll have to get glasses and flatware and set the table yourself. Once you’ve hunted down one of the few menus, grab a napkin and a pen and write down your order. Don’t wait for a waiter to take your order; as the proprietor passes through the dining room, flag him down and pass him your scribbled order.
And then, the magic begins. In the kitchen you can actually see the Tuscan women hand-rolling and hand-filling the tortelli (in American standards, basically oversized ravioli). The presentation is totally unpretentious and the simple flavors take center stage. The pasta is filled with potato and is tossed with your choice of ragù – bolognese (classic meat sauce), chingiale (wild boar), anatra (duck) or porcini (mushroom). The flavors are so simple and unbelievably delicious.
that’s amore. la vita italianata.
It’s been over a month and I can confidently say that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Florence. The city, the people, the language, the food… It’s fantastic.
As if its natural beauty of Tuscany weren’t enchanting enough, Florence itself is like an art gallery – a showcase for medieval and renaissance masterpieces. Tuscan food is sweep-you-off-your-feet amazing. It’s often a bit particular but, in my opinion, it’s one of the very few cuisines that you could happily eat everyday. Italian food is so much more than just pasta; in Florence there’s bistecca (just seared, very rare steak), lampredotto (tripe sandwich), ribollita (a stew made with vegetables – most notably black cabbage- and stale bread, cinghiale (wild boar!!), and truffles just to name a few. I’m eating and learning a lot- I bought a huge book called il grande libro della vera cucina toscana (the big book of true Tuscan cooking) that I’ve been working my way through.
Florence, as the home of Dante Alighieri, is considered the birthplace of the Italian language. Following my experience in Sicily, it’s not hard to notice the more delicate tone of the florentine accent. It’s a bit particular in that “c” is often pronounced as “h” (for example, “vorrei un haffè” instead of “caffè”), it’s quite charming ;)
This experience is very different from my experience in Germany in that it’s just about all in Italian. Aside from a few English-speaking friends, I’ve been speaking a lot of Italian. Without a doubt this is the best way to learn a language. In a handful of months my Italian has surpassed my level of German at the end of ten months in Munich. Just by immersion. By the end of this year, I should definitely be certifiably fluent.
So after all that talk of my overly romanticized life in Tuscany, you’re probably expecting an Italian recipe. Welllllll….. Sorry to disappoint. There are, however, several more blog posts just about ready to be published with fabulous Italian recipes. For now, here’s a recipe that has definitely been a favorite in the house in the past few weeks. Caramel Sauce. I think this is the fourth batch. It’s good on just about everything. The magic of caramel sauce hasn’t really made it to Italy- my Italian family had never tasted it. Now, it’s never missing from the fridge. We especially love it with coffee. We make italianized caramel macchiatos – instead of mostly milk and a splash of coffee, we do espresso with a bit of steamed milk and a healthy drizzle of caramel sauce.
1 cup (200gr) white sugar
1 1/4 cup (300ml) heavy cream
1/8-1/4 tsp salt (if you use a salt like fleur de sel, use closer to 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
In a large, deep saucepan spread the sugar in a shallow, even layer over a medium-low heat. When the sugar on the sides begins to melt, use a rubber spatula to gently pull it towards the center to prevent it from burning. Important- stir as little as possible!!
When the sugar has melted completely and has a deep amber color, remove from heat.
Add half of the cream- prepare yourself for vigorous whisking, it will steam and bubble up violently!
Stir until the cream is thoroughly incorporated then add the remaining cream.
Stir in salt and vanilla.
If any sugar has hardened, return to a low heat until it dissolves.