July 15 ē 10:27 PM

Here's what's cookin' for Thanksgiving

November 26, 2008
Since my recipe for my mom's famous stuffed endive is included in this issue, I figure I'll provide a little glimpse into the process for those who may consider making it:

We're hovering over a huge stainless steel bowl that's just chock full of glorious and aromatic chopped up things. Black olives, green olives, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms, fresh breadcrumbs, fragrant herbs—all liberally doused with extra virgin olive oil. This 'recipe,' which until recently I'd never seen written down—also calls for minced anchovies, which my mom mashes up and adds to the massive bowl. A smaller bowl holds all the same ingredients—sans anchovies—for yours truly. Mom started that little tradition way back in 1987 when I became a vegetarian. (Am I spoiled or what?)

This is a concoction that was a specialty of my grandmother and namesake, Caterina Minolli. It will be painstakingly squeezed into fist sized balls and wrapped with strips of steamed endive.

Then we'll wind cotton string around each ball to hold it all together. Then each stuffed endive will be fried in a pan on top of the stove in yet more olive oil and garlic right before the big Thanksgiving feast. We have to do it. It's a Thanksgiving tradition in the Minolli household.

We chuckle throughout this entire process, wine flowing. Of course we all have to taste test the mixture to make sure there's not too much of this or too little of that. More wine, more tasting.

When I was a kid you couldn't get me (and some of the sisters) to touch those endives with a ten foot pole. It was just too weird. After all, cooked endive has the texture of cooked spinach but the somewhat bitter taste of, well, I don't quite know what. And though I grew up with a gourmet cook for a mom, I was somewhat 'finicky' and favored ketchup sandwiches and, like all little kids, plain old fish sticks (luxury item at my house since my mom always made food from scratch—frozen stuff was relegated to the days when my older sister would babysit.)

The whole stuffed endive making process has always been a family affair, though, a food tradition that continues to draw us together on the eve of Thanksgiving no matter what part of the state we live in. Where there's wine and food, the Minollis will gather. Where there's a process to be demonstrated, tried, tested and argued about, Minollis will be there with their opinions.

Of course my dad knows the precise way these stuffed endives should be prepared and of course he tells it to us every step of the way. But the Minolli sisters are what some may call "strong-willed girls," so we, like Frank Sinatra (and Frank Minolli), do it Our Way.

That just amps up the, ahem, discussion.

For example, there's not enough cotton string in the entire universe as far as Roseann's wrapping method goes. She's a bit on the impatient side, so rather than wrap the soggy mixture round and round in one direction, her stuffed endives look kind of like the inside of a golf ball. That's fine from the standpoint of making one impenetrable and highly cohesive endive. The problem arises when on Thanksgiving day after the soup and antipasto we're all in the kitchen scrambling to get the rest of the feast to the table and unwrapping the steaming fried endives requires asbestos fingers and the patience of a saint.

Virginia and I use the same method. We like to squeeze the stuffing into a tight ball, gently wrap the strips of endive in a vertical and then horizontal pattern and wind the string (much less than Roseann uses) in a similar way. We do this patiently and beautifully, creating little endive works of art. That is, until we get "bored."

Boredom may not exactly be the right word but it's a little like Roseann's impatience except our plan works better. The squeezed down balls of stuffing become larger and larger until we're practically making basketball sized stuffed endives. This, of course, shaves hours off the process—leaving us more time to enjoy the fruit of the vine so to speak.

Dawn is somewhat new to the endive stuffing process. Until fairly recently, she and her family lived in Ohio so she bypassed much of the day before situation because of inavailability on Wednesday afternoon. What's funny is of all of the sisters she always savored the work-intensive concoction—even when she was a little girl. Smart kid, that one.

I always look forward to hovering over that huge stainless steel bowl, mouth watering in anticipation of the Thanksgiving feast, ears buzzing with the high decibel level of "conversation," flushed with a little sip of the grape, happy and grateful for this wonderful and beautifully weird Minolli family tradition. Bon Appetito!

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