I called my mom the other day to ask her what her plans are for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, she lives in New York and doesn’t like to travel, and I’m currently in California. Somehow we got on the subject of turkey, or how we Sicilians prepare turkey, that is. She tells me that when a couple got engaged back in the old country, the gentleman would present his fiancé’s family with a gift of a turkey – to seal the deal so to speak. The exception was if it was Easter, he would then give a lamb instead. Interesting tidbit about the culture. I didn’t even know that turkeys were eaten outside of the United States back in those days. She said turkey was never cooked whole, but cut in pieces and cooked in a sauce.
I guess they still do it that way because during the two years that I lived there, I never saw a whole turkey at the market, but turkey parts were available. My Aunt Anna made a scrumptious roast turkey breast that was readily purchased, rolled in netting. It was stuffed, seasoned with herbs, and cooked in white wine.
All this talk about how Sicilians prepare turkey made me think about my mother Maria’s traditional first course for Thanksgiving – Brodo con Polpettini (broth with little meatballs). It’s basically chicken soup, with turkey giblets thrown in for flavor. The meat from the turkey neck is also thrown into the soup, along with tiny meatballs and pasta. You don’t have to use homemade stock, but I included the recipe just in case you want to go the extra mile.
This dish is also known as Italian wedding soup but we never called it that. It’s a more delicate version of the popular soup, and it does not have the usual escarole, onions, or garlic. Children especially love this soup, so I keep some handy in the freezer.
Maria’s Brodo con Polpettini
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
8 cups chicken or turkey broth (recipe to follow)
1 pound ground veal or ground beef
1 slice of white bread, soaked in milk and squeezed dry
1 Tablespoon butter at room temperature
5 teaspoons finely minced fresh Italian parsley leaves, divided
2 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked chicken or a combination of cooked chicken and turkey, shredded
3 capellini pasta nests or angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1. MAKE THE MEATBALLS: Place the veal, bread, butter, grated cheese, 4 teaspoons parsley, salt and pepper to taste, in medium size bowl and mix thoroughly. Using a measuring teaspoon, take a level spoonful of the meat mixture and shape into small ½-inch meatballs. You should have approximately 48 meatballs.
2: MAKE THE SOUP: Bring the broth to a boil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Carefully add the meatballs and the pasta, then cook for 6 minutes, until meatballs float to the top and pasta is al dente. Add chicken and cook 1-2 minutes longer, until heated through. Remove from heat, stir in remaining parsley.
Ladle into individual serving bowls and serve with grated cheese
Chicken Soup (Brodo di Pollo)
Makes approximately 8 cups of chicken broth.
1 whole chicken (about 5 pounds), cut into pieces
7 cups water
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Turkey giblets (optional)
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
2 whole plum tomatoes, fresh or canned
Fresh Italian parsley, one handful
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh oregano or marjoram (optional)
1 large garlic clove, unpeeled
8 whole peppercorns
1: MAKE THE BROTH: Heat olive oil in a large heavy stock pot and brown chicken on both sides for 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and 1 tablespoon of sal;, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim foam from the top as it accumulates. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Season with additional salt to taste.
2. STRAIN THE BROTH; Strain the broth into a colander set over a large bowl and set aside. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and shred or cut into bite-size pieces.
You can further clarify the broth by straining through a clean kitchen towel.