Marco Canora's Thanksgiving Traditions
New York City chef Marco Canora shares his favorite Thanksgiving memories as well as his favorite Thanksgiving foods.
Of the many Thanksgiving holidays Marco Canora has spent with his family, one of his favorites remains the year his cousin hosted the clan, and bought a 38-pound turkey to feed them. “It was the largest thing I’d seen in my life,” Canora says. The bird was so immense, so daunting, that his cousin had to wake up at 3:45 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to put it in the oven. The entire family was worried whether it would cook, and cook well, in time for dinner. “But the funny thing was, the turkey was so large, and cooking for so long, that it released enough juice to fill the roasting pan. The bottom part of the bird essentially became a confit, and it was delicious,” he says of the unexpected mishap. “It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be one of the best turkeys ever.”
"A huge lesson with cooking,” says Canora, “is that you’ve got to loosen up and go with the flow."
This is a particularly useful mantra whenit comes to the multi-course Thanksgiving meal—a dinner that can serve as many as 15 in the Canora household. “We celebrate in full force,” says the 41-year-old chef, lauded for his New York City restaurants Hearth, Insieme and Terroir, which he runs with noted wine expert Paul Grieco, and which all share the common thread of blending thoroughly modern cooking with Italian elements and style. “We’re not sports people,” he explains.
“For us, it’s not about getting around the TV and watching football. It’s aunts, cousins and immediate family all getting together, and it’s about cooking and eating.” Canora’s mother is originally from the Tuscan town of Lucca, but she happily adopted American traditions when she raised her family in New York’s Hudson Valley. Canora recalls Thanksgiving as a major function, which isn’t much of a surprise, considering the parallels between the tenets of the holiday and Italy’s own emphasis on family, the kitchen and shared meals.
Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays—and certainly its original one. Canora’s family can attest that it’s easy to love, effortless to adopt and a cornerstone of the family experience. But bonding aside, churning out a multi-course meal for a large group isn’t easy. “We start three days in advance,” Canora says. “We make the broth, and that’s a full day. We also make pie dough and start prepping for the stuffing.”
Among his family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes are caramelized leek and sage stuffing and sautéed broccoli rabe. But for the special Thanksgiving meal he created for La Cucina Italiana, he also brought in recipes from other aspects of his life. “Even though it’s an American meal, I wanted to do it in the format of an Italian one—with an antipasto, primo, secondo and dessert,” he explains. His primo, butternut squash risotto, is a creative interpretation of Italy’s traditional tortelli Mantovani, a fresh pasta stuffed with mostarda di Cremona, pumpkin and amaretti. In Canora’s version, the risotto is cooked with the pumpkin, then topped with the mostarda and amaretti as finishing touches. “Some parts of the meal were inspired by my home life, and others were inspired by my professional life,” he says.
And whether it’s the professional experience that includes garnering a James Beard Award for Tom Colicchio’s Craft while heading the kitchen there, or the acclaim he’s received with his current restaurants, eventually Canora took the helm at the family table, too. “Somewhere along the line, I started running the show in the kitchen at home,” he says, laughing. “Overall, it’s a communal effort, but when it comes close to sit-down time for dinner, I can’t help but start barking orders.”
Yet it’s the shared event that’s his favorite part of the meal. “The most beautiful thing about cooking and the holidays and family,” he says, “is that it’s something everybody can get involved in, and the kitchen is a great place to hang out and have fun.”
This year, after the fall release of his new book, Salt to Taste (Rodale), he’s considering opening Hearth on Thanksgiving for the first time. The move would give his devotees a chance to sample a special menu, though the only downside may be not having the leftovers to savor. “At home, we serve and eat the leftovers as they are,” he says. “But one thing we do is pick the turkey meat, or take the leftover meat from the brodo, mix it with potato, bread crumbs, lemon zest, parsley, garlic and parmesan cheese, and fry them to make croquettas.”
That’s one idea for leftovers, but Canora certainly wouldn’t stop you from trying more. “Like with the (38-pound) turkey, if you make a mistake, you take that experience and you learn from it and apply it the next time you cook,” he says.”
by Corina Quinn
photo by Nina Choi
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