The Unique Thanksgiving Staple You'll Find In New Jersey

Holiday feasts tend to favor the comfort of tradition over the element of surprise, and Thanksgiving is no exception. That said, anyone who's hopped to two or more turkey dinners in a single night can attest to the fact that every household has opinions about what should and should not make it to the table. Turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing are generally in the safe zone, but when it comes to sides like Jell-O, marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and cold salad, heads will butt and roll like a buttered roll. 

In the spirit of gratitude, we like to think these discrepancies in taste are part of the fun — especially if you're an open-minded dinner guest. There's something sweet about putting a personal spin on an assignment. And with the multitude of ethnic and cultural backgrounds that make up the United States, it's only natural that every Thanksgiving dinner plate looks a little different. 

In New Jersey's Italian American households, for example, the turkey isn't the only Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Before turkey, there's cannelloni

While "Italian American" is no longer listed as an ethnicity by the U.S. Census Bureau, per the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), census participants are still able to note their Italian American heritage if they wish. In 2010, when that change took effect, NIAF writes that 17,253,941 Americans identified as Italian. Assuming that a significant number of Italian Americans didn't fill in that blank space, that number is estimated to be much larger in reality. A whopping 17.9% of the census-identified Italian American population lives in New Jersey, and 14.4% reside across the bridge in New York.

If you're invited any given Italian American household in the Garden State or the Big Apple on November 24, Insider says you'll likely be treated to a plate of manicotti (ricotta-stuffed cannelloni pasta over a bed of marinara sauce) before the turkey. Manicotti might be replaced by another casserole-bound pasta dish like lasagna or baked ziti, per Insider, but some form of pre-turkey pasta is par for the course. 

Likewise, an Italian American Thanksgiving might also begin with a platter of cured meats, cheeses, and other antipasto. According to Long Island Weekly, you might even see an Italian wedding soup or tortellini en brodo thrown into the mix.