With Thanksgiving fast approaching during these difficult times, I would like to share the very long-standing Polcari holiday tradition. Every family has its own traditions, which are important. That’s why they’re called traditions. Ours melds the traditional Thanksgiving meal with the Italian Sunday meal, since my Polcari heritage is Italian. In fact, there is actually a small village in Italy with a street called—Polcari. In a region called—Polcari. Crazy.
Being Italian, we consider Thanksgiving to be our Super Bowl. The meal generally consists of five courses spread out over easily 4 hours, if not longer. There is a funny joke in my family about when I brought my new girlfriend – now my wonderful wife – over for her first Thanksgiving meal with the family. I warned her to pace herself and not fill up on the early courses because it was going to be a long meal. She didn’t quite understand how serious I was and by the time the second course ended, she was done, too. In her defense, my wife is quite petite, so it doesn’t take much for her to get full, but still, it’s all relative.
When you sit down at a Polcari Thanksgiving meal (and Christmas, and Easter), it’s all about patience, self-control and discipline. Because otherwise, you will be miserable by the end of the day. Satiated. But miserable.
My younger brother and I are the cooks in our families, so before our children grew up, we did all the cooking for the holiday meals. In the last few years, my daughter has contributed with some wonderful dishes, and I have taught her and my son how to make the sauce and ravioli. But my brother and I still do a lot of the cooking. And more often than not it is our mom who handles the pies with homemade whipped cream.
Everybody comes over to my house and it becomes instant craziness, between me finishing up the Italian course, my brother getting the half-cooked turkey into the oven (he gets it started at his house before coming over), and 10-15 people buzzing around.
Okay, buckle up because here we go. (All photos are courtesy of my niece – thanks K!)
Course One – American Appetizers.
We start off with fantastic deviled eggs that my brother makes plus cheese and crackers (brie in the below pic) or some other type of dip. The fact that in the below pic there are only a few eggs left tells you all you need to know about how good they are and how fast they go. And you immediately begin exercising self-control because otherwise, you’ll never make it to the fourth course, let alone the fifth.
Course Two – Antipasto.
Starting when I was about eight, I always put together the antipasto platter(s). Then when my younger brother was old enough, that job was passed to him. Now, my daughter handles the duties. The food is arranged on multiple platters in decorative patterns, with eggplant compote being in the center. We always have black olives, various green olives (stuffed with pimentos, anchovies, sometimes jalapeños, etc.), salami, provolone cheese, roasted marinated red peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, smoked oysters, and rolled anchovies with capers.
Additional items sometimes include marinated mushrooms, grilled marinated asparagus, stuffed cherry peppers, smoked muscles, smoked squid or baby octopus, and pepperoncini. This course requires serious discipline. I can remember a number of years where I was already starting to get into trouble because of that second plate of goodies I ate. While this course is underway, I have hot water with olive oil on a low boil in two large pots so I can cook the ravioli right after we finish the antipasto.
Course Three – The Italian Meal.
This course is always my responsibility and getting the ravioli cooked and everything into serving dishes is quite a flurry of activity. I start cooking the ravioli right after Course Two is finished because they cook fast. Even then, it takes about fifteen minutes to get them all cooked because I have to cook them in batches.
The course consists of homemade marinara sauce (cooked on low for 5-6 hours – this is the very first thing I start on Thanksgiving morning), both sweet and hot Italian sausage (cut in quarters after being cooked), meatballs (I use ground sirloin, pork and veal plus some secret ingredients), pepperoni chunks, and homemade three-cheese ravioli (regular & gluten free). The meats are cooked in the sauce, starting with the pepperoni, then the sausage, and eventually the meatballs.
I usually make between 70 and 85 ravioli and it takes about 90 minutes to two hours to make – depending if my children are helping or not. If I have help, we set up an assembly line. One person cranks out the pasta sheets. The second person portions out the stuffing and cuts/seals the ravioli. Both my children are now skilled ravioli makers.
This course has been the undoing of MANY a Polcari. And I mean MANY! It is so hard not to have 6+ ravioli (which are large), 3-4 meatballs, and 3-4 sausage pieces. But discipline must be exercised because we still have the American Meal and desserts. Patience, grasshopper.
Course Four – The American Meal.
In the past, this course has all been my brother (Part One), but in the last couple of years, my daughter has added dishes to the presentation (Part Two).
My brother makes the turkey (which is always so moist – he brines the heck out of it), an amazing cornbread and biscuits stuffing (he says the turkey is only for making the stuffing), green bean casserole (my wife’s favorite), and gravy. If his daughter is able to join, then vegetarian stuffed peppers also join the table.
My daughter is gluten free, so she brings along mashed potatoes and a stuffed acorn squash dish (wild rice, pistachios, feta cheese). As you can see from all this great food, even if you were successful navigating the first three courses and saving room, if you’re not careful, this fourth course will DO YOU IN!! We still have dessert.
Course Five – Pies!
Every Thanksgiving meal should end with pies, and that’s exactly how ours ends. Always pumpkin and pecan with homemade whipped cream – and almost always made by my mom. No matter how well or poorly you’ve handled the first four courses, there’s always room for Mom’s pie. If pie isn’t your cup of tea (why??), then we also will sometimes include cannoli, gluten free apple pie (c/o my daughter), and even one year a GF Thanksgiving cake!
So, there you have it. A Polcari Thanksgiving! And now I’m starving.
Best wishes for a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. This year, ours will be virtual, but it will still be a family holiday with all the wonderful Polcari dishes. Just in different locations!
I’ll end this with a little hint about what’s coming in the next post, which will be quite funny. Think: Billy the Goat.