In 1910, my little grandpa arrived at Ellis Island from a little town in Italy. He was sixteen years old. I don’t remember much about him – mostly images from pictures. But I do recall how gentle and quiet he was. He wasn’t cooking very much by that point. It was after his stroke, and his arm was in a sling. But he always sat next to the stove wearing an apron – providing dinner quality control.
Little grandpa was the cook of the family. Which is saying a lot because everyone in my big Italian family can cook. But when the family talks about his cooking they use the hushed tones of reverence reserved for very few: FDR, Pope John, Sinatra.
This weekend, I downloaded La Bohème, one of grandpa’s favorites, to listen to while I cooked his famous Thanksgiving stuffing. This stuffing is one of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten. We make multitudes so everyone has leftovers. Friends who come to dinner often bust through pants buttons to enjoy a second helping.
Famous contemporary chefs like Giada have made savory Italian stuffing mainstream, but when we were eating it 40 years ago it was decidedly less traditional. Heck, we also have dandelion soup and pasta courses for Thanksgiving dinner – doesn’t everyone?
I think it’s important to remember that Thanksgiving dinner isn’t about upholding the traditions of the past, or the traditions of a certain group that’s been American longer than another. Thanksgiving dinner is about people becoming American and defining what being an American is through a celebration of gratitude. A celebration that everyone is invited to join.
It doesn’t matter what your theology, race, or ethnic make-up. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here or whether you’re paleo or vegan. Thanksgiving is our nation’s opportunity to practice kindness. It is our chance to break bread together and decide, for one day, that we have enough. And maybe, we even have enough to share.
And if we can do it for one day –we might just be able to do it for two.
We would love to hear about your Thanksgiving dinner traditions and help us continue to define American cooking in the Bay Area.
Here’s our special recipe:
LITTLE GRANDPA’S SAUSAGE STUFFING
- 2 large onions diced
- 8 slices of bacon diced
- 3 lbs. mild Italian sausage meat crumbled (buy from butcher without casing or remove casing)
- 3 carrots peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sticks of celery diced
- 24 oz. herbed bread croutons- cubes
- 8 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 4 sprigs parsley chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sage
In a bowl, soak the croutons in a combination of half milk/half water for 7-10 minutes and then squeeze using a strainer to remove all excess moisture. Set aside.
In a large pan over medium heat, add a little oil and brown the bacon, onion and sausage meat. Cook about 5 minutes and then drain. Add carrots, celery, and sage to the pan and cook over low heat, mixing well, for about 10 minutes. Add squeezed croutons to pan and cook about 30 minutes, stirring often.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and cheese together and add to the pan and cook another half hour or until all ingredients come together. Can be made to this point the day before and refrigerated.
When ready to serve, bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes in a large baking dish.