How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in Italy

A traditional roast turkey
Will you be celebrating Thanksgiving with an Italian twist this year? Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash
For many Americans, the fourth Thursday in November – aka Thanksgiving – is the most important holiday in their cultural calendar.

And while Americans living in Italy may be far from home, that won’t stop them celebrating – even if they don’t get a public holiday like they do back home and have to miss out on watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and American football on TV.

Each year, Americans in Italy gather to devour the traditional turkey with cranberry sauce and take advantage of their adopted home by sinking a few glasses of Italian wine.

READ ALSO: 17 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in Italy

And after a year of lockdowns and strict limitations on indoor gatherings, for many this year’s celebration will be an especially jubilant one.

Here’s our guide to how you can celebrate an authentic Thanksgiving in Italy.

Photo Element5 Digital/Unsplash

Those who live in small towns and villages will likely have trouble securing niche items like Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Stouffer’s Stuffing, and you may have to settle for a large chicken over a turkey.

But the good news is that it isn’t hard in Italy to source the ingredients you’ll need to make homemade traditional stuffing (which mainly consists of bread, onions, celery, and various herbs) and cranberry sauce from scratch.

Cranberries, or mirtilli rossi, don’t grow in Italy, but some shops sell them dried, and there are plenty of recipes online that explain how to make a sauce by rehydrating dried cranberries.

Otherwise, cranberry sauce can be found at some major chain supermarkets in Italy like Esselunga. If you prefer to start with fresh ingredients, red currents, or ribes, are a good approximation, and can be found in a number of food stores across the country.

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It’s also possible to locate pumpkins and sweet potatoes in some markets and grocery stores across Italy, if you’re up to the challenge of making a pie from scratch.

In that case, Milan-based blog Doing Italy recommends the ‘La delica mantovana’ pumpkin variety for making pie: “a ‘short’ pumpkin with a deep green crust (sometimes with a few white stripes) and bright orange pulp. If not, butternut squash will do, and that’s getting easier to find at organic supermarkets and things of that nature.”

Buying a turkey requires a bit of research. You’ll need to start by finding a butcher that specialises in poultry, either by hunting online or by word of mouth, and get your order in early to make sure they have time to source your turkey.

READ ALSO: 15 things you’ll probably never get used to about living in Italy

Those who live in a big Italian city are likely to have greater luck than countryside-dwellers when it comes to sourcing imported ingredients.

In Rome, the small delicatessen chain Castroni stocks most items you might want to accompany an American Thanksgiving, including stuffing mix, pumpkin puree, and pecans. They have several stores across the city, including in Prati, Trastevere, and off Via del Corso in the city centre.

Drogheria Innocenzi in Trastevere is also recommended as a destination for those looking for imported American Thanksgiving ingredients.

And small but mighty, the tiny Emporio delle Spezie or Spice Emporium in Testaccio stocks pecans year-round, as well as almost any spice you can think of and some other imported food products.

Photo: Keighla Exum/Unsplash

In central Milan, the specialist store American Crunch is recommended by Doing Italy, which writes that it sells “all that ‘traditonal’ American stuff to make your homesick self cry with joy. You’ll find Crisco and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and even marshmallows.” It also accepts orders online and can deliver to any part of the country.

Milan residents also recommend Mercato Comunale Wagner for Thanksgiving and Christmas treats, and you can even source a turkey here (though you will need to order in advance).

And let’s not forget about the decorations. 

Getting hold of those may be even more difficult than getting hold of some of the more traditional foodstuffs but there are lots of websites with ideas for how to make them at home – and if you have kids, no doubt they’d love to get involved in this side of the preparations. 

If after reading this, you think going the whole hog and creating a traditional Thanksgiving in Italy is just too much effort, you could always keep the most important elements – gathering loved ones together for food and drink – and ditch the turkey.

Another option could be to book a table at a restaurant with a Thanksgiving menu – these are rare in Italy and limited to bigger cities, but examples of spots with special offerings include The Brisket, a smokehouse restaurant on Milan’s Navigli, and the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice.

However you plan to celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving from The Local.

Do you have any recommendations for sourcing ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner in Italy? Please leave a comment below to share them with other readers.

Member comments

  1. I sourced the Turkey from Sant Ambrogio market here in Florence and asked for it to be spatchcocked. For cranberry sauce, I found dried cranberries and cranberry jelly at Natursi which I then combined this with ribes, port (to macerate the dried cranberries), orange juice and maple syrup. It tastes great. For the pumpkin pie, I’ve steamed, puréed and strained the pumpkin to get the flavor concentrated. I found Yams at the Asian market. Everything else, I make it by hand so it was easy to find the same fresh ingredients here in Florence. I also noticed after I made the cranberry sauce, there was cranberry jam at the Christmas Market in piazza Santa Croce and Enoteca Alessi had premade oceanspray sauce.

  2. I have ordered a turkey through a friend who has a frozen fish store. I found “American patate dolce” at an Emisfero which were white inside. Mashed tastes like roast chestnuts. Today I got real sweet potatoes at a Lidl. I brought my pie materials from the US. I’m refining my pastry now using lard – Strutto. The pastry is excellent. My heart health??
    Big squash at vegetable market sold split into quarters.
    No cranberries yet.
    I bought all the glassware I need for 18 people at a Mercatino d’ Usato.
    I made my own hot plate with sterno burners and fireplace racks.
    Almost ready to eat.
    Just need to cook the 15 kg turkey!

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