Pre-Thanksgiving Italian Feast

Connelly family tradition is to cook Italian food the night before Thanksgiving, and this year was no different.

You might think eating pasta the night before Thanksgiving is similar to running a marathon the night before, well, another marathon, but I find it’s a nice departure from the solid American-style food you’ll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, what better way to prepare yourself for any celebration than by drinking copious amounts of Chianti while blasting the theme from the Godfather?

Since I’m in Sonoma for the holiday with my family (email me suggestions for wineries or if you want to come tasting at lceatslentils (at), this lasagna recipe comes directly at you from my mother, inspired by a recent Italian birthday dinner party she attended. But first, the appetizers!

Olive tapenade from the winery, Flavored Olive Oil, Olives from WF olive bar

Flavored Olive Oil

Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (use high quality for this and try to find a fruitier one you might use on salad)
Fresh Rosemary (chopped)
Dried Oregano
Dried Thyme

Mix together and serve. My parents call this ROT olive oil to remember what goes in it. Not exactly a great visual, but it works.

Cannelloni Beans

1 large sweet onion cut into thin strips
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ tbs. dried oregano
2 – 15 oz. cans of Cannelloni Beans with the liquid
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large, shallow saucepan over medium-high heat. Sautee the garlic and onion in olive oil until soft. Sprinkle in dried oregano and cook one minute more. Pour in cannelloni beans with their liquid and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the mixture has reached your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. The key here is lots of onion, garlic and oregano so if anything, you should worry about UNDER seasoning. We served the beans scooped onto fresh baguette slices.

Now for the main event:

Vegetarian Shallot and Mushroom Lasagna

Adapted from Vegetarian Epicure

Olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper
3 tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bag of washed baby spinach, chopped
A few large shallots, diced
2 packages of baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
2 – 15 oz. containers of ricotta cheese
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
3 eggs
Fresh lasagna noodles (come in sheets)
Tricia’s Fresh Tomato Sauce (recipe below)

Sauté onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent; transfer to a bowl to cool. Sauté shallots in the same pan until browned and carmelized; transfer to a bowl so you can cook the mushrooms. Sauté portabella mushrooms; drain any excess liquid.

In a large bowl, combine beaten eggs, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, the fresh parsley and the cracked pepper. Add the cooled onion/garlic mixture and mix thoroughly.

Layering the Lasagna:
Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a glass 9X13 baking dish to keep the lasagna from sticking. Place a fresh noodle on the bottom, then spread a layer of the ricotta/spinach mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the cooked shallots, portabella mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. Finally spread with a generous layer of sauce. Repeat this 2-3 more times, making sure to end with sauce on top. Since you are using fresh noodles, you will need to use more sauce than usual.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45-min; remove foil and bake 10 more minutes until brown and bubbly.

Serve with Connelly salad and hot fresh bread.

Could you just BUY tomato sauce for this recipe? Yeah, I guess so. But holidays are all about using your day off to spend way more hours in the kitchen then you’d ever be able to on a normal basis AND I can safely say this sauce totally made the dish.

Tricia’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

3 large cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
5-6 large cloves garlic, minced
½ small can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil and oregano, chopped

Saute the garlic in olive oil in a large pot. Add the tomatoes by crushing them with your fingers and letting them fall into the pot, adding the liquid from the can as well. Stir in chopped fresh basil and oregano and your S&P to taste. Cook over low heat for an hour to thicken the sauce.

Blend the tomato mixture using either a blender, or as we did, a handheld blender we found in the rental house.

Man, this thing is so cool. It would be PERFECT for making butternut squash soup, obviously tomato sauce, pureed potatoes or cauliflower, and this is just off the top of my head. Definitely adding to my Amazon Xmas Wish List.

Add tomato paste as a thickener as needed, cook another ½ hour or so, and tasting for flavor.

And finally, the wine!

My brother brought me a late birthday gift, a Vinturi essential wine aerator. You can get the idea of what it is from the Web site (basically a super-quick decanter) but the coolest thing is that when you try the wine without using the aerator, then compare it to the wine using it, you can really taste the of difference. It’s not too expensive on Amazon and would make a GREAT xmas gift for anyone on your list who enjoys wine.


This is our new favorite Italian. It's so delicious, I could drink it every night. Perfect to bring to your next event because at around $30, it doesn't break the bank, but I can guarantee everyone will like it.

A stand-by Italian for us. Originally bought it thinking it was "Le Machiole" but liked it just the same.

7 responses to “Pre-Thanksgiving Italian Feast

  1. WOW! I t all looks amazing! Hope you had fun in Wine Country! Can’t wait for he recap.

  2. I am a BIG fan of the Vinturi aerator and have put the white wine aerator on my Christmas list!

    • Have you checked out the ones that fit onto your wine bottle? A little easier when you’re having a party and people are just pouring from the bottle. We bought some in Sonoma.

  3. Just a quick question on the cannelloni beans recipe: what is the green that is in with those beans?

    It can’t be dried oregano…looks like it might be a small amout of spinach, shredded and added in for extra color? Just very curious. And that has to be one of the easiest, least expensive side dishes I’ve ever seen, thanks for sharing!

    Casual Kitchen

    • Hi Dan!

      Sorry for the delay in response – had to check with the mother.

      She assures me it is dried oregano, though I know I would love the spinach addition. From my mom:

      It is actually an appetizer at an Italian restaurant that we go to, and that is how they make it. Hint, don’t put the garlic in until after the onions have cooked a bit, or it will burn.
      Make sure to add the liquid in the cannelloni bean can too. It is sooo yummy- our official Italian friends love it.

  4. Thanks so much for the added info. I’m looking forward to trying this one!


  5. Pingback: Holiday Gift Guide « Let Them Eat Lentils

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