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An Italian Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving and ravioli! Not Thanksgiving and Turkey, but Thanksgiving and ravioli: homemade ravioli; my father’s homemade ravioli. I remember that he would start to make them a few days before the holiday. I can still see the flour, eggs, water and other ingredients spread out on the kitchen table. I can see him mixing the dough, rolling it out, and then cutting it into sections to be filled with the cheese he had prepared. His ravioli were huge, and they were delicious.


If you are like me and millions of Italian Americans (not just from the North End) your Thanksgiving dinner was really two meals: an Italian meal followed by an American one. Whatever made up the first Italian meal, and it differed for different families, the turkey and the rest was always second. This was our Italian American tradition.

For my family, it went like this:

We would gather at my aunt Mary’s for Thanksgiving dinner, usually getting there by around 11 a.m. We began with appetizers of nuts, finochi with cream cheese, cold cuts, my cousin Joan’s stuffed mushrooms, and other things. Then the first meal would begin with my Aunt Mary’s scarola soup with the small meatballs, white beans and chicken. After the soup came my father’s ravioli. You could only eat three, maybe four of them because of their size. My aunt Mary made the gravy for the ravioli, so there were meatballs, pork and beef to go with them. Next, we passed around my aunt Connie’s eggplant and my Uncle Joe’s stuffed peppers. The homemade wine was my grandfather’s.

And after this — with a few more added Italian dishes I can’t remember — we would leave the table, with the men heading to the living room to watch football, and the women to the kitchen to clean up and prepare the second meal.

The second meal was the ‘traditional’ American thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, stuffing, brown gravy, potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. That would begin around about 4 p.m. That meal was good and we enjoyed it, but I have to say that the Italian meal was the highlight, especially because of my father’s ravioli.

A few hours later, there would be dessert — pies and Italian pastry — and coffee. And then maybe later a sandwich: scala bread filled with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Or maybe a meatball sandwich.

It was truly a day of food and family.

Times have changed and I don’t have this kind of Thanksgiving dinner. Life is not all ravioli — and my wife is not Italian. But she does like the tradition and she makes a modern version of it with squash lasagna and her own recipe of stuffed peppers as the Italian meal, followed by her delicious turkey and the rest. So it is still a day of food and family, and it is still my favorite holiday of the year.

I like it even more now because it is still the one holiday celebrated by Americans across the United States. It is the holiday that brings us all together, whatever our background and whatever variety of food accompanies the traditional turkey dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

About James Pasto

James S. Pasto is a senior lecturer at Boston University, co-founder of the North End Historical Society and editor of the society's journal. To share stories about North End's past, e-mail pasto@bostoniano.info. To find out more about the North End Historical Society, visit alexgoldfeld.com/NEHS.html.