One of the nonnas’ greatest joys on Thanksgiving morning is to dress the grandchildren in ragamuffin outfits for their run around the neighborhood begging for coins, candy, crayons, or “anything for Thanksgiving.” The nonnas take the old custom seriously, and try to outdo one another in providing the children with clothing that makes them look as poor as possible. A nonno’s oversize double-breasted suit jacket, with a DeNobili cigar sticking out of a pocket tops a pair of pink flannel pajama pants, and a furry felt fedora completes the outfit. But nonnas don’t stop there.
They next hold a lighted match to a cork from a wine bottle. When the cork is charred, they blow out the flame, wait for it to cool, and use the char to paint a mustache and goatee on the kid in the coat. “Bello, bello,” they cry as the boy picks up a pillowcase to hold his loot and runs down the stairs and outside to join his buddies in their quest for Thanksgiving treats.
The nonnas are happy not to have the children underfoot, as the oven heat from a roasting turkey coats their windows with droplets of moisture. The turkey is only one-third of the main courses. There is lasagna with a variety of gravy meats and roast beef for those who cannot abide the traditional bird.
In her own kitchen, each nonna is busy preparing appetizers. She stuffs giant mushrooms, gloating over the fact that the mushrooms she is filling with parsley, bread crumbs, and oil are surely twice as big as th0se of the nonna who lives next door.
On this American holiday, all the nonnas serve an American appetizer. They fill small glass oval plates (won in skeet ball games in Coney Island) with canned black olives, carrot sticks, and celery sticks and place them on the coffee table. On the dining table, they display slices of crisp fennel with its fronds attached, Cerignola olives split to expose their pits, sprinkled with olive oil and red pepper flakes; and a mixed giardinera salad bursting with pickled carrots, cauliflower, and pearl onions.
The nonnos have been waiting on line at the baker’s for the bread and pastries since before seven am. The line is moving too slowly for a nonna as she passes on her way home from Church. In two minutes, she has assmbled the group into two lines. One is for those waiting to pick up an order; the other is for those placing an order. She marches into the shop triumphantly and explains her scheme to the baker. As she leaves the store, she calls to the baker, “Some hot coffee for them would be nice.” She modestly dismisses the group’s thanks with a wave of her hand and starts for home again.
The guests and the children converge on the house at noon. Dinner is at two. In the meantime, they snack on prosciutto, mozzarella, roast peppers, and anchovies served on a pizza-size platter. The crusty bread overflows its basket next to the platter. Grown-ups sip glasses of red wine; the children guzzle cream soda mixed with a touch of wine.
A nonna stops by to borrow some folding chairs. The lady of the house insists that the visitor take a taste of the stuffing she has baked. “Very good,” the nonna says, “I taste the sausage. But in mine, this year, I put sausage and chestnuts.”
Not to be outdone by the visitor wielding the folding chairs, the nonna at the stove, shakes a tin of chestnuts, slashed and ready for the oven. “I’m serving chestnuts, two pounds of them, after dinner,” she says. “Everybody can have more of them than they would in stuffing.”
- 24 large mushrooms, stems removed, tips of stems discarded
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Finely dice mushroom stems.
- Mix together mushroom stems, garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs.
- Blend in 4 tablespoons olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste.
- Place remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a shallow casserole .
- Add a pinch of salt to oil in casserole.
- Toss mushroom caps in casserole until they are covered with oil.
- Arrange caps in one layer in casserole.
- Fill each cap generously with filling.
- Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until caps and filling are golden brown.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.