My maternal grandmother, “Nini,” and her rumpled granddaughter, who still makes her special Thanksgiving stuffing. (c) copyright Laura Groch 2013
Wishing you all an early Happy Thanksgiving! :<)
Everyone’s Thanksgiving is full of rituals beyond the turkey. As a kid, the family must-haves included a local TV station’s annual showing of “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” the Laurel and Hardy classic, followed by watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Our table offered Italian antipasto — black olives, salami, artichoke hearts — and we drank asti spumante, not red wine or beer.
Gloppy green bean casserole was unheard-of; instead, we had fresh broccoli and a green salad, and my grandmother’s special stuffing ladled out of the bird.
After dinner, the turkey carcass rested majestically on the stove for several hours as we all picked at it, no doubt contributing to the eventual upset stomachs that were also a holiday ritual (we didn’t know as much then about food poisoning as we all do today).
On Thanksgiving Days now, I start the preparations by turning on the parade as background accompaniment. (Sadly, no one broadcasts “March of the Wooden Soldiers” any more.)
We still do the antipasto plate, the asti and the broccoli. But we no longer stuff the turkey; that concession to speed and food safety came years ago, with stuffing now prepared on the side.
And the turkey, which these days is grilled by my husband over mesquite wood on the faithful Weber, is bustled into the fridge right after serving instead of breeding bacteria as in days gone by. (Some rituals you just don’t need to keep.)
But my grandmother’s special stuffing is still one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.
A skilled midwife from Sicily who immigrated to Brooklyn, she wanted her grandkids to call her Nini (to rhyme with “mini”). She became familiar with American foods through her clients and her children. It took a little trial and error — when her daughter, my mother, wanted peanut butter, for example, Nini bought it, but was mystified when the sandwiches didn’t come out quite right. A more Americanized uncle had to explain that jelly was also needed to make a classic PB&J.
I like to think that must be how this recipe came about: When Nini learned that stuffing was expected in the American turkey, she created it her way, using rice and Italian sausage.
I think it’s delicious. Nini is long gone, but she returns to our table every year when I make this simple recipe for the rest of the family. Here’s how my mom dictated it to me.
NINI’S SAUSAGE AND RICE STUFFING
Cook 1 cup white rice in 2 cups chicken bouillon or giblet water (water you cooked the turkey giblets in).
Brown 3/4 pound Italian sausage (skinned and broken up) with 1 medium onion, chopped, 1 clove garlic, chopped, and 1 stalk celery, chopped.
Drain off fat.
In casserole dish, combine sausage mixture and rice; mix well. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Serves 4.
Notes: You can make this with brown rice, or turkey sausage; you can add the chopped, cooked giblets to it or not. Adjust the amount of celery or onion to your taste. I like it browned a little on top to make some crispy bits.
(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013