There’s no Christmas like an Italian Christmas! Sure, we may be a little biased, but the Christmas season is much anticipated as one of Italy’s most celebrated holidays. Natale is an exciting occasion to cook up some best-loved family recipes, to dine with friends and family and to be merry, of course.
Caprese Salad (Serves 6-8)
- 450 – 675g vine-ripened tomatoes, cored
- 450g fresh mozzarella
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or fleur de sel
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup packed basil leaves, torn or cut into thin strips
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Slice the tomatoes and cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the salad on a serving platter or individual plates in an alternating pattern, with two to three slices of tomato for every piece of cheese. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the basil leaves over the top and drizzle with the oil. Serve at room temperature.
Gorgonzola, Fig and Prosciutto di Parma Bruschetta (Serves 6-8)
- 1 loaf good-quality ciabatta bread
- 50ml olive oil
- 225g Gorgonzola piccante
- 2 tbsp single cream
- 8 ripe figs
- 150g Prosciutto di Parma
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the bread into slices about 2cm thick. Brush with olive oil and bake for five to ten minutes, until crisp and golden.
- Mix the Gorgonzola piccante and cream in a small bowl. Spread the toasts with the Gorgonzola mixture and top with a slice of fig and some torn Prosciutto di Parma.
Il Primo (Starter)
Pasta with Mussels and Vodka Cream Sauce (Serves 4)
- Salt and black pepper
- 2/3- 3/4 pound bowtie pasta or penne rigate
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1/3 pound pancetta or lean bacon, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3 – 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 small red chile pepper, seeded and chopped, or 3/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 14 1/2 ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
- A few leaves basil, torn
- About 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup thawed frozen or fresh peas
- 2 pounds scrubbed and debearded mussels
- Crusty bread, for mopping
- Grated parmigiano-reggiano, for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
- While the pasta is working, in a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, heat the Olive Oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the pancetta (or bacon) and cook until the fat renders, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and chile; season with pepper. Cover and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the vodka and reduce by half. Stir in the tomatoes and basil and bring to a simmer. Stir in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.
- If using fresh peas, stir them into the sauce (if using frozen peas, wait to add them with the cooked pasta in Step 3). Add the mussels, cover and cook until they open, 7 to 10 minutes. Discard any unopened shells.
- Add the pasta to the mussels, adding some of the reserved cooking water as needed to thin the sauce. Toss to combine. Serve the mussels and pasta with crusty bread and cheese, if desired.
Il Secondo (Second Course)
Braised Veal (Serves 6 – 8)
- 1 (1100g) piece boneless veal shoulder, tied with twine
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 114g lardo or fatback, minced
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 (750-ml.) bottle of red wine
- 4 carrots
- 4 ribs celery
- 3 medium onions
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 4 1⁄2 cups beef stock
- 10 whole cloves
- 1 (8cm) stick cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 3 small potatoes, cut into 1⁄2″ pieces
- 1⁄4 cup light rum
- Heat oven to 180°C. Season veal with salt and pepper. Heat half the lardo and half the butter in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add veal; cook, turning, until browned, 8–10 minutes. Transfer veal to a plate; set aside. Quarter 1 carrot, 1 rib celery, and 2 onions; add along with garlic to Dutch oven and cook until browned, 12–15 minutes. Add wine; boil until wine is almost evaporated, 12–15 minutes. Add 1⁄2 cup water; boil until almost evaporated. Repeat twice more. Return veal to pot, and add 4 cups stock, cloves, bay leaf, and rosemary; boil. Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until veal is tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining lardo and butter in a 4-qt. pot over medium heat. Cut remaining carrots, celery, and onions into 1⁄2″ pieces and add to pot along with remaining stock and potatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 40–45 minutes; set aside.
- Remove veal from oven; transfer veal to a plate. Pour sauce through a fine strainer set into a 4-qt. pot, discard solids. Set pot over medium-high heat. Add rum; cook until sauce has thickened, 12–15 minutes. To serve, slice veal, and arrange on a platter with vegetables. Spoon sauce over veal.
Lemon Panna Cotta (Serves 8)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Finely grated peel of 5 to 6 large lemons (1/3 cup)
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin (from two 1/4-ounce packets)
- 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
- 1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds, for garnish
- In a saucepan, mash the sugar, lemon peel and 1/4 cup water with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. Add the half-and-half and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 20 minutes.
- Lightly oil eight 4-ounce custard cups or ramekins and place on a tray. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup water and let soften for 5 minutes. Whisk the softened gelatin into the hot lemon cream until completely dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream.
- Strain the mixture into a large liquid measure or pitcher, pressing firmly on the solids; discard the solids. Pour the lemon cream into the custard cups, cover and refrigerate until set, about 5 hours.
- To serve, loosen the custards from the cups with a small knife and invert onto dessert plates. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds.
Panettone Trifle (Serves 6-8)
- 750g of Panettone
- 2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 500g of ricotta
- 100g of icing sugar
- 200ml of Muscat, sweet
- flaked almonds, as needed
- Cut off the top and bottom part of the Panettone and reserve for other dishes. Cut the remaining chunk into 5 circles. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, beat the yolks with the icing sugar until airy and pale yellow. Add the ricotta and a quarter of the Muscat wine and keep whisking until fully incorporated. Finally, add the egg whites and gently fold through.
- Take a large glass or trifle bowl and cover the bottom with a couple of tablespoons of ricotta cream. Top it with a circle of Panettone. Brush the Panettone with some Muscat wine – just enough to moisten it – then cover it with cream and top it all with a handful of flaked almonds. Carry on in layers, finishing off with the cream and flaked almonds
- Alternatively, you can serve this trifle in individual portions by using small glass bowls and a biscuit cutter to cut out small circles of Panettone from each slice
- Chill the trifle for 2 hours before serving