An Italian-American Turkey Recipe for Thanksgiving 2020

Kathryn holding a platter with a turkey roll that has been cut in half and the swirl of sausage and mushroom ragù filling visible.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! Since we in America are all celebrating Thanksgiving a bit differently this year, I thought I would post a turkey recipe I’ve made before for small gatherings.

My Italian-American turkey recipe uses a full, boneless turkey breast, which is flattened, spread with a ragù of Italian sausage and cremini mushrooms, and then rolled up to form a log.  When the log is cut into slices it makes an elegant presentation and a satisfying main course for 6 -8  people. I plan to use half the log for Thanksgiving and freeze the other half for an easy dinner later in the year.

I based my Italian sausage and mushroom ragù filling on the Bolognese ragù that my children have requested as their birthday dinner for years. Actually, the Bolognese ragù I make is by far my most requested dish all around (I have to admit, even though I am Sicilian and make a variety of southern Italian sauces). If you are interested in a true ragù recipe, here is the link to my blog: Italian Sauce Recipe: Bolognese Meat Ragù.

Check out my Instagram Conversationalitalian.french to watch the video when I cook my version of sausage and mushroom ragù filling and make the roasted turkey breast for my family to enjoy this Thanksgiving.  Then read on for the recipe below.


If you’d like,  leave a comment about your Thanksgiving celebration this year, and the traditions that are celebrated where you live.
I’d love to hear from you!

And by all means stay safe and have a wonderful Festa del Ringraziamento, however you celebrate this year.



Italian -American Thanksgiving Turkey Roll 

Kathryn Occhipinti holding an oval platter with the Turkey Roll ready to serve
Kathryn Occhipinti with Turkey Roll ready to serve

(Serves 4 -8)

1 (4 lb.) whole turkey breast, deboned

For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small shallot (or 1/2 onion) chopped finely
1/2 carrot, chopped finely
1/2 celery stalk, chopped finely
1/4c  finely diced pancetta
Italian sausage meat from 2 links, casing removed
3/4c whole milk

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, small dice


For the Ragù Filling: Sausage 

Use a medium size frying pan. Add the olive oil and butter and heat over medium high heat.

Add the finely chopped shallot or onion, celery, and carrot, and cook with a pinch of salt until vegetables have softened.

Add the chopped pancetta and cook to render out the fat. 

Add the Italian sausage meat, and stir with a wooden spoon to break up meat as it browns.

Set aside while you cook the mushrooms.

For the Ragù Filling: Mushrooms

Use a medium size frying pan. Add the olive oil and butter and heat over medium high heat.

Remove garlic before it gets brown.

Add the diced mushrooms and cook over medium heat until the mushrooms soften.  At first, they will appear to absorb all the liquid in the pan. As they finish cooking, they will release juices back into the pan. 

When mushrooms have softened and there is liquid in the pan, add them to the sausage in the larger pan.

For the Ragù Filling: Finishing the Filling

Warm the sausage and mushrooms in the large frying pan over low heat.

Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. flour over the sausage and mushrooms and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.

Warm the milk in the microwave (but do not boil, about 20 sec) and then drizzle slowly into the sausage/mushroom mixture while mixing over low heat. Bring to a very gentle simmer and then turn off heat. Continue stirring.  The mixture should thicken.


Make the Turkey Log:

Rinse the turkey breast and pat dry.  Trim any extra fat.

Remove the skin of the turkey breast carefully. Use the blunt edge of a carving knife. Try not to get any tears in the skin, as it will be used to cover the Turkey roll later. Set aside.

turkey breast with removal of skin
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 1

Set the turkey breast flat on the cutting board, skin side down. You will need to make the turkey breast as flat and as rectangular as possible. Start by trimming the tenders (the small, oblong pieces of meat along each underside) from the lower portion of the breast. Trim along the midline and then fold them outward to make “flaps” close to the main breast. The upper edges of the breast will be too thick; slice through them and remove or create an additional flap outward. Trim away any additional excess turkey to level off the breast.

Preparing the turkey breast - Step 2 - creating flaps with the tender of the breast
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 2

Cover the turkey breast with a sheet of wax paper. Then pound the turkey breast lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet to further flatten. Pound from the inner part of the breast to the outer edges on all sides.

Preparing the turkey breast - Step 3 flattening with a meat mallet
Preparing the turkey breast – Step 3

Spread the filling on the turkey breast and even out with a large spoon or spatula. You may have a bit too much filling; just discard what is left. Press the filling into the turkey breast with a wide spoon.

Roll the breast the long way from one side to to the other and make a tight, long log. The seam should be on the bottom of the roll.

Rolling the turkey breast with fillilng into a log
Rolling the turkey breast with sausage and mushroom filling into a log

Cover the log with the turkey skin and flatten around the roll with your hands so the skin is closely adhered to the turkey log.

Use cooking twine to tie the roast so it stays together while roasting. Three or four crosswise ties should cover most of the roll. No need to tie the roll lengthwise.

Brush olive oil on the skin surface and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. If your turkey breast came with a pop-up thermometer, make a small cut in the skin and insert it into the turkey log. Make sure it goes in as deeply as it would if it were in a regular breast.

Gently transfer the turkey log to a roasting pan, keeping the seam side down.

Turkey log prepared for roasting
Turkey log tied with thermometer re-inserted and prepared for roasting

Roast in the lower 1/3 of the oven 400° for 30 minutes. Then lower heat to 325° and cook for approximately 30 -40 minutes more. 

The roast is finished cooking when the interior reaches 170°, and a thermometer should be used to test for doneness. If your turkey breast comes with a meat thermometer, reinsert this and use it as a guide.

When the roast has finished cooking, remove the twine and thermometer and present on a large oval plate.  It looks lovely by itself or surrounded by roasted potatoes or a vegetable of choice.

Let rest 15 minutes, slice and serve.

Roasted turkey roll ready to slice and serve
Roasted turkey roll ready to slice and serve

Buon appetito e Buon Giorno del Tacchino!

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