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Our Favorite Holiday Recipes, Part One. Mamma’s Roast Stuffed Turkey

The holiday season is one of our favorite times of the entire year. Family get together's, great conversations (and arguments) and the best part, the food.

When it comes to food, we always have a difficult time choosing the right recipe for all things holiday. Growing up in an Italian family makes us long for mamma’s food, the way she made it. Nothing ever comes close, nothing is ever quite as good as her food. So, we decided to just share some of her recipes and try to get that taste that only she could create.

Everyone knows that no matter how hard you try, no matter whether you have the exact ingredients and your mother’s hand-written recipes right in front of you, that your cooking is going to taste like hers. (I believe there is a universal rule that says it isn’t going to happen) But we can try to come as close as possible in recreating that taste, that smell, and those memories of home and holidays gone by.

The first thing that is a must and the “star” on our Thanksgiving table is of course the roast turkey. We have all experienced the dry, tasteless turkeys that our aunt Marie has made, her mistake, she failed to use mamma’s recipe and of course disaster ensued. Rule number one: Always say “no” to dry tasteless turkey no matter who makes it. Rule number two: Fresh garlic is a must.

Make sure that the turkey is large enough for left overs, you’re going to want them. Fresh or frozen never seemed to matter to her, she could make either taste like a dream. Now here come the details, the devil is always in the details, but this recipe is simple and tasty.

Our Mamma’s Roast Stuffed Turkey Ingredients Turkey-1-14 to 29, Pound Turkey-Washed and Dried Depending on the number of guests, at least 1-14 to 29, pound turkey, your choice frozen or fresh. If it’s frozen, make sure you do your due diligence to thaw before the big day. Make sure that you take it out of the refrigerator before prepping and make sure it’s at room temperature. Remove the giblets and other parts. Ma never used them but if you prefer, you can roast them in the pan for flavor.

Fresh Minced Garlic-Two Tablespoons, Heaping. II’s in our DNA… No garlic powder, garlic salt or anything dried, make sure it’s fresh. Fresh Carrots-Peeled and Washed-Two Celery Stalk-With Leaves-Washed-One Turkey or Chicken Stock-One and One-Half Cups Boxed or canned will do or if you’re a kitchen warrior you can make your own. Salt-Keep it Handy, she used a bit… Sea salt was not fashionable when we were kids, but it will work nicely if you don’t have the old-fashioned Morton’s. Pepper-Same as above. Butter-Softened-One Stick Fresh Sweet Onion-Half an onion will do. It’s for the flavor of the pan dripping gravy, we’ll discuss later.

That’s it. No fancy rubs or tonics, just good old ingredients. Now if you’re a lover of Rosemary or Thyme, you can have some fresh sprigs on hand for a garnish.

Turkey Prep Wash the turkey inside and out. If your using a frozen bird, don’t forget to remove the bag inside with the "parts" you know what I mean. I once forgot to remove it and it wasn’t pretty… Check for any additional pin feathers and get ready to roast.

Set a rack at the lowest position in the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator to bring to room temperature. Tie the legs together and tuck the wing tips under. Place the turkey in a roasting pan. Rub the outside of the turkey with some of that softened butter, okay slather it as though butter was about to go out of style and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make sure you salt and pepper inside the bird. Add your favorite stuffing and place in your roasting pan. In the bottom of the pan, pour one cup of the stock and add the fresh garlic, carrots. celery and onion. These items will add amazing flavor to your pan dripping gravy. Ma always used pan drippings for gravy. Now everyone has their own roasting times, the good old 20 minutes per pound is the rule but it depends on whether it’s stuffed or not. Here is a suggested set of times for stuffed, not stuffed, and different weights:

So, when is it done? That is the universal question. I never saw my mother use a thermometer to test the temperature of the meat. Of course, she may have, hiding the fact that she had used one. She wanted everyone to think that she was magical in the kitchen and I believe that she was. In the modern world of cooking it’s probably a good idea to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the stuffing. Cook the turkey until the skin is a light golden color, and then cover loosely with a foil tent. During the last 45 minutes of baking, remove the foil tent to brown the skin. Good rules to follow:

  • Basting will not make a turkey moister but will promote even browning of the skin.

  • The only true test for doneness is the temperature of the meat, not the color of the skin.The turkey is done when the thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. To get an accurate reading, be sure that your thermometer is not touching the bone.

  • If your turkey has been stuffed, it is important to check the temperature of the dressing; it should be 165 degrees F (75 degrees C).

  • When the turkey is done, remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20-30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat and makes for easier carving.

If you are “winging it” and I usually do just use your intuition. I’ve never served an under-cooked turkey so don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy thermometer. Remember to baste all the way through the roasting of your turkey. It adds flavor to the skin and a beautiful color. Use that remaining stock to keep the basting going. When it’s done, let it rest, it makes it easier to carve. We all remember those carving disasters. My uncle Joe used to tear into that beautiful bird, it was like a turkeymageddon at the table.

Now for that stuffing and gravy discussion I promised earlier.

Mamma always stuffed the turkey. It just makes sense, right? She always made two kinds of stuffing, one for the bird and one for the true Italians at the table. The stuffing for the bird was traditional, the other was made from fresh sweet Italian sausage, garlic of course, sweet onion, stewed tomatoes and day-old Italian bread. The gravy is all pan drippings, make sure you keep that amazing gold from the bottom of the pan. And that will be part two, the gravy, the stuffing recipes and the side dishes so stay tuned. The sausage recipe is a winner, and everyone will be talking about it and you for days. Stay tuned for part two of Our Favorite Holiday recipes. We are going to take you all the way to dessert. Italian dessert naturally. Does the word Mascarpone mean anything to you?

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