When I met my friend Wendy’s new boyfriend, Mike, for the first time in August he said, “Mark your calendar. You have to come to my sixth annual Tursgiving on November 8!” To what?” I said. Instead of Thanksgiving or a Friendsgiving, he called this event Tursgiving after his last name, Tursi. “Basically I get a bunch of friends together, and I cook all day. We just hang out and feast.” He already knew from Wendy that we were kindred culinary spirits, but I immediately liked him—a man planning a day of eating months in advance and inviting Andy and me the first time we met.
Months later, Tursgiving Day arrived, and we headed off to Mike’s parent’s home on Long Island. As a woman who lives to cook and have people over, I rarely tire of playing the role of host. But not long into Tursgiving, I realized how much I was enjoying being guest.
Mike, a seasoned cook, had been prepping, cooking, and cleaning all week. We arrived to his and Wendy’s smiling faces and welcome gifts: our own wine glass (and charm!) with a small, monogrammed cutting board that would hold our glass. Was it planned or an accident that I (seven months pregnant) ended up with the only charm left: a humpback whale?
We were told to arrive hungry—actually we were late and I was straight-up hangry—but Mike started feeding us immediately. Depleted platters of appetizers covered the kitchen island where guests crowded round and struggled to exercise self-control. I remember someone saying, “I want to stop. I know I need to stop. I just can’t!” Mouths filled, we all simply nodded vigorously.
As we inhaled what was out, Mike was already pulling fresh appetizers from the oven to replenish the platters. Stuffed mushrooms, macaroni bites, and my favorite: Short Rib Toasts – a perfect piece of tender short rib on a cracker topped with melted fontina and a bit of pickled onion.
Finally Wendy and Mike called us to beautifully decorated folding tables and chairs that had long been set. We settled into to enjoy a four-course Italian Thanksgiving feast:
Caprese salad with basil olive oil and an enormous platter of charcuterie
Tender meatballs and classic lasagna
Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, creamed spinach, and cranberry sauce
Panna Cotta with raspberry coulis and homemade Tiramisu
Every course was incredible, but I was most impressed with the perfect timing. We’d enjoy a course and then relax. He’d serve another course and then we’d reprieve to the couch. There’d be another course followed by a long conversation with friends. The meal never felt rushed nor were we ever looking around thinking, “Where’s the next?” When we asked if we could help, the response was, “Just relax!”
There were so many dishes I could share from that hospitable day, but the short rib appetizer caught my eye and continues to stick in my memory of the sixth Tursgiving.
- 3 pounds boneless short ribs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 3 large carrots cut into large chunks
- 3 celery heart stalks, cut into large chunks
- 1 large sweet onion cut into fourths
- 4 smashed garlic cloves
- 2 to 3 sprigs each: rosemary and thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups full-bodied red wine
- 1 cup beef broth
- Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large heavy pot over low heat.
- Place short ribs in a medium bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons of oil over the meat, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
- A few minutes before cooking, increase heat to a strong medium-high until wisps of smoke start to rise from the pan. Add meat; sear until 2 sides form an impressive, dark brown crust, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate
- Add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to empty pot; sauté until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add herbs; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in flour, then wine and broth and seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Place a sheet of heavy-duty foil over the pot. Press the foil down so that it touches the stew. Seal foil completely around the edges. Place lid snugly on pot. Turn burner on medium-high until you hear juices bubble. Set pot in oven and cook for 1½ hours.
- Remove pot from oven, and carefully remove foil; let meat rest about 15 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in water if necessary to rehydrate stew juices to thin gravy. Return stew to burner and heat throughout.
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon each: sugar and honey
- Pinch salt
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 dozen pita crisps or thinly sliced French bread toasts
- 2 cups shredded Simple Braised Short Ribs
- 1 block (about 3 ounces) fontina cheese, thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler
- Bring vinegar, sugar, honey, and salt to a boil. Pour over onion; let stand several hours, stirring occasionally to make sure onion pickles evenly. (Can be covered and refrigerated several weeks.)
- To serve: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Top each pita or toast with a piece of short rib, top with a piece of cheese, and bake until cheese just melts. Top each toast with pickled red onion and serve.