Menu: Italian-American Thanksgiving Dinner


Updated for 2011: Turkey, stuffing and gravy recipe.

I’m first generation Italian-American. Most of my friends were second generation and were more Americanized than my family. In my early years we celebrated this American holiday Thanksgiving but the meal was really Italian.

As my siblings and I got older we realized that we were different. We started complaining that our Thanksgiving wasn’t like the one all our friends enjoyed. Slowly, the traditional 4-course Italian meal morphed, the roasted capon and its contorni (side dishes) were replaced by a turkey and all the American trimmings. From my early teens our Thanksgiving dinner was more American but still delicious.

In our family, Thanksgiving dinner started about 2:00 with about 20 at the table. Actually, the adults ate at the dining room table and the kids at a table set up in the living room on the other side of an open arch between the two rooms. For the kids moving to the adult table was a rite of passage.

The formal dinner lasted about 3 or 4 hours. The conversation was in Italian and English with lots of laughter. You could get up from the table in between courses to rest or watch television. When we made it through the last course the table was cleared and a poker game ensued. About 7 o’clock, all of the leftovers were back on the table so you could enjoy your favorites again. By 10 it was all over.

Here’s a typical Thanksgiving dinner menu when I was growing up in Jersey…

We started with a big antipasti platter: prosciutto, salami, smoked scamorza cheese, provolone, marinated peppers, artichoke hearts, mixed olives, all atop a bed of lettuce dressed with a bit of olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and dried oregano.

Primo piatto. My mom made fresh pasta with a long-cooked tomato gravy: ravioli with a ricotta stuffing; cavatelli, a ricotta or potato gnocchi; fettuccine; or maybe long fusilli.

Secondo piatto. Roasted capon with oven roasted potatoes and vegetables, later a roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli drizzled with lemon and olive oil.

Dolce. Italian pastries and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts and fresh fruit.

Plenty of fresh baked Italian bread and plenty of wine.

Here’s the Americanized Thanksgiving dinner I’m serving this year:

  • Buratta cheese/prosciutto/sundried cherry tomatoes crostini and Prosecco as my guests arrive
  • Chicken soup with escarole and orzo
  • Roasted turkey, chestnut and sausage stuffing, candied sweet potatoes with butter and maple syrup, creamed spinach, cranberry relish
  • Apple pie and vanilla gelato and espresso

The antipasti wine will be what’s left of the Prosecco; with the soup a Casa Alle Vacche Vernaccia di San Gimignano (2009 Tuscany); and with the turkey a choice of either Vitiano Rosato (Umbria 2008) or for something fuller bodied, Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato Aglianico (2006 Campania). With dessert my homemade limoncello or strawberry liqueur or both as long as you aren’t driving!

Update: Thanksgiving morning. Wow, what a surprise this morning. I was out of dried porcini mushrooms. OMG. Had to go down to Real Foods on Polk to get some. It was OK I needed a cappuccino from Peets and fresh bread for the crostini. We scored rolls from my friend Earl’s place Lotta’s Bakery lower down on Polk to eat with the turkey. Never know about those menus. They always have a way of changing especially when one of your guests has a desire for something that you have to make or when you find some unexpected things at the market.

The Village was a buzz yesterday with Thanksgiving shoppers. One of the local chefs was at Union Produce. She’s making a cornbread stuffing. Got to get that recipe. Told her I was making sausage and chestnut stuffing with sage and she said just like Italia as she jabbed the air with her finger generally pointing east.

Everything is ready. Some changes to the menu because of what I found in the market. Union Produce had Italian muscat grapes but they were all gone. They did have fat and sweet chestnuts from Italia for the stuffing.


The buratta is out replaced by fresh cow’s milk stracciatelle those little rags inside the buratta made by a guy across the Bay. Cipolini onions in agrodolce and mixed Italian olives have been added.


The guys at Little City gave be the back of a turkey and a neck. That’s the brodo (also used it to moisten the stuffing) and the orzo is replaced at the suggestion of my friend at A.G. Ferrari with fregola sarda tostata little toasted spitball-size semolina pasta with a nutty flavor.


At the urging of my sister Rose I’ve added a mixed fresh fruit bowl with Thompson grapes, local small organic pears, apples and mandarins. Oh, and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts. Rose made the fruit bowl for holidays growing up. Her handiwork was always the centerpiece of the table.

Let me know if you want any recipes.

Updated for 2011: Turkey, stuffing and gravy recipe.

Photo by Joe Marinaro

14 Replies to “Menu: Italian-American Thanksgiving Dinner”

  1. Grazie, Gianni!! I so loved this post. I, too, would love your recipe for limoncello. I have copied all of your ‘Antpasti’ ideas to use the next time I have compan over. One thing: I’m not Italian, but I come from Brooklyn, and we always called it Antipasto (with an “o” at the end), instead of Antipasti. Can you tell me the difference? Thanks!

  2. Gianni,

    I’m really interested in your limoncello and strawberry liquor recipes….and any other recipe you might like to share! Grazie!

  3. Yo John – your sister replaced Marlene’s centerpiece with…you guessed it…a fruit bowl! Now I know why! The menue sounded awesome – but I gotta tell you, your nephews TurDucHen with three stuffings (sausage, corn bread and oyster) was off the chart good. We cooked it for 8 hours on the Webber grill!

    Glad you and your friends had a great time! Friends are the family you choose – right!

    1. Ciao. Yeah, the fruit bowl memory from our growing up days in Jersey created a bit of controversy in the family. My Thanksgiving Dinner FB posts may have stirred the pot a bit! Each branch of the family had a fruit bowl centerpiece this Thanksgiving. I like continuing the tradition even though I got slammed by my sister for my SF version of that bowl. It didn’t match her memory of the bowl she put together for every family holiday meal in Bloomfield. And her bowl was on a pedestal!

  4. Dinner was so delicious – beyond words. Very laid back and Gianni is so cool about doing it all – he makes it so easy. Grazie, Gianni – Era deliziosa.

  5. Your site brings back memories of growing up in Jersey. Can still picture the family sitting around the table. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Spike and Joyce. Happy Thanksgiving. (Let me explain…. This is my older brother Gennaro, Jerry Jr, or as I called him Spike and his wife Joyce.) Cherish the memories. I wish we could all get together soon and fill up the tables for another meal just like we had growing up.

  6. Hi, what a wonderful dinner…we hope you had a great night!
    Did you like our Rubrato Aglianico?
    Please let us know on our Facebook fan page “I Vini dei Feudi di San Gregorio”!
    Feudi di San Gregorio Team

    1. The dinner is on Thursday. I hope it is wonderful. I love the Feudi di San Gregorio wines. My mother’s birth village Mirabella Eclano is very near the winery. I’m partial to these terrific wines from Campania. The Rubrato Aglianico is a great wine that pairs well with my rustic cooking with its roots in this region. The wines are sometimes hard to find in San Francisco but I scoop them up whenever I find them. I have to try the sparkling wines. I’ve been searching for bubbly from this area for a while.

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