By Dave DeWitt
Photos by Wes Naman
- Tacchino alla Porchetta (Herb-Scented Roast Turkey from Nereto)
- Gnocchi di Zucca (Pumpkin Gnocchi with Shavings of Smoked Ricotta and Sage Leaves)
- Patate al Forno con Rosmarino (Oven-roasted Potatoes Sprinkled with Rosemary, Garlic, and Peperoncino Powder)
- Panpepato (Spicy Chocolate-flavored Christmas Bread)
A few years ago, my wife and I joined Harald and Renate Zoschke in Parma to attend the largest food show I’ve ever seen, CIBUS, which makes the Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show look tiny—that year there were 2,350 exhibitors displaying more than 10,000 products. For lovers of Italian food, this is heaven on earth, with the emphasis on pork, pasta, wine, and chocolate—all the necessary food groups. It was there that I tasted porchetta for the first time. Porchetta is boned whole small pigs stuffed with garlic, rosemary, and fennel and then slowly roasted.
Flash forward to this fall, and while doing research for a new book about New World foods spreading to the Old World, I learned that not only is the turkey beloved in France and England for Christmas, it’s the traditional Christmas meal in Italy, too. And one of the ways they cook it is porchetta-style in Nereto, Abruzzo during the Sagra del Pitone. A sagra is a market festival and turkeys are also called piti in various regions of Italy. This sagra on November 11th each year features turkeys raised on walnut shells, a process that hardens the meat and greatly reduces the fat in the birds.
During the sagra, a special turkey dish is prepared, tacchino alla porchetta, which means turkey cooked in the manner of roasted pig. Since porchetta is perhaps the best pork in the world, it made sense to me to attempt such a dish with turkey. Essentially, the turkey is heavily seasoned with fresh rosemary and lots of garlic, and then roasted. But halfway through the roasting process, the unstuffed turkey is cut in half along the breastbone and put back in the oven so that the entire bird takes on a golden brown hue.
I decided I had to try it, so I found a recipe in Carol Field’s book Celebrating Italy, and too impatient to wait for Christmas, I roasted a fresh turkey from Tully’s Market for Thanksgiving. It is simply the best turkey I’ve ever prepared, so I’m suggesting an Italian turkey for your Christmas feast. The other recipes are from Carol’s book as well, but if you don’t want to go whole-hog on the Italian theme, any of these recipes would be a fantastic addition to your own holiday dinner. Buon apetito
This is turkey as it is served on Saint Martin’s Day, November 11, in Nereto. Carol Field advises: “Do not use a light hand with the rosemary or garlic.” I skipped the part about cutting the turkey in half and it didn’t seem to make any difference. I didn’t stuff the turkey with my usual cornbread-green chile mixture because I wanted it to be as traditional as possible. That said, I did add some spicy smoked paprika to add a little heat because I’m a capsaicin addict.
- 6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1/2-1/2 cup fresh rosemary chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil or lard
- 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves loosely packed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp Pimentón de la Vera (spicy paprika)
- 2 cups dry white wine
- Clean the turkey well, removing the giblets. Salt and pepper the cavity and the interior of the neck.
- Chop together the first amount of garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves and place it in the cavity and interior of the neck. Skewer and truss the turkey and set in a well-oiled baking pan.
- Rub the turkey with the olive oil or lard. Rub some of the second amount of garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, and paprika mixture into the skin, but let some fall to the bottom of the pan. It will make the juices delicious.
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Set the turkey to cook at high heat 15 to 20 minutes, turn the temperature to 350 degrees F, and continue roasting for 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours.
- After the first half hour, pour half the white wine over the top of the turkey and baste every half hour, adding additional wine as needed. At midpoint in the cooking, remove the turkey from the oven, take out the skewers, and cut it in half.
- Return the turkey to the oven skin side down, baste well with the cooking juices, pouring them into the now-available cavity as well as over the skin. Continue roasting and basting the turkey until the leg wiggles easily, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours later. Let it rest 15 minutes and serve with the basting juices.
- 18 ounces pumpkin or butternut squash weighed before cooking (should measure 1 cup either grated or riced)
- 2 Eggs
- 1 lemon's grated zest
- 1 pinch sugar
- 2 tsp brandy
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 tbsp very soft, unsalted butter
- 3-4 sage leaves
- 1/4 cup shaved, smoked cheese riccota prefered but mozzarella is also delicious
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin or butternut squash into large chunks and remove the seeds.
- Bake on an oiled sheet until chunks are tender when poked with a fork.
- Cool them enough to handle comfortably and peel them. You may either press the squash through a ricer or set the squash in a food processor fitted with the grating disk. Do not puree it in the processor or your mixture will be too smooth.
- With the paddle attachment on an electric mixer or by hand, stir together the squash, eggs, lemon zest, sugar, brandy, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- Stir in the flour and mix vigorously until well blended. The mixture should come away from the sides of the bowl and hold together. You may need to add 1 to 2 extra tablespoons flour so that the dough is not too soft.
- Bring a large stockpot of salted water to the boil. Scoop out balls of the dough by the half teaspoon and drop them into the boiling water, immediately sweeping them from the bottom so they don’t stick. Cook until the gnocchi float to the surface, 2 to 3 minutes.
- As soon as the gnocchi are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and put in a well-buttered warm baking dish.
- In a small sauté pan melt the butter and wilt the sage leaves briefly. Serve the gnocchi immediately tossed with the butter and sage leaves and with the smoked cheese shaved right over the top. The gnocchi can also be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven.
- 6 baking potatoes peeled, diced into small cubes
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp mild red chile powder
- Place the diced potatoes in a bowl. Add the minced rosemary and garlic along with the oil and salt, and toss with your hands, coating the potatoes well.
- Oil a roasting pan and spread the potatoes evenly over the bottom. Heat the oil to 425 degrees F.
- Bake until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown, about 45 minutes, turning them every 10-15 minutes with a spatula and spreading them out in a single layer.
- 2/3 cup raisins
- 1 cup toasted walnuts
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts toasted and peeled
- 1/2 cup toasted almonds
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate grated
- 1/2 cup candied orange peel chopped
- 2 tbsp strong-brewed espresso coffee
- 6 tbsp honey
- 2-3 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup mosso cotto (or grape or red currant jelly)
- 1 orange's grated zest
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6-12 grindings pepper
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- Soak the raisins in warm water to cover 30 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry.
- Chop the raisins together the walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. In a big bowl mix the chopped nuts, raisins, chocolate, candied orange peel, and espresso coffee.
- Melt the honey in 2-3 tablespoons water. Mix it and the mosso cotto well into the nut mixture. Add the nutmeg, zest, salt, and pepper. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of the flour and add the rest, a bit at a time, mixing with a rubber spatula and using only enough to get the mixture to hold together. It isn’t a dough.
- Divide into 6 equal balls. Flour the work surface very lightly and incorporate the reserved flour into the mixture. Roll each piece into a round that looks like a hamburger patty. Set on a buttered and floured baking sheet.
- Bake at 350 degrees F. until firm, 15 minutes. Brush the top of each with a little of the syrup from the candied oranges, melted apricot jam, or with a little cooked mosso cotto if you have it. Continue to bake another 5 minutes. Let cool briefly and sieve confectioner’s sugar over the tops.