Food Traditions That Win Easter in Italy

As is the case with most Italian holidays, Easter, too, is celebrated with a mix of religious and gastronomic traditions.  You won’t hear much talk of life-size bunnies, bonnets, or egg hunts – in fact, during Easter in Italy, the most important place for an egg to be is perfectly perched atop nonna’s homemade casatiello.

casatiello-napoletano

If you’ve never experienced casatiello, you must get ahold of some asap.  This is a bomba atomica of the Neopolitan tradition that will leave you busting at the seams and begging for more.  Packed with cubes of cheese and ham then topped with boiled eggs, this savory bread-bake could easily replace a day’s worth of calories.  There isn’t a table in Campania that isn’t home to the legendary casatiello at Easter – and in very rare Italian food form, it apparently transcends all routinely-followed rules by not having a fixed position on the menu.  That’s right, this bestia is badass enough to exist as a standalone food item to be eaten before, during, and after the main meal – or maybe even as a midnight snack (the audacity!).  I suppose that kind of treatment is merited for a tradition that’s been documented all the way back to the 600’s.

Then, of course, there’s La Pastiera Napoletana

pastiera-napoletana-ricetta

Although the pastiera originated in the South, its popularity has spread across Italy and can be found almost everywhere at Easter time and, in some pasticcerie, even throughout the rest of the year.  It is a type of pie, made with a sweet pastry dough that is meant to be crunchier around the edges and softer in the middle.  The filling is made from a base of sugar, eggs, wheat boiled in milk, and ricotta cheese.  The interesting thing about this seasonal delight is the way its taste can vary, depending on the types of spices and aromas used in the recipe.  The classic recipe calls for cinnamon, vanilla, orange peel, and candied fruit.  Modern versions, however, may see some custard cream or white chocolate thrown in.  Then there are the regional variations – such as in Salerno where they use rice in place of wheat, or in Caserta, where they substitute the ricotta for homemade tagliolini pasta.

The best thing about these traditional food items is the diversity in their preparation, not only from town to town, but even from family to family.  I have spent many an Easter at my in-laws’ house (who incidentally each have eight brothers and sisters) – and have been forced to try each and every version of both the casatiello and pastiera of each and every nonna and zia.  And I’ve been stared at, expecting a response to the question of whose was the best.  Awkwaaaard.

In all honesty, I can barely look at either of these anymore because I’ve eaten so much of them both.  It’s obscene.  I think I’ll be taking a respite for the next decade or so.

Nah… who am I kidding?  Easter’s around the corner, so I better start dieting now.  Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Check out the other COSI’ members’ insider takes on Easter in Italy:

Rick’s Rome: Favorite Spring Destinations in Italy

Girl in Florence: 3 Favorite Spring Destinations Outside Florence

Sicily Inside & Out: An Early Easter in Sicily

Surviving in Italy: https://survivinginitaly.com/2016/03/03/spring-break-italy-agriturismo-eco-travel-edition/

Pecora Nera: Spring is in the Air

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Tourists Beware: Fighting Furbizia in Italy

Since this month’s COSI’ theme is Italian furbizia (cleverness), I want to share a real-life tale from a couple years ago depicting what happens when my husband and father are together for too long, combining forces to create the perfect storm against i furbacchioni (clever tricksters) in Italy: a seemingly clueless tourist with military authority (or something my mother and I like to refer to as, “The Adventures of Tommy and Gimmi”).  It’s a great example of why tourists need to be on the lookout for scams in Italy:

Over the years, my father has developed a solid bromance with my husband, as well as a semi-unhealthy obsession with the fact that he has a certain position in Italy that makes anyone who may have something to hide immediately squirm.  This has become a somewhat dangerous situation while my parents are visiting us in Rome.  Tommy has become quite accustomed to preferred treatment such as the occasional discount, free tickets, and well, the general respect that comes with my husband’s title – so much so, that he now seems to be on a one-man vigilante mission to correct all the wrong-doings he encounters in this city.  Of course, he only attempts these antics when his cohort is close by for moral support; otherwise, he would likely risk being picchiato (beat down) Italian-style, and he knows it.

This is dangerous for my husband because he really doesn’t identify himself much with his position, since his daily work is in a specialist health clinic.  He is a Maresciallo of the Carabinieri (Italian military police), but he’s never actually worked on the street fighting crime or restoring order.  Therefore, he tends to keep a low profile and play that card only when absolutely necessary.

Tommy, on the other hand, will mention it in any and all situations, and with a very bad Italian accent, causing a certain reaction of disbelief/amazement/confusion in anyone he encounters.  Want to get to the front of the ticket line at the Forum?  ”My son is a Mariscial!” he’ll proudly state, waiting to be escorted to the front.  The person will then look at my husband, who at that point slinking back in embarrassment, is forced to own up and try to diffuse the situation with humor and charm, as only he knows how.

But there’s never been a scene like the one they put on this weekend: Tommy had been venturing off into the city on his own during the day, when my mom didn’t feel like putting up with the oppressive heat.  On Thursday, he found himself at a bar for breakfast directly in front of the Colosseum, just past the exit of the metro.  Using the most decent Italian he could muster, he ordered a cornetto and cappuccino.  Only problem was they charged him €5.00, when it really should have only cost €1.80.  Not having been his first breakfast standing in an Italian bar, he knew the price was excessive – especially since the man in front of him had ordered the same thing and paid €1.80.

Tommy leaves the bar immediately and calls Gimmi, who of course quickly realizes the cashier had taken him for a ride.  Yes, Tommy had just become Rome’s most recent victim of tourist price gouging, which essentially means once you open your mouth (as an obvious tourist), you risk paying double or triple the price at some places.  That’s discrimination, and Gimmi and Tommy weren’t going to stand for it.  Besides, Tommy’s no tourist at this point; he spends six weeks a year here and has an Italian passport, for God’s sake!

So, they scheme up a plan to return to the same bar on Saturday morning, but this time, together.  Tommy walks in and nonchalantly orders the usual cornetto and cappuccino, with Gimmi a few places back in line.  This time, for some reason, the cashier has some mercy on him and charges €3.50.  Gimmi follows with the exact same order, pays €1.80, then proceeds to the counter and asks the waitress (actually, demands) to see Tommy’s receipt, which she had just collected.

At first, she gives him attitude and refuses.  Then, given Gimmi’s clearly authoritative tone, she complies (this is before he has identified himself in any way).  She fumbles through the trash can, creating confusion and claiming to have lost the receipt.  Gimmi tells her if she can’t find it he’ll be happy to come behind the counter and find it for her.  She finally locates it, and he asks to speak to the owner immediately.  Meanwhile, Tommy’s sipping his cappuccino and enjoying the scene with a smirk, understanding only about ten percent of what is actually being said.

Out from the back of the bar apparently steps the tallest Italian on record, scowling and impatiently asking what the problem is.  The problem, Gimmi explains, is that his bar is charging different prices for the same orders.  ”That’s not true,” the owner responds, “we have a discount for Italians.”  ”Oh, really?” responds my husband.  ”Quit with the stronzate (bullshit), or I’ll have this place closed down in an hour.  You’re speaking to a Maresciallo of the Carabinieri.”  Those magic words are truly the only thing that will strike fear in the heart of any swindling Italian from Milan to Palermo.  And now was a great time to pull them out of the arsenal.

The bar turns silent, and the owner’s demeanor changes from bullying mafioso to profusely apologetic quicker than milk turns to froth.  Then Gimmi says, “You will now give my father-in-law the €1.70 you owe him for this morning’s breakfast.  And keep your eyes open, because you’re under surveillance from this moment on.”

And just like that, Gimmi the “Conquistador” (as Tommy calls him), and his trusty sidekick, “Sancho Panza” (as I’m calling Tommy and he’ll hate me for) ride off into the sunset together, continuing their crusade to fight injustice – one steaming hot cornetto and cappuccino at a time.

Read about some more expat experiences with furbizia:

Girl in Florence: Why Being Furbo in Italy is Anything but Cool

Rick Zullo: What does it mean to be Furbo?

Englishman in Italy: Furbizia

Surviving in Italy: The Italian Art of Being Sly

Unwilling Expat: The Complexity of Italy’s Cheating Heart

Married to Italy: Furbizia: Blessing or Burden?

The Florence Diaries: A Life Lesson in Con-Artistry

Tips for Happy Travel in Italy

So, some members of the COSI’ group got together and decided to share some words of wisdom on travel to Italy.  Who better to give the inside scoop than those who’ve been on the receiving side of the summer stranieri (foreigner) takeover year after year?

I kept it short and sweet with mine:

1. Cross the street with confidence: Roman drivers can smell fear.

2. Embrace the bidet (yes, you heard me).

3. Dress the part – but don’t overdo it, for god’s sake.

4. Take advantage of the free, fresh water flowing out of Roman fountains.

5. Good wine and great food makes it all even more beautiful – so eat and drink as much as possible!

Check out the details of these, plus more great advice from Rick’s Rome, Surviving in Italy, and Girl in Florence in the video below (it’s our first time, so cut us a break):

Buon viaggio!

SL&N

How To Be An Authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps)

 

Jersey Shore? Not exactly.

 

American culture is filled with misconceptions about what it really means to be Italian, and has essentially created its own subculture of false italianità (Italianism) – consisting mostly of excessive amounts of muscles, gold jewelry, and bad manners.  The truth is, those things couldn’t be further from what true Italian culture is all about.  

I have (obviously) been Italian all my life, but after traveling and living in Italy for more than a decade, I’ve realized that these days, being Italian seems to be more a state of mind than an actual heritage.  Each time I merely mention having lived there I get the same reaction: “Oh my God, I just loooooove Italy so much.”  Just about everyone has either been to Italy and adores it, or dreams of vacationing or living here.  And I get that reaction from all walks of life – it’s one of those rare topics that seems to transcend age, ethnicity, and financial status.  Being Italian is often associated with belonging to the “coolest” (and best-looking) of all ethnicities – although with each passing generation, its authenticity in America is so greatly diminished and misconstrued.  

Over the years, upon consistent reflection of this intriguing phenomenon, I’ve learned to separate various groups of Italophiles in my own mind: 

The first is made up of those people who have that one great-grandparent who immigrated from Italy in 1905, and – although equally of Polish, Irish, and German decent – (ex)claim themselves as Italian to everyone they meet, despite their measley 25% bloodline connection.  

Disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong, 1/4 Italians, we’re happy to have you, and honored you choose us as your go-to nationality.  Go ahead, keep making your “dago red” in the garage all winter long (while wearing your “I have roots in the boot” t-shirt), but please have the decency to accept that those of us who grew up in real Italian households – or who now have their own real Italian households – cannot be fooled by those stronzate.  While you were out during high school getting hammered (sporting your “Italians do it better” t-shirt) I was home around the dinner table with my nonni (grandparents), cracking walnuts and polishing off my homemade red mixed with gassosa (Sprite).  

The second level is reserved for those fortunate enough to have traveled or studied in Italy, who upon return from a magical Mediterranean getaway or limited time abroad, desperately try to reproduce a bit of that dolce vita by way of a fancy local perfume, a handmade ceramic, or a bottle of specialty olive oil.  While a genuine appreciation for Italy’s fine cuisine and design aesthetic is a great start, all the overpriced wines and restaurants on Earth (or even Clooney’s fancy espresso machines) can’t afford you the education of either growing up with or living amongst true Italians, which brings me to the third group…  

Even if you’ve never once set foot in Italy, you automatically earn an honorary place in this group if you: a. had an immediate family member who spoke broken Italian at home; b. regularly assisted in the preparation of fresh pasta in a basement; or c. ever took a nap on a plastic-covered couch.  

Finally, the fourth group is made up of freaks like me, who have really taken their fascination to the extreme, and actually decided to make a life in this crazy, amazing country.  This choice affords a knowledge by default that none of the other groups can have: a thorough understanding of the modern Italy of today – which has its own unique wealth of information to share.  So, if you want to do as the real Italians do, start with these suggestions: 

1. Live and breathe (and eat, duh) food.  If you don’t appreciate food, you can’t be Italian – and if you’re Italian, it’s impossible to not appreciate food.  The obsession is so profoundly woven into society’s fabric that it’s impossible to ignore.  Italians don’t even realize how fixated they are with food in its purest form; they analyze it, dissect it, savor it, interpret it.  It’s the only thing they actually care to be anal retentive about.  In Italy, you find yourself inadvertently talking about it before a meal (Cosa ci mangiamo oggi? What should we eat today?), during a meal (Mamma mia, quant’è buona questa ricotta! Wow, this ricotta is so good!), and after a meal (Abbiamo mangiato così bene, ci dobbiamo tornare. We had such a great meal, we have to go back.).  Per l’amor del cielo, spaghetti and meatballs and fettuccine alfredo do not exist in Italy;  there is a digestive strategy to the creation of proper pizza dough, people; and no, you do not put parmiggiano cheese on seafood of any kind.  If you don’t know these things, well then, just go back to the Olive Garden. 

2. Get used to everything miniature-sized.  Apartments, cars, desserts: it all looks like it’s been shrunken down by Wayne Szalinski’s laser beam.  Not that I’m protesting, since I’ve always been a fan of small things – but it can get a little ridiculous after you’re forced to reorganize your home after any significant purchase or shopping spree.  It’s like playing a never-ending game of Tetris (and I freaking hate Tetris).  

3. Invest in clothing.  This is not the country of 80% off red tag blowouts, or buying as many TJ Maxx fashionista finds as your paycheck will allow.  This means making less, more significant purchases and having a smaller wardrobe.  Almost everyone really cares about how they look, and knows basic styling rules.  And when in doubt, wear black: by no means is this color reserved for old Sicilian women in mourning, anzi, it’s the preferred go-to hue of anyone who wants to look elegant, stylish, or just snello (slim).  Bonus tip for women: never underestimate the power of black eyeliner.  I’m not talking about exaggerated, Snooki-style eyeliner – I’m talking tasteful, but ever-present, like a tattoo you’re never seen without.  A face-full of colorful makeup is uncommon, and mainly reserved for puttane (the real ones, that is).  Not a look you want to go for.  

4. Be a clean freak.  Obsessive compulsive much?  Not in Italy.  It’s common practice for everyone’s house to be practically spotless – and very rare to come in contact with a zozzone who doesn’t keep a tidy home.  I’ve always said, for the first few years of my life I was convinced my Nonna’s mappina (slang for dishrag) was an extension of her hand.  

5. Learn the art of lingering.  You know what Italians find hilarious?  The fact that when Americans invite people to a party or gathering, they set an end time to the event: “Join us for Billy’s birthday party, this Saturday from 2-4pm!”  That is unheard of in Italy – not only because they find it incredibly rude to actually tell guests when to get the hell out, but really, what’s the hurry?  Isn’t this supposed to be your free time?  For a long while, I had to fight the feeling of “imposing,” and often ducked out of many an Italian festa way early; I just couldn’t relax after that second or third hour.  But whether it’s a lengthy lunch, a cornetto stop after an already long night out, or yet another cigarette after that last dose of grappa – Italians are really good at wasting time and letting the good times roll on and on (and on).  After all, this is the country that made the dolce far niente famous.  Take a lesson, and learn to chill out.  

6. Be cautious.  Italians aren’t exactly the world’s biggest risk takers – actually, you could say they’re a little bit cagaroni (someone who literally craps their pants out of fear).  Sorry, ragazzi, but history itself confirms this (when in doubt, the Italians aren’t usually on the front lines, and side with the winning team).  They don’t appreciate deliberately causing themselves harm, whether it’s by binge drinking, skydiving, or leaving the house without a scarf from November to March.  

7. Pay in cash.  I think my grandfather, Papa Guy, was most likely the only man in town who bought his cars entirely in cash.  And even nowadays, Italians aren’t big on debt.  What many Americans see as easy access to things they can’t afford, the Italians see as a terrible burden to be avoided as much as possible.  In general, accumulating cash is still a preference to riskier investments, with a general public not very interested in the stock market.  Italians are all about putting their money in real estate, often purchasing apartments for their children to help give them a head start in life.  In fact, some of the most anziani (oldest) generation still don’t even trust the banks – that’s why, in some apartments, it’s not uncommon to find hidden stockpiles of cash saved over a lifetime in wall-mounted safes.  

8. Accept the unacceptable.  Because of their ever-changing politicians and lax regulatory system, Italians are forced to accept a series of impositions that go beyond any logic or reasoning.  Consequently, that rassegnamento (giving up) tends to spill over into other aspects of their lives.  I think they just feel hopeless about their government and economy, like they’ve seen it all at this point.  There’s a new tax on baby formula?  Um, ok.  People have decided it’s ok to push their grocery store shopping cart through the rest of the mall?  Sure, why not.   That guy missed his exit and is backing up on the highway?  Alrighty then, go right ahead.  

9. Know how to ask for (and receive) favors.  Italians are experts at tit-for-tat, and they have certain unspoken expectations when it comes to lending a hand.  Whereas we Americans accept a special favor or even a job lead with nothing more than a simple, “thank you,” there’s a little more to it in Italy.  Proper appreciation for significant help from someone can take many forms, depending on the level of assistance obtained (from a bottle of wine to a more costly item, or gesture of equal weight).  No one will admit it, of course – but the important thing is that you give more than just a “grazie.”  One could call it bribery; they simply call it gratitude.  

This post is brought to you by the COSI’ blogging troupe, who has joined forces this month with another powerhouse expat group, “Italy Roundtable.”  To read their takes on the theme of “authenticity,” kick back with a nice glass of wine and browse the links below:

COSI’ members:

Italy Roundtable members:

Have something to share on authenticity in Italy?  Use the hashtag #COSItaly to join the conversation!

Be My Italian Valentine: “Viva l’amore – abbasso i sedili”

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, our COSI‘ blogging troupe couldn’t wait to share their experiences with amore all’italiana (love Italian style).  That means that – FINALMENTE – my blog is living up to its name with an article about some SEX!  Proceed with caution (and mom, go ahead and close this page now).

So, today, I pay homage to the most quintessential form of modern Italian romance: bumpin’ and grindin’ in a tiny-ass vehicle.  Ah, l’amore.  Nothing more romantic than that!

 

viva l'amore 2

“Long live love. I’ll put the seats down.” (Actual Fiat ad!)

 

In all my days in Italy, I experienced and saw many a strange thing.  But the timeless escapade of boy chases girl (or vice versa) takes on a special meaning as a young American expat in Italy.  You get gawked at, whistled at, flirted at, mocked at, stalked at and adored – and all on the same street block.  It’s almost overwhelming, at first.

My most favorite, overtly inappropriate pickup line of all time:  I once stepped onto a public bus and took a seat within view of the driver’s rear view mirror.  Without missing a beat, in front of everyone turned around and said: Complementi alla mamma – ha fatto una meraviglia” (My compliments to the mother – she produced a wonder).  Volevo morire (I wanted to die).

As a wise, informed American trying to fit in you realize Italian men make sweeping generalizations about American girls that are often unfair and untrue.  But then you remember the drunken scenes in the middle of Campo dei Fiori after midnight and realize maybe they have a point.  Sometimes you’re flattered, other times you’re disgusted.  And you find yourself thinking, “How do the Italian girls get so much respect from their men?” (10 years later, I can say the answer is amanti [multiple lovers] – but that’s for another post!)

At twenty-three years old, it’s easy for anyone to give the wrong impression – but in Italy, it’s a given.  In the minds of Italian men that age, American girls are absolutely certain to give it up immediately, like giving candy to a bambino.  In their defense, someone must be proving them right for them to keep up their shenanigans, right?  It’s as if they feel they can behave and say anything that they never would to the Italian girls they grew up with.

As a young woman actually attempting to date and have a relationship, it takes a long time to break through that stereotype and create a barrier of respect.  Their directness is a jolt to the system, especially compared to their American counterparts.  It really is a part of the Italian DNA to romance, flatter, and floor you into seduction.

However, one aspect of Italian culture I’ll never understand is the fixation with doing it in cars.  And I’m not just talking about horny teenagers – I’m talking about grown thirty year olds.  One of my funniest memories of those early days was being on a double date and deciding to pile four people into a Smart car to ride to the other side of the historical center and “park.”  When we finally got there, no one knew what to do since one couple inevitably had to vacate the vehicle.  Don’t remember who won that one…

But anyway, why the fetish with getting freaky in a Fiat?  Someone, dimmi perche’ (tell me why)!  

Ah ha!  Here we go again.  The answer to this is the same the explains so much about Italian issues: no jobs and/or bad salaries.  What does that have to do with anything, you say?  Everything.  If you can’t work or earn decent money in your twenties, you can’t afford to rent your own shag pad.  And, of course, you can’t get busy at mom and dad’s house – so where else can you go for some private time?  Buckle up – beep, beep!

Let me tell you: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a street lined with tiny cars, bumper to bumper, with newspapers plastered against all the windows, bouncing around like no tomorrow.  I seriously could not believe my eyes.  And I can now attest that the scene is common weekend practice throughout most of Italy (especially in the South).

And you’d think perhaps they’re all a bit embarrassed to be out in the open, all near each other, with no shame.  There’s a reason for that, too: they actually all band together for safety, since apparently distracted lone lovers have been targets of thefts in the past.

So, some parting words of wisdom from one hopeless Italian romantic to the next: If the Peugeot’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’!

Buon San Valentino a tutti!

Baci,

SL&N

Check out the other COSI‘ romantics have to say about amore in Italia (links to be added as their posts are published).  And if you’d like to join the conversation, use our hashtag #COSItaly to publicize it!

Italy Magazine 2014 Blogger Awards – SL&N needs your votes!

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Ciao amici!  Bella notizia (great news) to share: Sex, Lies, & Nutella has been selected as a finalist in Italy Magazine’s 2014 Blogger Awards in two categories.  What an honor.  Evviva!

So, it looks like my little hobby has just turned competitive!  If you love you some SL&N (as I know you do), I ask you to per favore spread the Nutella love and help bring those awards home.  All you have to do is click on each of the two links below, find my blog, and vote.  Basta, that’s all!

Best Living in Italy Blog: http://www.italymagazine.com/blog-awards/2014?field_blog_category_tid=44500

Best Living in Italy Single Post: http://www.italymagazine.com/blog-awards/2014?field_blog_category_tid=44501

If you haven’t checked out Italy Magazine, you should.  They have a staggering amount of interesting information, pictures, and everything any Italophile could ask for on their website.

Lastly, congratulations to my fellow C.O.S.I. bloggers who are also finalists in various categories.  Forza, C.O.S.I.!

  • Rick of Rick’s Rome has been nominated for Best Overall Blog for Lovers of Italy
  • Misty of Surviving in Italy with her post: Dog Boarding, Adoption, And Dog Parks In Florence, Italy
  • Rick again with his post: The Definitive Guide for the Permesso di Soggiorno
  • Maria from Married To Italy for Best Living in Italy Blog

Operation: Italian Thanksgiving – “La Festa della Gallina”

Ciao amici!  This is my first collaborative post with the C.O.S.I. (Crazy Observations by Stranieri (Foreigners) in Italy) blogger roundtable team.  A fun, talented group of expats taking on Italy one day at a time. We all post once a month on a common theme with different points of view. You can connect to the other members’ fantastic blogs here.  Also, if you would like to share your own experience in Italy about our monthly subject (this time it’s regional foods with a Thanksgiving spin), just use the hashtag #COSI when posting.

For as long as I can remember, in my house Thanksgiving had another name: “La Festa della Gallina” (The Feast of the Chicken).  This term was coined by my immigrant grandfather, Papa Guy.  Every year we would joke about it and ask him to explain the significance of Thanksgiving; he would just shrug his shoulders and ask to pass the stuffing.  It was a holiday all about food – an exorbitant amount of food – and that was good enough for him.

The Italians don’t have much of a clue about how or why this unique holiday is celebrated (then again, neither do some Americans) – but they are quite intrigued by it (Ma quanto pesa ‘sta tacchino?! How much does this turkey weigh?!).  The only saving grace is the fact it’s essentially all about food, as most of their holidays are, which they can certainly relate to and appreciate.

Celebrating Thanksgiving as an expat, as with many other things, has been an adventure and an evolution.  I like to think I’ve mastered it over the course of passing six of them in a country where it doesn’t exist.  But it hasn’t been easy.

My first year here, I’m pretty sure I had either inadvertently forgotten about it, or ignored it all together for the sake of assimilation.  The second year, my husband (then-boyfriend at the time) knew I really missed being at home that day.  I called him from work, glued to my computer screen watching the live streaming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ridden with nostalgia, tears rolling down my cheeks.  So he very sweetly surprised me with an evening out at the Hard Rock Café Rome, where they have a special menu every year.

The third year, I was motivated to see if I could remotely pull off a mini-Thanksgiving for two.  I quickly realized though, since Italians don’t eat a lot of turkey in general, at a last-minute glance the bird was no where to be found.  So, I asked myself: what looks like a turkey and tastes like a turkey, enough to pass off as a turkey?  The biggest chicken I could find, that’s what!  And it was then, during that first attempt at a Thanksgiving re-creation abroad, that I finally understood and celebrated the true meaning of Papa Guy’s “Festa della Gallina.”  I whipped up some mashed potatoes and peas and called it a day.  Gimmi was mildly impressed.

By the fourth year, I finally got my act together and was ready to attempt a true reproduction.  I successfully formed a troupe of brave Italians to share my table with whom, incidentally, were way more excited about it all than they should have been.  Hey, it’s not every day un’americana invites you to Thanksgiving dinner.  But little did I know the search for proper ingredients would be una vera rogna (a royal pain in the…), and they would cost a small fortune when I finally tracked them down.

One of my most enthusiastic friends directed me to her favorite macellaio in Parioli (a wealthy area of Rome).  Never had I seen a more glamorous meat market; it looked like a film set of handsome actors making jokes and suave glances between their choice cuts.  They could get us a turkey, but it would take a month and cost €75.  “Were they going to have to go on a group hunting trip to the Tuscan countryside and shoot it themselves?”  I wondered.  The famous specialty foods chain in Rome, Castroni,  turned out to be the best resource for all the rest of the accompanying delicacies – but at what cost?  A can of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly was €8?!  Porca troia!  I’d have to sacrifice next month’s rent to put this meal on.  But I was committed; there was no turning back on Operation: Italian Thanksgiving.  And it was a grand success.

Last year,our group reunited again and had a fantastic time cooking and enjoying together.  I had created a new tradition in my new home, and it felt great.  Oh, but I did wise up and ordered the turkey from my local butcher.  He only wanted €30.  Had a great laugh when I went to pick it up though.  The conversation went something like this:

Macellaio: That’ll be 60 euro.
Me: Seems like a lot – the guy I ordered from said it would be around 30…
Macellaio: 30 euro, for a 35-pound turkey?
Me: 35 pounds?? I asked for a 10 to 12-pound turkey!
Macellaio: Ooooh, wait a second – you ordered the female turkey… You must be the other American (good to know there were only two of us in town, and she had the bigger oven).

Pulling off a stellar Thanksgiving in Italy means adapting to what’s available and unifying it with as much tradition as possible.  Trust me, your average peas are much better with a little pancetta added in for good measure anyway.  Italy makes everything taste better, so of course, Thanksgiving does, too.

Happy Feast of the Chicken to all!