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Autumn is the time for this chef to start planning his holiday table


It’s hard to believe that another Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. We’ve been inundated with hay bales, pumpkins, yard turkeys, and all the rest of the late fall decorations since before Halloween. Now it is time to think about preparing for the big day. Interestingly and a bit strangely, Thanksgiving dinner is not at my home for the first time in many years. The torch has been passed to our adult children for the first time. I somewhat reluctantly had to accept this inevitable change.

An artful display filled with memories of Italy greets guests who dine at chef Schulman’s table.

Preparing my required sausage stuffing remains in my realm of responsibility. It has also been hinted that the family would enjoy a couple of pans of my cornbread as well.  As all my regular readers know, Thanksgiving at my home has always been a very big deal. I’ve described this event and the strict adherence to a must-have menu that is expected by everyone all the way down the line to our grandchildren and great-granddaughter.

I still feel that I want to do something special in anticipation of the holiday season. It occurred to me that I would like to prepare a Sunday family dinner mid-month. The ideal menu would start with either a traditional Caesar salad or field greens with berries, goat cheese, and candied pecans with a raspberry or strawberry vinaigrette. Both options are favorites at my gatherings.

The main course is pasta. I would prepare three dishes for this course. All the pasta would be scratch made of course. Plus, each pasta dish would have to incorporate meat or seafood.

The first dish would be baked. Meat lasagna is always a winner. This would be composed of the classic  ricotta mixture and the heavy-style meat sauce with ground beef, pork, and veal. This is a delicious dish that few can resist.

The second dish  has to be tagliatelle with short rib ragu’. Rather than the typical Bolognese-type sauce using ground meats, this sauce is a Ragu’ made with braised short ribs cooked until the meat falls off the bone and readily shreds. The pan gravy from the cooked short ribs is reduced and combined with tomatoes. Some recipes call for the use of white wine for this dish. I prefer to use red wine. Surprisingly, this ragu’ does not call for garlic. However, I tend to add a hint of garlic just because I like it. This is seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. I finish the dish with a combination of  freshly shredded Pecorino Romano and aged Asiago cheese. The ragu’ perfectly complements the tagliatelle and is an explosion of flavor.

For the third dish, seafood is a must. It is one of  Liz and my favorites. Also, some of the families do enjoy seafood. I am opting for my version of shrimp scampi. I’m not yet decided if I want to use  linguini which is the standard selection with seafood. Or the lighter angel-hair pasta selection. I am leaning toward angel hair primarily because linguini is more closely related to tagliatelle used in the previous dish. For this dish I like to use 16/20 frozen raw easy-peel shrimp. I am going to prepare the entire 2-pound bag of shrimp. I quickly thaw the shrimp under cold running water and immediately peel it. I pull the tails because we want to dig in and eat the shrimp. Who wants to handle the shrimp in the sauce on the plate? Not me. My scampi sauce tends to be a bit lemonier than most. Again, just because we like that brightness that the lemon brings. It reminds us of the  dishes with lemon that we had in Positano in Italy.

I start by heating equal parts of olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan on low medium heat. I add chopped garlic and shallots to the oil and  mixture. I don’t look away because  I do not want the garlic and shallots to brown. When the garlic and shallots become translucent, I increase the heat slightly and immediately add my shrimp, lemon zest and for this quantity of shrimp, the juice of one lemon. Many recipes call for using oregano in this dish. I prefer the fresh basil that I put up in the freezer this past season. I have it in small bags that I can pull out and crumble while still frozen into the scampi. I also add a couple of sprigs of chopped fresh parsley. The shrimp cooks quickly. So, things move fast while I am putting this dish together. At this point, my salted pasta water is boiling. The fresh angel hair cooks in about 60-90 seconds. I drop my fresh pasta into the water. A quick stir and the pasta is ready to drain and be placed in the serving dish. I make sure to reserve a small amount of the pasta water to add body to my scampi sauce. I then add a dollop of additional butter to the sauce. Keep in mind that there is salt in the pasta water that we add to the sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. I enjoy arranging some shrimp on top of the pasta. Once the shrimp is in place, the sauce is poured over the shrimp and pasta. Because this is a lighter sauce, it flows throughout the pasta. Yet it has just enough body to cling nicely to the pasta.  I garnish this dish with shredded Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and lemon curls.

Of course, I make sure to have good crusty bread ( this is why we call it breaking bread),served with butter for some and flavored olive oil for others depending on their preference. I put out a couple of bottles of red wine along with a bottle of Prosecco.

Dessert is usually potluck. The families bring dessert, and we are always surprised. Dessert and indeed the whole meal would not be complete without a great cup of coffee. Our preference is Bucks County Coffee Owners Reserve. This dark roast blend is big, bold, yet with no bitterness or harshness. The coffee drinkers in the family have come to expect a great cup of coffee with dessert at our gatherings. If I remember to bring the limoncello out of the freezer, it is a great way to finish the evening and toast the season.

This will be an outstanding dinner with lots of conversation and laughs. There is nothing  like great food , warm surroundings, and family to make for the perfect get together. Happy Thanksgiving.


Murray Schulman

Murray Schulman, a columnist with the Italian-American Herald for 12 years, has worked in the food business for more than 50 years, sharing his expertise in kitchens, offices and classrooms spanning several states. He retired in 2017 as head of prepared foods for Delaware Supermarkets Inc. He lives in Pennsville, N.J

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