As Thanksgiving approaches, I often think 0f how I came to embrace this holiday. I can’t recall exactly when our family first celebrated Thanksgiving in America. My parents stepped off the Queen Mary in 1951 with all their Italian and Polish customs and traditions, but a Thanksgiving turkey was not one of them. Back then, turkey in Italy was as rare as, um….hens’ teeth. As a small tyke in tow, I had no clue about this holiday either until I started school and then peer pressure and the need to assimilate presented themselves.
Mom eventually relented to my whining about becoming more “American” and made a Thanksgiving turkey, however it was always accompanied by lasagna or ravioli and a dozen other fabulous Italian savory and sweet things. She also changed things up and often made hearty Polish side dishes to go with our roast. We often had Bigos (a sauerkraut stew) and crispy potato pancakes. We now appropriately call this fusion cuisine – unmistakably comfort food in any language.
My favorite side dish with roast turkey is this savory Kielbasa Bread Pudding which substitutes for stuffing. It can be made in advance and reheated and it also freezes well. We would also enjoy leftovers the next day with breakfast or brunch. Another thing to give thanks for!
So now that I am “mature” and have celebrated Thanksgiving many times with traditional American fare, I now like to pay tribute to my ethnic roots for their contribution to this holiday, as a reminder of where I came from and what I am thankful for. This dish serves at least 8 – but the memories it can create are unlimited.
1 loaf Challah bread, preferably a day old, cut in one -inch cubes
2 medium onions, chopped
3 Tbs. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. parsley, minced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
one pkg. Kielbasa, chopped into small cubes
1 pkg. shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 pkg. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. ground sage
1/2 tsp. thyme
Place the cubed Challah bread into a large mixing bowl. Saute the chopped onions in the butter until soft and slightly golden. Add the chopped celery and continue to saute on medium-low heat until softened. Add the minced garlic and saute one more minute and set aside to cool in a bowl.
Using the same pan, saute the cubed kielbasa until it turns golden, turning often and once browned, remove from heat to cool. When cooled, add the reserved onion, celery and garlic. In a separate mixing bowl, place the eggs, heavy cream, milk, thyme, sage and parsley and mix with hand blender until smooth. Assemble the ingredients by adding the custard mixture into the bread cubes and then incorporating the sauteed kielbasa and onion until well mixed. Add the cheeses and mix well into the bread and custard mix. Spread into a large buttered rectangular baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until golden brown on top. If you really want to see a Polish-Italian marriage at work, add some crumbled sauteed sweet Italian sausage to the mix. That would be called con-fusion cuisine! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.