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Thanksgiving with an Italian flairPublished November 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
When I was growing up, my family put an Italian or a French spin on every holiday. On Christmas Eve, we’d eat fish — the feast of the seven fishes. On Easter, the Batalis would have lamb, but also gnocchi alla primavera. But Thanksgiving was another story entirely.
Even at the Batalis, Thanksgiving was distinctly American — whole roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams with marshmallows, cranberry sauce. And my mom was famous for her apple pie. Not her crostata di mela, just a plain old Washington apple pie.
Since I took control of the Thanksgiving menu, I’ve infused it with a little Italian-ness. I maintain the uniquely seasonal point of view of the holiday but adapt the flavors using an Italian sensibility. Each year, I highlight a different region of the world of deliciousness. And in the indelible tradition of the Italian peninsula, that almost always includes a pasta.
If you’ve exhausted the roast or simply don’t feel like roasting, consider adding a pasta to your Thanksgiving table. Though some might object to the exclusion of turkey entirely, variety at a Thanksgiving table is irreproachable. (Side note: If you are serving turkey, always brine it. It results in an impossibly succulent bird.)
Conchiglie ripieni dei “resti” is my easy take on a classic Italian cannelloni dish. It directly translates as shells stuffed with leftovers, but the uniquely Thanksgiving flavors make it perfect for the main event itself. The presentation is made perfect in a baking dish that travels easily from the oven to the table and looks like a million bucks. If you’re making this for the holiday table, make your mashed potatoes and turkey ahead of time, and construct as instructed.
Part of the reason Thanksgiving dinner is so delicious is because it activates the receptors in your brain that conjure images of Thanksgivings past. But the other reason the simple vegetable sides are so tasty is because potatoes are in season, as are green beans and Brussels sprouts. This is the bounty of Thanksgiving all’Italiano.
This year, I’m highlighting Tuscany and Umbria — there’s a lot of Brunello I want to bring along.
Conchiglie ripieni dei ‘resti’
(Holiday stuffed shells)
Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main
1 pound largest shell-shaped pasta for stuffing
1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
2 cups leftover turkey chopped in the food processor, preferably from the legs and thighs
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups spicy tomato sauce, a good brand like Emeril’s
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Bring 8 quarts water to the boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Drop the shells into the water and cook until 3 minutes short of the suggested cooking time, and then drain them in a colander and shock them in ice water until very cold. Place in a colander lined with paper towels to dry and rest. Meanwhile, mix the spuds, chopped turkey, ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmigiano and the nutmeg in a bowl until homogenous.
Grease a 10- by 12-inch baking dish with the extra-virgin olive oil and set aside. Carefully stuff each shell with 2-3 tablespoons of the turkey/spud mixture and lay each one open side up in the baking dish, next to one another but not too crowded to squeeze each other. Spoon a good tablespoon of the tomato sauce over each shell, and then sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over all.
Bake in the oven till very hot and kind of dryish on the top, about 40 minutes. Remove and serve.
Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants, including Eataly, DelPosto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!