When I think of Christmas Eve, I think about Italy and the diversity of Christmas traditions from all over the country. Traditions from the North and South, the Amalfi Coast and the Adriatic and the far reaches of Sicily and its diaspora. I have visions of the beautiful wreaths and garlands made of plump mandarin fruit entwined with the leaves still on the stems cascading over doorways from the smallest of villages to the posh streets of cities along the Adriatic. I hear the pop of the disengorged Prosseco cork, the clinking of glasses and the laughter at the family table, as they embrace memories of grandmothers and other relatives kept vivid through the planning and sharing of these holidays.
I have adapted a few recipes from the December issue of the Italian magazine, La Cucina Italiana, among some of my other favorites. There are plenty of simple, traditional Christmas dishes like Tortellini en Brodo, salads and dishes that can be assembled in advance and popped in the oven. Not all Christmas Eve dinners involve Southern traditions like the “seven fishes,” along with many days of kitchen labor. The Christmas Eve dinner throughout Italy is simply a meatless meal and the amount and variety of seafood or fish varied according to the means of the family or the village.
I keep the planning of holiday gatherings simple by starting out with an aperitivo, which can be assembled and left unattended while you mingle with your guests. You don’t want to be fussing over chafing dishes or restocking. A few bottles of Prosseco on ice, a bottle of Amarone opened and decanted, trays of assorted dried fruit, nuts, cheeses and crispy crostini. Leave glasses out so that guests can help themselves. You will be able to find very reasonable Prossecos at your local wine store and that will balance out the more costly bottle or two you get for the aperitivo.
The first course, in this case a salad, can also be prepared and served so that as you move to the table, you can join your guests without having to leave the table. You can have soup bowls on a serving cart next to the table, along with your piping hot Tortellini en Brodo in one of those soup terrines you bought or inherited and never used. If you don’t have one, pick one up at a thrift store.
The only dish you should have to go back into the kitchen for will be the main course, which should be served hot and head right from its casserole dish to the table. I use an assortment of fish for the main course as a version of “seven fishes” all in one dish.
I selected wines from the Veneto region, but you can choose a region of your liking. Try to choose something you’ve had before, so that you can share an anecdote. I like Prosseco and Amarone for special occassions and have selected them for the aperitif and for dinner, a crisp Soave made from Garganega.
Whole nuts served in a beautiful tray with a nutcracker: whole hazelnuts and almonds, pistachios in their shell-salted, seasoned walnuts.
Slivers of Sharp Provolone, crostini, black olives, dried apricots, figs.
Fennel and blood orange salad with Champagne vinaigrette
Tortellini en brodo
Seafood involtini with shrimp and any white fish (striped bass, flounder, Sea bass) with assorted shellfish (bay scallops, small Maine shrimp, mussels, clams) with roasted carrots, zucchini, Vidalia onions and organic canned tomatoes or your own!
Exotic fruit salad of your liking. There is little local fruit available in the Northeast right now other than pears and apples so I have selected fruit that are local somewhere! Just not here. A fruit salad of pineapple, papaya, mango and bananas will add beautiful color and flavors to your meal.
Torrone. I love Torrone with is a nougat made from egg whites, sugar and nuts. It’s pretty low in fat and comes in a crispy version as well as a soft version. You just need to upwrap it and place it on a tray.
Toasted Chestnuts. Best to toast the night before or, if in a pinch, buy glazed chestnuts, also known as marrons glaces.
Start planning and shopping and stay tuned for the recipes.