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Published November 13, 2012, 11:40 PM

Home with the Lost Italian: Classics shine in unconventional Thanksgiving feast

As America’s favorite feasting tradition, Thanksgiving boasts a bounty of recipes from which to choose. Tony loves food, and I love writing, so finding a topic for our first column should have been easy, right?

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

Editor’s note: Tony and Sarah Nasello, owners of Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead, will contribute weekly food features each Wednesday in SheSays.

As America’s favorite feasting tradition, Thanksgiving boasts a bounty of recipes from which to choose. Tony loves food, and I love writing, so finding a topic for our first column should have been easy, right?

After days of rejecting idea after idea, and several exasperated eye rolls toward each other (more from me, I confess), we soon realized this bountiful holiday presented more of challenge than we’d anticipated.

How do you condense this great American holiday into one recipe? The answer: We can’t.

So – as we’ve learned in our 19 years of marriage – we decided to compromise. We would each showcase a dish that encompassed as many Thanksgiving

flavors as possible.

Despite their Sicilian heritage, Tony’s family celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving when he was growing up in Toronto. The food traditions might be different here in America, but Thanksgiving remains Tony’s favorite holiday (and not just because his mother-in-law does all the cooking).

“To me, Thanksgiving represents the ultimate in American tradition. Nearly every family celebrates with turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, the works,” he said. “Tradition is very important in Italian culture, as are food and family, so I embrace everything this holiday is about. And I don’t even miss the pasta.”

Tony likes to take a familiar tradition and try to give it new life, and that’s just what he’s done with his recipe for Stuffed Turkey Breast.

“This recipe is my spin on a classic Thanksgiving dinner,” Tony says. “I like it because it incorporates the flavors of the season, without the hassle of planning a major feast. The turkey’s there, tender and moist, stuffed with apple-soaked raisins, brown sugar, carrots, all great fall flavors.

“And then you add the panko breadcrumbs… It’s also a perfect dish for smaller groups, like newlyweds, empty-nesters or small families.”

Elegant in its presentation, it’s easy to assemble and can be prepared up to two days in advance. And while the flavors may not be Italian, Tony has managed to work his culture into the dish via the scaloppine technique used to prepare the turkey cutlets, which ensures their tenderness and fast cooking time.

To complement the turkey breast, Tony pairs the dish with a Pomegranate Butter Sauce.

My choice recipe, Sweet Potato Cheesecake, has been a seasonal favorite at Sarello’s for years. Our guests are always pleasantly surprised when first tasting this dessert, which has become one of our most requested recipes. We love the versatility of sweet potatoes in cooking, and this dish also puts a new spin on a classic Thanksgiving food.

Velvety smooth in texture, Sweet Potato Cheesecakes is bursting with autumnal flavors of cinnamon, brown sugar and of course, sweet potatoes. The key to this recipe is in its preparation. Roasting the sweet potatoes in the oven first helps to bring out their natural sweetness and makes such a difference in the overall flavor.

To further enhance this dish, we prepare our own Caramel Sauce and drizzle it around the plate before placing a slice of cake on top.

Add a dollop of whipped cream and some strawberry slices, and your guests will soon be asking you for the recipe.

Stuffed Turkey Breast

Serves: 4 to 6

1 large turkey breast, pounded into cutlets scaloppine-style (depending on size of turkey breast, this should make approx. 6-8 turkey roll-ups)

1 large carrot, diced

½ cup raisins, soaked in apple juice overnight

2 cups sliced leeks

¾ cup heavy cream

½ cup dark brown sugar

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

Additional ingredients for dredging and frying:

1 cup flour seasoned with 1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs beaten with ¼ cup milk for egg wash, in a shallow dish

2 cups Panko breadcrumbs mixed with chopped herbs such as parsley and rosemary

(Put each ingredient in its own shallow dish for dredging)

¼ cup vegetable oil for frying

Slice the turkey breast into even pieces about one inch in width.

Pound out the turkey breast pieces into thin cutlets with a meat tenderizer

Sauté the carrots in butter until soft.

Slice and rinse the leeks, then sauté them in butter until soft.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

To create your stuffing mixture, combine all the ingredients except the turkey in a large bowl, adding seasoning to taste. Lay one turkey cutlet flat on a board and place about a cupful of stuffing in the middle of the cutlet.

Roll the turkey into a log around the stuffing. Dredge the turkey roll-up in the flour, then the egg wash and finally the seasoned bread crumbs.

Pan fry in hot vegetable oil until browned on all sides. Set aside on a baking sheet and continue stuffing the cutlets.

When all the turkey roll-ups are complete, bake for 12-15 minutes until they appear to be a rich golden brown color.

Tony’s tip: You can assemble and refrigerate the roll-ups for up to two days before cooking.

Pomegranate Butter Sauce

Serves: 4 to 6

1 cup pomegranate juice or the juice of 5 pomegranates, freshly squeezed

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed to ½-inch thickness

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, reduce all ingredients, except the butter, until syrupy, for about ten minutes. Remove from heat and add one cube of butter. Adjust the burner to low heat and return the sauce pan to the burner. Whisking constantly for about five minutes, add the rest of the butter slowly, cube by cube, waiting until one cube is almost incorporated before adding the next. The sauce is ready to serve when all the butter has melted and a silky smooth consistency is achieved.

Remove from heat, add a pinch of salt, whisk together and serve immediately.

Tony’s tip: Change the flavor of the sauce by substituting cranberry juice to make it more traditional.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Serves: 10 to 12

The Crust

2 cups ground graham cracker crumbs

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and lay in a greased 10-inch spring form pan, pressing firmly against the bottom of the pan.

Bake at 300 F for 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and chill until ready to use.

The Cheesecake

1 pre-baked graham cracker crust, in 10-inch pan

24 ounce(3 pkg) cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar

1 pound roasted sweet potatoes

2/3 cup heavy cream

2 eggs

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

With a paddle attachment a standing mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar until creamy.

Add the roasted sweet potatoes, eggs, cream, cornstarch and cinnamon and beat well.

Pour the mixture into the pre-baked crust and bake in a water bath at 300 F for 1 hour, or until it has set.

Refrigerate the cheesecake overnight. Serve with the caramel sauce featured below and fresh whipped cream berries.

Tony’s tip: This recipe can be prepared up to one week in advance. Keep refrigerated before serving.

Caramel sauce

1 cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

½ cup water

4 ounce (one stick) unsalted butter, cubed

¾ cup sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup heavy cream

Water to adjust consistency

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium-sized sauce pot and cook over medium heat until the mixture becomes dark amber in color. Remove from burner and add butter until fully incorporated. Reduce the heat to a low temperature and return to burner. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Add the condensed milk and then the heavy cream. The sauce should continue browning. Add at least 2-4 oz. water to the caramel mixture when hot to achieve the desired consistency. Cool and serve at room temperature.

To store: Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week. Allow to set at room temperature before serving.

Tony’s tip: Be sure to add the additional water when the mixture is still hot; if it cools it will be too hard to incorporate the water.

Tony and Sarah Nasello own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com

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