ITALY: Ringraziamento

Last year’s favorite!

Ringraziamento … an Italian Thanksgiving

By Andrew J. Harvey

The author poses beside a roasted turkey while holding its foldout paper partner.

During the fall of 2008 a dream of mine came true — the opportunity to spend a semester living and studying in Italy. Having learned the Italian language, I specifically requested a host family that spoke little or no English.

I arrived at Gianni and Ana Silvestri’s multi-story home, located in the center of Florence. Lifelong Florentines, they welcomed me into their lives and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable in my new home.  During those months they introduced me to every aspect of Italian life.  In talking to other students later I realized that I had indeed received a much better host family than most.

By November I think I met every member of the extended family. I decided that it would be nice to repay everyone by introducing them to the uniquely American Thanksgiving dinner.  My cooking experience was limited, so I was guided through the meal by recipes found online and email advice from my mother, who is half Italian. Mama Ana did the shopping. When she came home with the groceries I realized my culinary gift was harder than expected.  She arrived with a 21-pound turkey — still in full white-feathered regalia. Apparently, those frozen and fresh market turkeys so common in American supermarkets aren’t easy to find in Italy.

My aim was for Ana to relax while I did the cooking. Getting an Italian mother to watch you cook without helping is an impossibility.  We began by preparing homemade stuffing with a loaf of Italian bread. She really wanted to put meat in the stuffing and was shocked that I’d make it without sausage or some sort of meat.

The only item we lacked was string to tie the legs together.  Ana disappeared and came back with a wide red ribbon. Although it caught fire while in the oven, it got the job done – and maybe it added a bit of flavor, who knows.

Next we made two traditional American side dishes, a green bean casserole with mushrooms and onions and, of course, mashed potatoes. She’d never seen green bean casserole before, so she let me create that dish myself.

Ana set the table with bright orange napkins, flowers, and a folding paper turkey she found in a stationary store. She was excited about that find and insisted on taking my picture with the real and fake turkey. Once that was finished the family sat down and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

Most would consider white wine the better poultry choice. During my entire Tuscan experience I never saw a glass of white wine. My host father, Gianni, would rather eat the label than drink white wine.  So, with this in mind, we drank a bottle of traditional fall wine, Vino Novello, that I picked up outside of Siena the week before.  We ate, laughed, and compared Italian and American experiences. This was, she said, most similar to their Christmas meal.

When I came home from school the day after our feast I found most of Ana’s relatives at the table enjoying the leftovers, while Ana explained the holiday to them.  They seemed especially impressed with the stuffing and casserole and insisted on having me translate the recipes into Italian.   After introducing so much of their culture to me, I took pleasure in introducing something uniquely American.  Ana, Gianni, and the rest of the family truly enjoyed their first Thanksgiving and last fall continued the tradition of what they now call “Ringraziamento.”

Andrew J. Harvey is Globalfoodie’s Italian expert and a senior at Syracuse University. Fluent in the language – and the food – he brings a unique, personal and accurate take on the importance of Italian food within the culture. He can be reached at: Andrew@globalfoodie.com.