The Rovigo Ermine Turkey – An Italian Inspired Thanksgiving

turkey-featherPart of our Italian family is from the Veneto and although Thanksgiving is not an Italian holiday I can imagine that, if it was, the Rovigno Ermine turkey would be at the center of the table. Tacchino, turkey in Italian, is eaten in Italy but it’s not prepared nor sold the same as in the US. I did have an excellent turkey dish in Emilia at a cooking lesson with my friend Rita made with a rolled turkey breast but a traditional Thanksgivingesque turkey is most likely only to be found on an American expat November holiday table.

rovigoThe Rovigo Ermine turkey (Ermellinato di Rovigo) came into being in 1958, a result of a cross of local birds to the American Narraganset. It differs from the Italian Common Bronze turkey (Comune Bronzato) by its flesh-colored legs, white skin, and ermine color. Although very rustic, the color and design of the bird make it more stately and unique. Well-imagined as stuffed, displayed, feathers and all at a a medieval banquet. Our intention would be little less dramatic and our presentation more in keeping with the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Trussed, stuffed, dressed and served with the usual side dishes but with a decidedly Italian twist.

Sweet potatoes and pumpkin replaced with Marina di Chioggia, chioggia-sea-pumpkinthe sea pumpkin of Chioggia near Venice, a bumpy, misshapen Italian heritage cultivare of pumpkin with yellow orange flesh and a fantastic taste that lends itself to many preparations. Cranberry sauce morphed into an Italian mostarda (recipe below) and brussel sprouts roasted with prosciutto and balsamic. Parmigiano Reggiano mashed potatoes piped Duchesse style, in homage to Caterina de’Medici, the great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent whose marriage to King Henry ll brought Tuscan food customs to the tables of France.

All brought together with family and friends and the belief that preparing a well-laid table to share and enjoy with your family and friends in a relaxed and tranquil manner is a lost pleasure that must be found again and a reason to be thankful.

Amarena Cranberry Mostarda (Serves 6-8)

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup Morello Austera Wild Cherry Jam
1/2 cup Maletti aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dried sour cherries
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, finely minced

Add all the ingredients, with the exception of the fresh thyme, to a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to bring the mix to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occassionally, until thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the fresh marjoram and let cool slightly before serving.

from CosituttiMarketPlace


Italian Cookie Crumbs Create Byzantine Art in the Veneto

fregollata cookieA fregollata is a cookie from the Veneto region of Northern Italy with a crumbly, porous texture. In the Veneto, fregolotta comes from the local dialect word for crumb “fregola”. The combined ingredients create a mixture of large crumbs of dough (fregole) which you drop into the baking pan and press into larger “crumbs”creating one large oversized cookie.

A traditionally made fregollata is fairly hard and meant to be broken into bite sized pieces and shared at the table with a glass of passito wine or spirits. It is not overly sweet as is the case with many Italian cookies and desserts (saving the richer versions for special feasts and occasions). The fregollata has taken on mythical proportions partially due to its size and partially due to the number of variations in the making. Some versions use cornmeal, cake flour, eggs, cream and citrus zests.

Our chosen version of a fregollata is more biscuit-like, a giant Italian crumb cookie made with a shortbread dough filled with marmalata to create a jammy tart. A juxtaposition of crumbly dough, brilliantly colored jam and the sliced edges of sharp almonds – an Italian cookie mosaic influenced by the Byzantine art of the Veneto.

The stone mosaics on the floor of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.

The stone mosaics on the floor of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.

Fregollata Tart (adapted from Food52)

12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) not too sweet apricot jam (or other jam of your choice)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) sliced natural almonds

1.  Heat the oven to 350 °F. Position an oven rack in the center of oven.
2.  Place the butter, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond extract and blend well, another 30 seconds.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and combine on a low speed just until the dough is thoroughly combined, about 30 to 40 seconds. Measure out 1/2 cup of the dough and set it on a small plate, then place the plate in the freezer (this will chill the dough and make it easier to crumble).
4.  Press the remaining dough into a 9 or 9 1/2-inch tart pan in an even layer (the edges can be a little higher than the rest, just be careful that the center is not the thickest point). Traditional recipes advise dipping your fingers in a mixture of eggs and cream to moisten them so the dough does not stick or if the dough is too sticky, just chill it briefly.
5.  Use a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the jam in a thin, even layer over the surface of the dough, leaving a border of about 1-inch around the edges.
6 . Remove the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it into small pieces over the layer of the jam, allowing some of the jam to peek through creating a mosaic like pattern. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top of the tart.
7.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely. If your tart pan has a removable bottom, to un mold, center the tart pan on top of a large can so that it balances midair as the rim of the tart pan falls to the counter. Leave the bottom of the pan under the tart for support, or run a large spatula between the crust and the pan, using the spatula to guide the tart onto a plate.

Letters from Italy

This header is from a letter sent to our Italian family in the US from our Italian family in Milano circa 1953.

Epiphania Trevisan, our Italian grandmother, immigrated to America in 1920. Like many Italian immigrants, circumstances of time and place, marriage and duty caused Nonna to travel to the US with her husband Santo. Her first child was almost born on the Re d’Italia, sailing from Genoa in July and arriving at the port of Staten Island, New York in August. Families with names like Paladini, Stratta, Fontana, Amerighi, Piccinini and Marasco were  part of the 2,020 passengers that made the trip with 3,000 miles of separation.  

But Nonna’s heart was still in the Veneto, a region in Northern Italy located in the Venetian plain whose cultural and culinary traditions make it one of the most visited regions of Italy today. The oral traditions of life in the Veneto were kept alive in our family and everyone was influenced by them. Families in the Veneto wrote to families in the United States, over holidays and birthdays, through wars and liberations, at births and deaths. Letters and pictures were sent, money and presents exchanged, dreams and disappointments lost and found.


The Bacala Battles

The regional variations for the making of bacala, Italian dried salted codfish, extend even to its name which can also be spelled baccalà (in Portuguese bacalhau and in Spanish bacalao). Bacala came from the North in exchange for spices and found its way to the tables of Venice where it is cooked alla vicentina,  a popular dish of the Veneto.  Baccala’ alla vicentina is made with unsalted dried cod, butter, flour, olive oil, milk, onion, anchovies and grated Parmigiano served with soft polenta. Unsalted dried cod  is known as stockfish, stoccafisso in Italian.  It is used to make this dish although it seems that in Italian the word bacala means any dish made with dried cod in general.  My cousin Mirna made this dish for me on a recent visit to Portogruaro, a town in the Veneto region of Italy halfway between Venice and Trieste.  It was warm and creamy; Italian comfort food.  Baccala’ alla vicentina is native to this region where legend has it that in the late 1800’s a trattoria operated by a certain Mrs Giuseppina Terribile in Bianco, nicknamed “Siora Vitoria” first served the dish that shortly became the culinary attraction of the region . “Orders and exclamations of satisfaction met in every dining room, from courtyard to courtyard” and people traveled from near and far to taste the delicate, creamy bacala studded sauce simmering in the wood fired stoves of the Veneto. There is also a bacala manteca (salted cod whipped with garlic flavored oil and parsley until it is light and creamy)  used as a spread.  In the South of Italy bacala is often made in a spicy tomato sauce and during the Christmas season served as part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Bacala in rosso is also favored in the Amalfi region of Liguria where it is stewed or slowly cooked in the oven with tomatoes. The bacala battles rage on in Florence and Rome, even if they have no seacoast, with local variations.  The town of Sandrigo, north of Vicenza is considered to be the historical home of baccalà.  During the last weekend of September there is a festival celebrated in the name of  all things baccalà.