Holiday Cook-off

A little bit of Italy on the Thanksgiving Table

Lovingly shared by Sylvia Laabs

Nonna Tosca’s Florentine Stuffing

Thanksgiving meals have an impact on us all. It might be memories of having extended family sitting together to eat – or it might be memories of moving up from the “kids table” to the “big table”. I remember my first time moving up to the Big Table. While I was excited to move up, I was upset that my (favorite) cousin who was 4 years younger, and next-in-line, also moved up the same year I did! That’s not fair! But I digress.

Another fond memory of Thanksgiving meals was that my Nonna Tosca, a first generation Italian, always had spaghetti on the table. Maybe that’s why today, spaghetti and meat balls is one of my all-time comfort meals. Her family was from Lucca and Pontasserchio, located between Pisa and Florence. I always liked that we incorporated traditional Thanksgiving food with food from our family origins.

But the food that really stood out was her stuffing! It was seasoned with so much goodness; it wasn’t just moist, baked breadcrumbs. Every year there were spoonfuls on my plate, then turkey and stuffing sandwiches a few hours later, while Nonna would play Blackjack with me and my cousins. That’s how I learned to count so quickly in my head, well, at least multiples of 10 and 11. Nonna wasn’t made of lots of money, but she loved to go to Vegas to gamble, and Blackjack was her game. She took me to Vegas as my 21st birthday present, and that’s when I found out she didn’t know the betting strategies to get the best odds. I hated playing at the same table as her during that trip. But as a kid, playing Blackjack after Thanksgiving dinner with pennies, nickels, and dimes – it was the best after-dinner thing we could do with Nonna!

Ace and King of spades playing cards

One year, I went to my Nonna’s the day before Thanksgiving to help her prep food. I got to help make her Florentine stuffing. I told her I wanted the recipe so I could make it when I would host my own Thanksgiving meals in the future. She said she didn’t have a recipe, she just “knows what to do, like I was taught”. Fortunately, I had the foresight to grab a pen and paper. I had her put ingredients into a pan or bowl, then I’d take it out and measure it, and put it into another bowl so she could continue making her stuffing. I wrote down the entire recipe and it has become a treasured family recipe. For several years after my Nonna passed away, I’d get a call in early November from an Aunt or cousin, asking for Nonna’s stuffing recipe that no one else ever wrote down. But I had it… and it’s a staple on my Thanksgiving table now.

As a Christmas present, I’ve asked my family for a custom cutting board with the recipe etched on the board, like cutting boards found here. Let’s see if I get it this year!

Quality ingredients are key to a tasty stuffing. You can find the fresh vegetables to use in your stuffing at the local Channel Island Harbor Farmers Market.

Fresh veggies chopped and ready to add to the browned meat
browned meat with vegetables simmering
Spinach, eggs and parmesan cheese to add to chilled meat and veggie mix

Nonna Tosca’s Florentine Stuffing

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ¼ lb. pork sausage
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 carrots, grated fine
  • ½ C chopped parsley
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach (or 2 packs of frozen leaf spinach)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 3 eggs beaten
  • 1 box of bread stuffing
  • 1 ¾ C parmesan cheese
  • 14 – 20 oz turkey/chicken broth
  1. Brown the meats in a little olive oil
  2. Add garlic and vegetables (except spinach) and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
  3. Put in a big bowl and let cool
  4. Add chopped spinach, beaten eggs and 1 C parmesan cheese
  5. Add bread stuffing and turkey/chicken broth to moisten mixture
  6. Put into baking dish (deep 9×13) so stuffing is about 2 inches thick
  7. Sprinkle remaining ¾ C Parmesan on top
  8. Bake covered at 325 for 40 minutes, then an additional 10 minutes uncovered
Tosca’s Florentine Stuffing

You can also check out other favorite recipes from my classmates

Mangia Mangia!

By Sylvia A. Laabs

Sylvia Laabs has been fortunate to work with some of the biggest names you see every day - Visa, Disney, and NFL. She has strong marketing communications experience in the health insurance industry having worked at Anthem, Aetna, Centene, and UnitedHealth. She has also worked in the financial, print production, publishing, and social media industries. She has leveraged all facets of direct marketing communications in the customer lifecycle - Acquisition, Onboarding, Engagement and Retention. She can balance big picture strategy with day-to-day execution, while driving campaign success with data and measurable goals.

Outside of work, Sylvia enjoys exploring the outdoors by off-roading in her Jeep with family and friends. If she’s not in her Jeep, she may be watching a baseball game, as she’s an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan who has seen every major league team play a game in their home stadium. She has enjoyed going back to college and upskilling her marketing approach. She lives with her husband, two college age sons, two pit bull dogs and a feisty cat name Katniss.

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