The week before Thanksgiving I suggested to the staff at the Saena Iulia language school that we should also celebrate here because, why not? They were all for it. And I offered to get the turkey.
Now, Siena is not a city with abundant Butterball turkeys “in your grocer’s freezer.” Nope. So I visited the butcher around the corner, Riccardo, and asked him if I could order a whole turkey since I didn’t see any in his display case next to the skinned rabbits and cow tongue. “Oh yes. Right. Il giorno di ringraziamento is coming up?” he said to me. Yes! Next Thursday. He told me he usually has a few other Americans who order turkeys around this time.
“What is the smallest I can order?” I asked. This is Italy and we were to be cooking at the school’s kitchen, which is in an old building and which has a small kitchen and a small-ish oven.
Oh probably six kilos, he says. That’s about 12 ½ pounds. Since we were going to be about 15 for dinner, I figured that would be fine.
In the meantime, Elettra, one of the instructors at the school who also teaches cooking classes, starts doing some research about stuffing and I even looked up some web sites about how to cook a turkey and make gravy. Just for a refresher. In the past, I’ve used oven bags and, trust me on this, they work like magic. Don’t seem to have any on hand in Siena.
I did happen to take a gander at the size of the oven. Six kilos? Looks like it will be fine.
Now about that stuffing. I gave Elettra all the confidence she needed to do it since my experience with stuffing involves opening a box that says “Stove Top.” Gravy? Did a Google. Took notes. Luckily for us, another student, Ricenda, who has plenty of experience cooking turkeys and making gravy out in the countryside of Ireland, stepped up to show us the way.
Thanksgiving morning I head over to Riccardo’s, ready for the day ahead. “Oh, yes. Sorry. It came in at seven kilos. That was the smallest I could get,” he told me. Oh dear.
So now I’ve got a 14-pound bird on my hands that I hope and pray will fit in the oven at the school. The school’s director Mauro greeted me in the kitchen. And we both cracked up as I handed him the prize. “It’s seven kilos! Oh my God!”
At 10:30 a.m. we got to work. We opened the bag and voila’ there was the fresh turkey, complete with remnants of feathers on the wings, breast, some of the legs. Good thing I just bought a new pair of tweezers that were still in my purse! And they worked like a charm. Elettra had bread all ready to be made into stuffing. I washed the turkey, covered it in olive oil and salt, stuffed some garlic cloves in the wings, added the stuffing, and made an aluminum foil tent over the top. Elettra then grabbed it and boom! It went right into the oven, with even a little room to spare.
Five hours later, we were eating one of the most tender, flavorful turkeys I’ve ever had on Thanksgiving. Everybody at the school contributed to the meal and we had a ball.
We ate, we drank and we laughed just like any big family, Italian or otherwise. I hope you all had as wonderful a holiday in the U.S. as I had here.