with Dr. Maria Scott
By Mary Ann Treger | Photography by Heather Crowder
When it comes to preparing a joyful Thanksgiving dinner, there are hosts who go by the book and then there are hosts, such as Maria Scott, who tinker with tradition, seamlessly blending her Italian heritage with traditional Thanksgiving fare. On Scott’s holiday table it isn’t unusual for a steaming bowl of gnocchi smothered in red tomato sauce to rest next to a sweet potato soufflé. Or a plateful of spicy meatballs adjacent to a succulent sage and rosemary infused turkey.
With such a culinary feast, you might be fooled into thinking Maria Scott is a professional chef. But that’s not the case. Maria Scott is, in fact, a world-class eye surgeon. Ranked in the top five percent of cataract surgeons in the United States, she is the founder and medical director of Chesapeake Eye Care and Laser Center in Annapolis. Maria and her husband Matt, an anesthesiologist, have two children and reside in a luxurious waterfront home with breathtaking views of the United States Naval Academy.
Growing up Italian style (both of Maria’s parents are rooted in the Abruzzo region of Italy), holidays were a time for the family to enjoy all their favorite dishes. “We would prep for days and then sit around the table eating, talking and laughing for hours. To this day, I don’t like to rush through holiday dinners,” says Maria. “It is truly a marathon.”
Blending family, friends, fine food and wines is the Scotts’ specialty. Thanksgiving begins in the early afternoon when friends and family drift in, gathering around the kitchen island while Maria and her mom, Esther Cirone, put the final touches on a meal that has been in the works for weeks.
Guests sip and swirl fine wines while snacking on imported cheeses, olives and paté before heading into the formal dining room, anticipating the promise of the long dinner ahead. If appearances told the whole story, the Scotts’ elegant table setting with its crisp white tablecloth, gold-trimmed china and massive crystal chandelier hints of a formal dinner. Instead, the atmosphere is as relaxed and inviting as a La-Z-Boy recliner.
Dinner begins with prosciutto and melon followed by Italian wedding soup, a pasta course and, of course, turkey and all the fixings. This year’s pasta dish is gnocchi in red sauce. “As a child I loved to cook with my mom and dad,” Maria recalls. “When we made the gnocchi the weekend before, my mom would put all of the ingredients together, measuring them in the palm of her hand. My dad would roll the dough and then throw it to me. I would try to cut the pieces as precisely and evenly as possible.”
Today, Maria uses pre-made gnocchi to reduce some of the work and, if in a time crunch, buys pre-made mashed potatoes and “doctors them up” with additional ingredients. “One year I made everything from scratch, including my own breadcrumbs for stuffing. It was daunting. Today there are some things I cheat on and some things others do better.”
Thanksgiving meal preparation requires teamwork. Matt does most of the grocery shopping and takes care of wine and beverages. Esther drives from Philadelphia a week in advance to help prepare the meal. Family and friends often pitch in too. “Sometimes my aunt buys Italian cookies from Termini’s in South Philly or my cousin makes the pies,” says Maria. “My brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Marie, often bring the antipasto. My sister Adele sometimes comes the day before to help. When my sister, mom and I are together in the kitchen it is like a factory. Things get done quickly. At least it seems that way because we are having so much fun.”
Some family traditions are hardly “gourmet” by Martha Stewart standards but Maria always accommodates family favorites. “My husband, son and brother love canned jellied cran-berry sauce from Ocean Spray. I always serve that as well as the traditional variety.”
No one watches the clock on Thanksgiving; the meal goes on for hours. “Afterwards, most of us can’t move. We settle into the sofas, snuggle up and watch a movie where at least half of us doze off in a tryptophan slumber,” adds Maria.
Maria loves having a day that is dedicated to joy and gratitude. “I feel so fortunate to be born in this country, to have the parents, husband and children that I have, to have a career I love, restoring patients’ sight, and to work with the people I do. I am so very thankful.” While the Thanksgiving feast is very special to the Scotts, the one thing they are most thankful for is the fact that their children fly home from college for the holiday and the entire family is together once again.