Italian Inspired Thanksgiving!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve gotten tired of the same old Thanksgiving dinner EVERY year. I agree that tradition is important, but I also think there’s ways to mix it up, while keeping the traditional Thanksgiving elements alive! That’s what I tried to do this year. Just like a traditional Thanksgiving, there was a main dish and several other components full of familiar Thanksgiving flavors, but this year paying homage to Italian culinary traditions!
For the main dish, I decided to completely forgo the turkey this year. Instead, I opted for pork. Porchetta specifically! So what is porchetta??
Porchetta is a savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, or other herbs, often wild. Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (“traditional agricultural-alimentary product”, one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance).
Basically, porchetta is like delicious melt in your mouth pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon. Juicy, savory, and crispy, all in one! And no need to separate bones from dark meat and white meat!
For the appetizers, I wanted to feature an anti-pasto platter with various meats and cheeses, served with crackers, fruit, and roasted veggies.
Typically for a cheese platter, you want to have some variety in the types of cheeses you select. I choose one soft cheese; brie, which I baked until the center was melted, one semi-hard cheese; fontina, and one hard cheese; asiago. I roasted some heads of garlic and red peppers in olive oil to serve, along with some lightly breaded pan fried eggplant, pears, grapes, apples, and crackers.
I also wanted to include some traditional Italian dips; Bagna Cauda, Pesto, and Balsamic Bruschetta! Plenty of crostinis and fresh Italian bread to dip!
The final two pieces of the appetizer hour is prosciutto wrapped asparagus and sausage stuffed mushrooms.
Of course, all things are better with cocktails!!
This unique cider rum punch includes thyme simple syrup and lemon.
Cranberry Champagne Cocktail
Pumpkin Pie Shooters… fun!!!
Vanilla Pear Sparkler
Onto the main course! As I mentioned, I wanted to keep traditional elements of Thanksgiving, but put an Italian twist on them. Instead of turkey, I cooked Porchetta, the Italian pork roast!
I got a 12 pound boneless, rind-on pork belly for the porchetta and rolled it with plenty of spices and herbs.
I scored the pork belly in alternate diagonal cuts and rubbed in the garlic, spices, and herbs.
Then I rolled it up and secured it with kitchen twine.
You want to cook this slow and low, then crank the heat up to crisp the skin at the end. So I baked it at 300 degrees for about 4 hours, basting with its own juices every half hour or so. This is what it looked like after four hours.
Then, you crank the oven up to 500 degrees for about another 20 minutes to crisp up the skin.
The result is nothing short of spectacular! The inside is melt in your mouth tender and flavorful, and the outside is crisped to perfection!
I also wanted to put an Italian spin on the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. It wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes and gravy, so I made Parmesan mozzarella baked mashed potatoes, and a Madiera cream gravy.
For the gravy, I wanted to make it pork based, since the main dish was pork. Pork stock isn’t something they sell in the stores around here, so I made my own! I went to my local butcher and got some pigs feet and a pork shoulder to make stock with. Then I used the pork stock along with the leftover drippings from the porchetta, some Madeira wine, and some heavy cream to make this heavenly gravy!
For an Italian spin on traditional stuffing, I made Ciabatta stuffing with pancetta and apples.
When most people think of sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, they think of the kind from a can, smothered in brown sugar and topped with marshmallows and baked. While I DO love this, it doesn’t quite fit with my theme. I also felt that pasta would be great to incorporate into this menu, so I made homemade sweet potato ravioli with a lemon, brown butter, sage sauce.
Instead of creamed corn, I used Polenta which is an Italian corn product. I also wanted to incorporate some other familiar fall flavors, Brussels Sprouts and pomegranates. I made cheesy fried polenta with pan roasted balsamic Brussels Sprouts, drizzled with a roasted garlic sage oil and topped with crispy fried sage.
Instead of green bean casserole, I made sauteed green beans with roasted heirloom tomatoes, topped with Parmesan cheese.
I made one more vegetable side dish; red wine marinated roasted broccoli.
Finally, on to Dessert! I wanted to incorporate the traditional flavors of pumpkin and pecan pies, without the pies! I made a pumpkin tiramisu and a pecan pie cheesecake.
As the Italians would say, it was Molto Delizioso!! Happy Thanksgiving!!