I love Thanksgiving. I love everything about the long and affectionate guest list; the elaborate menu; the new linens; the choreography of burners, pans, serving dishes, seating arrangements, and chairs; the meal itself; and the leisurely conversations that flow throughout the day.
Our Thanksgiving starts at least a month in advance with the decision about the focus of the menu. Although we do serve some of the same dishes from year to year, the theme of the meal is always new. This year, we decided to be inspired by the flavors of Italy. We started the afternoon with antipasto, breads, cheeses, and a potato-pea frittata, served alongside plenty of Prosecco, sparkling juices, and red wine. Our soup course was a roasted celery root and chestnut puree, followed by pumpkin risotto. The turkey, fondly named Enrico Palazzo (we have a long history of naming our birds each year; this year we went with a comical name to match the menu), was glazed with prosciutto butter and herbs. The mashed potatoes were baked with fontina cheese. Two kinds of cranberry sauce, one cooked and one raw, as well as garlic-sauteed broccoli rabe and fresh green beans, added color and zest. A rich spicy sausage and bread stuffing and dark roux-thickened gravy provided depth. Our desserts included fresh pumpkin ice cream, ricotta tart, and almond cake with mixed berry sauce. Everyone left the table satisfied and happy. Our refrigerators strained to contain all the leftovers, even though we sent many items off with our guests. The remains of Enrico Palazzo were gathered into a big plastic bag and stuffed into a freezer.
Last night, I brought the rest of the turkey into the kitchen and tried to fit it, along with some onions, fennel, carrots, and celery, into the biggest pot in the house. The tailbone of my formerly 25-pound main course stood up at least four inches above the top of the pot. After boiling for a few hours, the tissues broke down enough that Enrico could be completely submerged into his savory jacuzzi. A couple of hours after that, we strained out more than a gallon of broth and separated out the meat.
And now, today was the day to turn it all into gold. Most of the broth went into a stockpot with sliced carrots, leeks, and celery. Nearly all of the leftover turkey meat went into the stock, too. I stirred in the rest of Thursday’s gravy–what a perfect roux to make a hearty stew! Three more cups of stock served as the liquid to cook a batch of wild rice, which also got added to the pot. In the meantime, I made yeast dough. Right now, two loaves of simple country bread are baking in the oven, ready to apread with creamy butter and dip into a bowl of thick stew. What could be more basic, and yet more sublime? Just like Rumpelstiltskin, we can all find magic in the power of transforming elemental ingredients into something wonderful.