Thanksgiving with a Tuscan Twist

Extra virgin olive oil enhances classic Thanksgiving dishes, adding new flavor dimensions and lightening up the butter-soaked holiday.

By Daniel Dawson
Nov. 22, 2022 11:39 UTC

Thanksgiving in the United States her­alds the start of the hol­i­day sea­son. According to some polling, the hol­i­day is Americans’ sec­ond favorite, right after Christmas.

Thanksgiving is typ­i­cally asso­ci­ated with over-indulging in fatty, salty and sweet foods with fam­ily and friends. By some esti­mates, Americans con­sume between 2,500 and 4,500 calo­ries at the meal.

Health-con­scious con­sumers might look for ways to make America’s favorite meal a bit health­ier but with­out tak­ing away indul­gent fla­vors.

See Also:Pouring on the Olive Oil for Thanksgiving

One of the best ways to do this is to incor­po­rate extra vir­gin olive oil into a range of dishes, from the quin­tes­sen­tial turkey to side dishes and desserts.

Along with the health ben­e­fits derived from its phe­no­lic com­pounds and wide range of fla­vor pro­files, extra vir­gin olive oil fits into many com­mon dietary restric­tions, includ­ing Kosher, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free and keto.

I am cook­ing for my busi­ness part­ners and their fam­i­lies, which are about 20 peo­ple, but with one con­di­tion: it will be a Tuscan Thanksgiving,’ ” Rolando Beramendi, a cook­book author and the founder of Manicaretti Italian Food Importers, told Olive Oil Times.

I’m mak­ing the meal with ingre­di­ents from the American tra­di­tion but in a tra­di­tional way of cook­ing from Tuscany,” he added.


Thanksgiving’s hall­mark food is eas­ily enhanced with extra vir­gin olive oil. Olive oil’s chem­i­cal sta­bil­ity when exposed to high tem­per­a­tures for extended peri­ods makes it per­fect for bak­ing turkeys.

For those fol­low­ing tra­di­tional recipes, use a fla­vor injec­tor to inject a medium-inten­sity extra vir­gin olive oil right into the breast meat for a juicier tex­ture and addi­tional fla­vor.


For those with­out an injec­tor at hand, gen­tly lift the skin of the turkey and rub olive oil on the breast meat. Coating the entire bird in olive oil for the last 30 min­utes of bak­ing results in crisp, brown skin.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a food jour­nal­ist and author of Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil, admit­ted that she was not overly enthu­si­as­tic about turkey (befit­tingly, the Maine native prefers lob­ster dressed in olive oil).

However, she told us the best turkey she ever had was deep-fried in extra vir­gin olive oil, although deep-fry­ing turkey at 360 ºF (180 ºC) requires a sig­nif­i­cant vol­ume of EVOO and a setup to do it safely.

For those look­ing to try some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent, Beramendi has an option for what he called a Tuscan-inspired turkey.

He rec­om­mends debon­ing the breasts while leav­ing the skin intact. Next, stack the breasts on top of each other with the fatty parts fac­ing up and down.

And in the mid­dle, you put branches of rose­mary and sage, some salt and herbs,” he said. Then you tie it up, so it becomes like a nice roll, and you sear it in olive oil and get a nice and crispy on the out­side.”


After, he rec­om­mends pour­ing whole milk or heavy whip­ping cream to cover the seared breasts, then adding some bay leaf, rose­mary branches and pep­per ker­nels before bring­ing the mix­ture to a boil and allow­ing it to sim­mer for 45 min­utes.

The turkey gets nice and cooked but stays very pink and juicy in the mid­dle,” he said. After the turkey is boiled, the last step is to put it in the oven and allow it to bake for the rest of the way.

As part of the bast­ing process, driz­zle some olive oil on the turkey,” he said. Turkey does­n’t have that much fat in the first place, so using more olive oil in the process would be quite nice.”

Once it has come out of the oven, Beramendi rec­om­mends using robust extra vir­gin olive oil on the turkey instead of the tra­di­tional gravy to lighten up the meal and pro­vide a new dimen­sion of fla­vor.

The side dishes

While extra vir­gin olive oil can trans­form the tra­di­tional Thanksgiving turkey, its use is cer­tainly not lim­ited to the main course.

From tra­di­tional veg­etable med­leys to mashed pota­toes, extra vir­gin olive oil can enhance a wide range of side dishes at the Thanksgiving table.

For those unanointed to cook­ing with olive oil, Jenkins rec­om­mends start­ing with some­thing sim­ple, such as a salad with fresh extra vir­gin olive oil.

Start by insist­ing on a salad being part of the meal,” she said. That is not a tra­di­tion at all, but it should be. If you’re timid about olive oil, that’s the best place to start.”

Jenkins also rec­om­mends serv­ing raw veg­eta­bles with a robust extra vir­gin olive oil for dip­ping or olive oil-based dip­ping sauce while all the guests arrive and the main courses are still being pre­pared.

Jenkins said she would be joined by sev­eral veg­e­tar­ian fam­ily mem­bers and main­tains that olive oil is a nec­es­sary part of any veg­e­tar­ian diet. It adds the kind of depth of fla­vor that meat does with­out adding meat to it,” she said.


As a result, Jenkins rec­om­mends prepar­ing a range of veg­etable-based dishes using extra vir­gin olive oil, includ­ing roasted car­rots, bras­sica, Brussels sprouts, cau­li­flower and broc­coli rabe.

Along with turkey, mashed pota­toes are another clas­sic Thanksgiving dish eas­ily enhanced with extra vir­gin olive oil. If pos­si­ble, Beramendi rec­om­mends splurg­ing on an Olio Nuovo, which gives the mashed pota­toes a flu­o­res­cent green color.

See Also:Roasted Potatoes with Garlic, Lemon, and Cilantro (Batata Hara)

Just boil the pota­toes, put them through a ricer very quickly and add the Olio Nuovo and nut­meg,” he said, adding that the result is a fla­vor­ful, rich and dairy-free dish.

Beramendi also plans to give the tra­di­tional pump­kin and squash-based dishes a Tuscan twist.

Of course, you need pump­kin,” he said. So I’m going to make a Tortelli di Zucca — lit­tle ravi­oli made with pump­kin pureé — and I am going to serve them with olive oil and sage. Inside the pump­kin pureé, I will put a lit­tle amaretti cook­ies for tex­ture.”


Along with the rest of the meal, olive oils can play a trans­for­ma­tive role in prepar­ing desserts.

For exam­ple, driz­zle extra vir­gin olive oil on top of ice cream or gelato for a Tuscan twist on an American clas­sic or get a bit more cre­ative and attempt an olive oil-inspired cake.

However, Jenkins said that incor­po­rat­ing olive oil into a tra­di­tional pump­kin or apple pie is a bit more com­pli­cated. The big prob­lem, of course, is that olive oil is a liq­uid, and but­ter is solid, so they react dif­fer­ently,” she said.

See Also:Salted Rosemary and Olive Oil Ice Cream

For those adven­tur­ous enough to attempt to make an olive oil-inspired pie crust, Jenkins warns against look­ing for straight sub­sti­tu­tions online, as these tend to vary sig­nif­i­cantly.

I kind of go with the feel­ing of the bat­ter more than any­thing,” she said. The other thing about but­ter is that you can beat it to a real froth, espe­cially with an egg and sugar, and it’s very hard to do that with olive oil because it col­lapses very quickly.”

So you have to keep that in mind,” Jenkins added. And per­haps put more leav­en­ing in [the pie crust] than you would with but­ter to make up for that.”

Instead, Jenkins rec­om­mends prepar­ing mois­ture cake using extra vir­gin olive oil. I’d much rather have a cake made with olive oil than one made with but­ter,” she said. It stands to rea­son because olive oil is a liq­uid.”

For Thanksgiving, Jenkins plans to bake a cake inspired by her great aunt, who passed down a tra­di­tional apple cake recipe.


She had a recipe for a tra­di­tional Maine apple cake made with a lot of chopped fresh apples and wal­nuts in it,” she said. She would never have used olive oil because it was­n’t a part of her kitchen, but I make that cake with olive oil, and I main­tain it’s a much bet­ter cake with olive oil than it is made with but­ter.”

Be cre­ative, but know your lim­its

Extra vir­gin olive oil can enhance just about any Thanksgiving dish. However, Jenkins warns that the hol­i­day can be stress­ful enough with­out try­ing an overly elab­o­rate recipe.

I would rec­om­mend to peo­ple that they start with a recipe that’s writ­ten for olive oil rather than try­ing to take a favorite cake that’s made with but­ter and con­vert to olive oil and get a sense over a period of time of what olive oil does in a cake bat­ter,” she said. And then, look up these equiv­a­len­cies and start exper­i­ment­ing.”

I cer­tainly would­n’t start on Thanksgiving because you’ve got enough to worry about with­out hav­ing to worry about whether you’ve got the right amount of olive oil in your but­ter cake,” Jenkins con­cluded. Make it sim­ple for your­self. That’s the most impor­tant thing.”

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