I didn’t cook the first Thanksgiving meal I hosted. My roommate and I had my mom’s old dining table, and my grandmother’s old dishes, which meant that if enough people brought their own chairs, we were equipped to host twelve people for Thanksgiving. I handled the table setting, my roommate the cooking. He knew all about what to do, he said, speaking with such conviction about the virtues of giblet gravy, that I simply readied myself for a showstopping turkey feast.
There would be giblet gravy, and sage stuffing, and not one but two turkeys – an absolute necessity if we were to have a place to stuff all the stuffing that would be needed for our twelve guests. My mother heard about the two turkey plan and pronounced it asinine, but I saw no cause for alarm – it was her usual reaction to nearly everything she hadn’t thought of herself.
I remember we had a merry meal, though as to the meal itself, I don’t remember much. There were pumpkin pies in supermarket boxes, and probably some mashed potatoes, and there were indeed two turkeys, and they were mostly cooked through. What really sticks with me, though, was the stuffing.
My roommate made stuffing from a recipe he made up on the spot, tossing in his best guess as to ingredients, and then filling both birds. He used white bread from the local supermarket, of the sort that instantly liquefies upon coming into contact with any sort of moisture. I believe he may have tried to dry it out beforehand, but maybe not, and it wouldn’t have mattered either way: this bread was chemically engineered not to dry out.
So, my grandmother’s antique serving dishes were filled with balls of sage-scented slime. Each guest gamely took a small helping and graciously pronounced it delicious.
The next time I hosted Thanksgiving, I had long since moved into my own apartment, which came with a battered chrome table, at which I hosted my mother, my boyfriend, a coworker who would have liked to be my boyfriend, and another coworker who was temporarily without any boyfriend. I didn’t have much to guide me, except the knowledge that I probably didn’t need to make two turkeys, and that some guidelines should probably be employed when making stuffing. I bought a copy of Food and Wine magazine and followed their Thanksgiving recipes to the letter: there was turkey basted in butter, and a stuffing of prosciutto and escarole and some country bread that had been air-dried ahead of time and held up quite nicely, thank you very much. I steamed Brussels sprouts and tossed them with red grapes, a colorful dish that my boyfriend objected to, on the grounds that the grapes would compromise the integrity of the Brussels sprouts. They didn’t, of course, and in fact were quite tasty, but the real hit of the evening was the cranberry sauce, which was spiked with Wild Turkey.
The following year, I bought a copy of Gourmet, and carefully followed the Thanksgiving recipes in that issue, and decided that was going to be my menu, so each succeeding year, until last year, my spattered magazine made its annual appearance. I’ve fine-tuned and simplified the stuffing recipe, my favorite part of the menu, and vary only the cranberry sauce – although I’ve found several recipes I like, I’ve not found one that improved upon my Wild Turkey spiked cranberrypalooza, which, due to the presence of children, has not been served since.
This was the menu I served in my next apartment, to whatever friends happened to be around, and to The Foreigner the one year I hosted Thanksgiving during our marriage. This was the meal I served to the friend who flew in to keep me company when I found myself a single parent of a small toddler, alone in a new city. I served this meal to The Departed each Thanksgiving, and to his children on alternating Thanksgivings.
After he left, I hosted one final Thanksgiving, and then I was done.
I had eaten the same meal off and on for over fifteen years, and I didn’t really care if I ate it again. The Dog was nearing the end, and having guests would be trying for him, and The Child was less interested in hosting children she only saw once a year than she was in finding out what Black Friday was all about.
So I made reservations, and we had fish for dinner, followed by a trip to the mall and an electronics store; we looked at the stuff, and mostly the crowds, and didn’t buy a thing. This year, we had steak, and a somewhat more productive evening of shopping in a department store downtown.
I expect that at some point, we’ll feel nostalgic for Thanksgiving and return to it. At the moment, though, we don’t really miss it, with one lone exception. I miss Pie Friday. You know what I mean. The day after Thanksgiving. The one day of every year that it’s socially acceptable to eat pie for breakfast.
I don’t care much about pumpkin pie – though most pumpkin pie is simply mediocre, the fact is, when it’s good, it’s quite delicious. The truth of the matter, though, is that I simply enjoy having a lazy day that begins with a slice of slightly soggy-crusted pie from the fridge.
So, this year, on the night when I’d normally be drying out cubes of cornbread in the oven, I made ricotta cheese. If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend it – it sounds very difficult but in fact is comically easy, so for very little effort you get some very nice ricotta with an ego boost on the side. I used the recipe from Epicurious.com, and produced about 16 ounces of very creamy, mild ricotta. I let it drain longer than called for in the recipe, so the end result was a somewhat dry ricotta, which was what I wanted so as not to end up with too much moisture in the final pie.
I found this recipe on the Anson Mills website, and no, I don’t know how or why I found myself on the site. The company, if you’re not familiar with them, specializes in heirloom grains, and offers overly complicated and somewhat pretentious recipes to go with them. I attempted to print out this recipe, which would have resulted in 11 pages to navigate, so I cut-and-pasted only the pertinent parts of the recipe into a Word document, which I managed to trim down to three pages of exceedingly dense text.
I’ve trimmed the recipe down further for you, dear reader: Don’t be deterred. I didn’t create a lattice pie crust that I baked separately, then laid into place on top of the pie, and neither should you. I also didn’t use their special heirloom grains, which seems like the wrong place to skimp given the people selling the grains created the recipe for the purpose of telling you how to use them, but then again, the instructions for the recipe say you should overcook the rice, so it struck me that any decent-quality rice would work fine. I used arborio. I think it came from Costco, but I could be mistaken; certainly, it’s been in my pantry for a while, and thus might possibly qualify as an heirloom. Regardless, it was quite tasty.
The place you shouldn’t skimp is the ricotta – it’s the absolute centerpiece of this pie. Get yourself some good quality fresh ricotta, or make your own, but please avoid the supermarket stuff if you possibly can.
The crust used in this recipe is called a pasta frolla – basically a very sweet pastry crust. I had trouble working with the dough – it rolled out fine, but refused to lay nicely in the springform pan I used, or give me a nice edge. It also got overly dark on the edges when I blind-baked it. Some of these were my errors – I used a nine inch pan, rather than the eight-inch pan called for; if I’d used the correct size, the filling would have come to the top edge as it should have. I also neglected to refrigerate the dough before baking, which probably contributed to the overly-browned edge. Still, if there is one thing I’d still change about the original recipe, it’s the crust; the ricotta filling is so sweet, a sweetened crust isn’t really needed. (The recipe makes enough filling for two store-bought crusts, if you’re in a hurry, or, like me, have impaired pie-crust skills.)
The pie, though? It is lovely. It’s sort of a cross between a cheesecake (without the tang) and a rice pudding – a little custardy, a bit of bite from the rice, with a lovely milky ricotta sweetness reminiscent of the finest cannoli Little Italy has to offer, but better.
It is very filling, so you won’t need much to feel sated and spoiled.
Some tips on baking: The Anson Mills recipe says you can take the pie out of the oven after 45-50 minutes, and the center will still be a bit jiggly. The center was a lot jiggly at that point in my oven, which always requires extra baking time. I needed to add an extra twenty minutes to the baking time; your mileage may vary, too. The real tip-off is the degree of jiggliness of the center – if it’s a lot jiggly, it’s not done yet. You are looking for just a little jiggle. If we use a Charlie’s Angels jiggle scale, you’re looking for Kate Jackson, not Farrah.
I know Thanksgiving is over, but since this is technically an Easter pie recipe, you can get in plenty of practice before you serve it to guests on the correct holiday. Or not. It’s great for breakfast, too.
- 3.5 ounces arborio rice
- 16 ounces whole-milk ricotta
- 3 ounces heavy cream
- Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 7.5 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 ounce cream sherry
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 15 ounces pastry flour, plus additional for rolling out the dough
- 4 ounces granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Make the pastry crust: Whisk together the egg yolk, cream, and vanilla in a small bowl. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Scatter the cubes of butter on the top, and pulse everything together until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, pour the egg mixture through the feed tube, and continue to process until the mixture forms a ball. Remove the dough from the processor, and divide into two equal portions (each will weigh about 14.5 ounces). Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least a half hour and up to two hours.
- Unwrap one piece of dough and put it on a floured piece of parchment. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a round large enough to line the sides of an eight-inch springform pan. Fit a piece of aluminum foil into the dough, and line with dried beans or pie weights. Refrigerate about 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake the crust about 20 minutes; don't let it get too brown.
- Cook the arborio in about two cups of water, until it is softer than you'd normally eat it,then set aside to cool.
- Stir the ricotta, cream, lemon zest, and salt together in a medium bowl, set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the eggs and egg yolks until they begin to thicken, then slowly pour in the sugar in a thin stream. When the mixture has thickened and increased in volume, reduce speed to low and add the ricotta and cooled rice, blending thoroughly.
- Pour the filling into the prepared pastry; it should come up to the rim.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake the pie about 45-50 minutes, until just the center still jiggles slightly.
- Let the pie cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least an hour before removing the pie to a platter. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if you like; the pie is plenty sweet without it.