Secret ingredients for your best Thanksgiving ever

Secret ingredients for your best Thanksgiving ever

In time for Thanksgiving, a tasty preview of my family’s annual spread. Plus: the all-important potluck advice

What better way to reconnect after a busy start to the school year than with a big, hearty meal? Enjoying the many foods of harvest time is an obvious upside of fall, but mostly, Thanksgiving is a time for family, gratitude and great food.

As with many holidays, we prefer to keep things casual at home. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the kids and I have spent long days and nights working in the stores, and we don’t have much left in us to cook a feast for 30. That’s why I always incorporate some of the many catering options we have at Pusateri’s to do some of the heavy lifting. Hey, why not? But the one thing we always make at home is the turkey—we don’t have it at Christmas, and lamb is usually the hero at Easter, so a big bird takes the stage in October.

Ida Pusateri

For those entertaining the potluck route, I suggest assigning a course to each person. Align on the menu beforehand so there are no surprises. Let’s avoid the “who forgot the cranberry sauce?” standoff. The count of starters and sides will vary depending on the size of your party, but one or two entrees and three or four sides is a good rule of thumb to provide some variety and a balanced meal. Everyone has a specialty, so delegate to people’s strengths and build your menu from there. We don’t typically go the potluck route (surprisingly, everyone wants the lady with the grocery store to provide), but everyone somehow manages to bring a dessert—so much dessert—including without fail, Nonna’s tiramisu.

If you’re hosting (cooking or not), planning ahead is crucial. I recommend preparing whatever you can in advance. Often our customers specialize in one dish and shop our prepared foods for the rest. We have catering services that makes this really easy—either they cook the turkey and we handle the sides, or vice versa. We deliver everything cooked and ready to heat or plated and ready to serve.

If you’re cooking your own turkey, place a special order for your bird early to put a hold on the size you want. After all, they’re real birds, so whatever comes from the farm, comes. Prep the bird two days before. You can brine it so it stays incredibly moist. And, of course, get it in the oven early (really early) on Thanksgiving Day to cook through until table time. Prep your sides a day or two prior; this includes mashed potatoes. Bread cubes can be prepared for stuffing in advance as well. A happy coincidence: often the traditional sides taste better after a day sitting in the fridge anyway!

Typically, our family’s turkey toppings tend to skew traditionally North American: gravy, cranberry sauce (although only one of us eats it), bread stuffing and all the usual harvest sides. This year I’ll be bringing home some new prepared sides to complement my traditional turkey, like the Jerusalem artichoke and bacon soup, apple-shallot stuffing, rosemary and garlic–doused tricolour potatoes, lemony green beans with roasted red tomatoes and smoked almonds, and a mixed greens salad with grapes, toasted pine nuts and white balsamic. Pusateri’s is providing the sides, I’ll focus on the bird.

After the meal, we immediately start thinking of creative ways to deal with leftovers. There’s nothing better than a bit of turkey, brie and cranberry sauce on ciabatta to keep the holiday feelings alive. As for the potatoes, they go deliciously in a breakfast hash with cubed ham and eggs. You can also break and fry them into croquettes—don’t forget the cheese!

Once dessert has been devoured, it’s time for the cleanup. I enjoy keeping my kitchen organized, so I’m not bothered by a bit of tidying—my kids might tell you I’m militant. To me, great food and time with family and grandkids is what it’s all about.

This Month’s Recipe

Rapini Recipe

I love the zingy taste of Agrumato Citron, an EVOO from Abruzzo made by crushing lemons with the olives. It’s a great ingredient for my Thanksgiving side dish of crisp rapini sautéed with sweet shallots and garlic and served with spicy chilies.

  • 1 bunch Rapini
  • 2 tbsp Agrumato Citron Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Lemon
  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 2 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp Sarafino Hot Pepper Spread
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Rinse rapini well.
  • When the water reaches a boil, add the rapini and boil for approximately 7-8 minutes until the stalks are “fork tender”. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to halt the cooking process.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When heated add the shallot and garlic and continue to saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Add the rapini and saute for 5-7 minutes until full heated through.
  • Plate, spoon over hot pepper spread and sprinkle with lemon zest.

Ingredients available at Pusateri’s Fine Foods

For more information on Pusateri’s catering services, visit

Next month: get ready to give with Ida’s picks for giftable goodies for the holidays.