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Thanksgiving, Italian Style

We’re just a few days away from Thanksgiving, which for most of us probably means a weekend full of food, family, friends, and…. food. Many of us have a roster of food-centered rituals and familiar recipes that we break out at this time of year. I grew up in an Italian family, which means broccoli rabe and homemade focaccia appear alongside the turkey and cranberry sauce on our Thanksgiving table. It definitely ranks as one of my favorite meals of the year, and something I was very excited to share with my now husband when we first got together. Being from England, it wasn’t just a new meal, but a new holiday for him, one that he was excited to learn involved plenty of eating and drinking, along with a four day weekend.

We always kick off our Thanksgiving dinner with a course of antipasti – some cheese, cured meat and marinated vegetables. I’ve inevitably eaten too little (or nothing) at breakfast earlier that day to save room, which means I’m starving by this time and usually tend to overdo it on this course. Then it’s on to the pasta course – turkey soup with tortellini – a well-established Thanksgiving favorite among my family. Then, and only then, it’s on to the main event. And while the turkey is the centerpiece of the meal, isn’t the necessarily the highlight– at least for me. It’s mainly a vehicle for things like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, all manner of roasted veggies, and of course, stuffing. And my parents’ stuffing is one of the dishes I look forward to most each year. It’s definitely an Italian spin on the dish – made with sweet sausage, mozzarella, and rice. It’s best served hot, when the edges are browned and you’ve got slightly crisp pieces of sausage and gooey cheese scattered throughout. It’s not a typical stuffing, but it tastes unmistakably like Thanksgiving to me. Want to give it a try at your Thanksgiving dinner? Check out the recipe below…

Thanksgiving stuffing ingredients

My parents’ Thanksgiving stuffing
Serves 6-8, with leftovers

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 celery stalks, diced, and leaves chopped and reserved
¼ cup parsley, chopped
2 lbs sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing (or use ground pork)
(Optional) a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper
3 cups white rice
1 lb mozzarella, cut into small cubes
½ cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup chicken stock
salt & pepper

Note: The stuffing can be prepared ahead through step 5 and stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat (or use two pans if needed to avoid overcrowding). Add the onion, celery, and parsley and sauté until the onion and celery are soft and translucent.
  3. Add the sausage meat to the pan, breaking it up into small pieces with a spatula or wooden spoon as it cooks. At this stage, you can add a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. If you’re using unseasoned ground pork, you can also add a pinch of crushed fennel seeds (if you’re using sweet Italian sausage they’ll already be in the mix). Once the sausage is cooked and has started to brown, remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool.Sausage, onion, celery and parsley at work
  4. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the package instructions. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
  5. Combine the sausage mixture and rice in a large bowl. Add in the mozzarella, celery leaves, stock, and all but two tablespoons of the Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed, then mix in the beaten eggs until everything is combined.
  6. Fill two 9 x 13 baking pans with the stuffing – the pans shouldn’t be filled all the way to the top.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
  7. Thanksgiving stuffing ready to bakeBake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the stuffing is heated through and starting to brown at the edges. Serve with turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and the rest of your Thanksgiving lineup!   

Thanksgiving stuffing