Thanksgiving dinner memories from New York are still vivid in my mind. The shenanigans from my Uncle Harry, Aunt Hilda’s glasses hanging from her neck full of crumbs, and Uncle Arthur’s meager appetite with three bites on his dish. Cousin Linda dressed to the nines. Cousin Larry itching to get outside. And me and my two sisters helping Mom get dinner on the table.
There was a coziness in our small home that was filled with a large amount of love. Mom put out her best dishes, pink and gray post-Korean War china, with fancy ornate flatware and cloth napkins. Dad sat at the head of the table next to Grandpa Cucci with our Italian family shoulder to shoulder. All the kids sat at the table in the kitchen just far enough from spying eyes.
Everyone cooked for days and brought their favorite dish or dessert to add to the mounds of food we would consume. For starters, Mom made appetizers galore. Swedish meatballs, cheese bites and mini quiches. My dad was the official turkey carver, as he had an artistic touch and a method to everything he tackled. The 24-pound turkey was immaculately placed on a huge platter together with the sausage stuffing we all loved.
Sides were stuffed mushrooms and artichokes, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and Brussels sprouts. And then there were more sides and desserts all the aunts brought. We ended our meal with a huge basket of nuts, fruit, coffee and Italian desserts. A nap was certain at the end of this long feast. We wrapped up the leftovers and made turkey sandwiches for those who could eat just a tad more.
Times change, as do family traditions. We all moved to Florida, so Mom passed the Thanksgiving torch to me and handed over the good china, platters and flatware. The first Thanksgiving I cooked was a lot of work and entailed days of cooking. With a little forethought, this daunting cooking task was transformed into a satisfying experience for me and my family.
The aunts and uncles were long gone. The cousins were scattered around the country. So just our family was left to sit at my table and be thankful we still had each other. I set the table with every family heirloom in my cabinet, and Mom’s appreciation was heartfelt. At the end of the meal, she proclaimed, “You got it just right,” and with a sigh I became the Thanksgiving Queen.
Today our small family makes a scaled-down Thanksgiving dinner. We still love stuffed mushrooms and make a smaller turkey with stuffing in a casserole dish. We skip the appetizers and stuffed artichokes but love our desserts. I make biscuits instead of Parker rolls. And I use corn bread instead of Italian bread cubes for the stuffing. The sides are more up-to-date, fitting our current appetites. The china has been passed yet again and the flatware became my everyday set. The huge platters are chipped and cherished but are still used to serve a delicious Thanksgiving feast.
Here’s my Italian family’s recipe for stuffed mushrooms. I use the same stuffing for artichokes. I like lots of garlic, just like my mom, and now make my own homemade whole wheat bread crumbs. The grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese makes this stuffing so fabulous. I hope you make this recipe yours and keep it as a favorite recipe to pass down to your family’s next generation. Happy Thanksgiving, and buon appetito!
Stuffed Mushrooms, Italian-Style
1 pound whole white mushrooms with stems, about 24 mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on top
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 cup
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup plain bread crumbs, preferably homemade
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
3 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 teaspoon each fine sea salt and ground black pepper
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and finely chop. Brush off any excess dirt from the caps and then gently remove the insides (gills) with a spoon. Spread the butter all around the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
To a 12-inch deep-sided skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic just until soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in the finely chopped mushroom stems and saute for 1 minute. Stir in the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir just to blend. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Fill the mushroom caps tightly with the stuffing and fit them close together into the baking dish. Sprinkle with more cheese, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Pour the broth around the mushrooms in the baking dish. Bake until the mushrooms are crisp on top but tender with the juices bubbling underneath, about 25 to 35 minutes.
Makes about 24 mushrooms.
Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski
Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at LorraineStevenski@gmail.com.