Tag Archives: Italian Christmas

SAUCES for meat, fish and vegetables to brighten up your Christmas

Because one of the books that I have written is called Sicilian Seafood Cooking and because my blog is called All Things Sicilian And More many of my readers assume that at Christmas I will be cooking Sicilian food.

And what is the norm in Italy  or Sicily for Christmas?

As many have stated before me, there is no point in restricting the menu to a few common dishes because the food in Italy is very regional and depending where you live is likely to determine what you eat on Christmas day. When I was celebrating Christmas in Trieste (in Northern Italy), Brodo (broth) was always the first course on Christmas day. When I celebrated it in  Sicily I had entirely different food – home made gnucchiteddi ( small pasta gniocchi) or Ravioli di ricotta  were the norm.

See:
RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA
GNUCCHITEDDI

Sicily is relatively a small island, yet the food in Sicily is also very regional. All you need to do is look at the posts that I have written about Christmas food in Sicily to see that. For example when I celebrated Christmas in Ragusa, they always made and continue to make scacce,( baked dough with various fillings) and they make these during other festive occasions as well. Are Sicilians living in Australia likely to have scacce for Christmas? Not likely. They may be part of Christmas fare for those Sicilians coming from Ragusa and  the province of Ragusa,  but the menus from any Sicilian  living in Australia is going to be influenced by other offerings of either Sicilian or Italian origin and by Australian culture and the  Summer climate.

SCACCE

As I have already stated in my last post QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth:

Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet.  I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.

So for this Christmas fare post, I am going to provide links to some of my posts which highlight sauces and dressings. This is because, irrespective of whether you are presenting a seafood salad, baking a turkey, or using a BBQ for fish or meat you can always vary the sauce you present a- Let’s face it, sauces can make a lot of difference and if you wish, you can enliven any food with a new sauce.

Here are some sauces. that are suitable for Savoury food.

SALSA D’AGRESTO

It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer. It is very good for any hot meat. Verjuice can be used instead and white wine works as well.

Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.

Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.

Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.

SALSA VERDE – ITALIAN GREEN SAUCE

Salsa verde can be used to jazz anything up – vegetables, roasts, cold meats, smoked fish, crayfish etc. I sometimes use it to stuff hard boiled eggs (remove the yolk, mix with salsa verde and return it to the egg). It is mainly parsley, anchovies, capers, green olives.

SARSA DI CHIAPPAREDDI

There may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments.

The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies.

For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.

 BAGNA CAUDA

Bagna Cauda, translated as “hot bath,” is a dip for any combination of firm vegetables- cooked or uncooked. I would not have it on roast potatoes and can enliven many vegetables.

It is a hot sauce mainly of garlic, anchovies and butter.

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (salmorigano)

Such a simple Sicilian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and oregano that will make an enormous difference to any grilled or BBQ food- whether fish meat or vegetable.

HOME-MADE MAYONNAISE OR SAFFRON MAYONNAISE OR TUNA MAYONNAISE

Excellent for any cold meat, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes.

See:
MAYONNAISE  and SAFFRON MAYONNAISE
INSALATA RUSSA
CHICKEN LAYERED WITH TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE
VITELLO TONNATO

 SALSA ROMESCO

Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so I can understand why you might think the sauce originated from Rome.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day). Recently, I have been to two restaurants and this sauce was presented with cold asparagus. Garlic, red peppers, almonds and paprika are the main ingredients.

SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Does a combination of green olives, pine nuts, sultanas and saffron appeal to you? It is a cold Sicilian sauce, especially suitable for fish but I use it for many other hot or cold food.

ANATRA A PAPAREDDA CU L’ULIVI

Last time I roasted a duck I made a special sauce for it and it tasted great –  green anchovies, parsley, the pale centre of a celery, garlic, stock and wine added to the roasting pan made an excellent gravy.

HOT MINT SAUCE

This is a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I had this sauce at a friend’s house accompanying roast goat. It is made mainly with mint, cumin and garlic and red vinegar (or balsamic).

*There are many other posts for Christmas food.

BUON NATALE 

PIZZA DI NATALE, Christmas Pizza from Le Marche

italian-oven

How would you like a wood oven like this in your back garden?

My son sent me this photo. He found it in the house across the road from where he lives; the house was up for sale and he took a peak during one of the open inspections. And there it was!

I can imagine the range of goodies that have been cooked in that oven over the last 20 years.

Once the oven is fired up the heat would be utilized till the end.

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High heat is required for the wood fired bread (enough for the week and perhaps one or two relatives) and plenty of pizzas for the the weekly occasion when the extended family visits.

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And some for the grand kids’ school lunches.

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Heat would not have been wasted. After the baking of the food that requires high heat, there may be some trays of biscuits that require moderate heat and then the oven would be utilized to slowly roast trays of meat or perhaps to finish off drying trays of dried tomatoes or left over bread to make into breadcrumbs.

My experiences of an Italian Christmas are limited to Sicily (with my grandparents) and Trieste (where I lived as a child) and with Christmas coming up I have been thinking about traditional food in other parts of Italy. If the people who lived in the house with the wood fired oven were from the eastern side of a central region of Italy called Le Marche, they may be preparing to make a traditional fruit and nut bread for Christmas.

Natale is the Italian word for Christmas and the fruit and nut bread the Marchigiani make is called a Pizza di Natale or a Pizza Natalizia; it is not a pizza, but because a pizza dough (same as a bread dough) is used for the basis of this traditional fruit bread, it is referred to as a pizza.

The following mixture will make two pizzas.  The dough needs to rise for 6-8 hours so it would be preferable to mix it the day before you intend to bake it.As for the shape, you can divide the dough into two and shape it into two round loaves or each half placed into cake tins – preferably those with tall sides or with a hole in the middle (the shape will be called a ciambella).

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PIZZA DOUGH

You can make pizza dough using your favourite recipe or buy ready made dough or use this recipe:

Ingredients:
1 kg strong white flour,1 level tablespoon fine sea salt,1 tablespoon sugar, approx 650ml (3 cups) lukewarm water, 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 sachets of dry yeast – one sachet or one envelope weighs 7 grams (2 teaspoons).

Mix the yeast, sugar into water and stir well and set aside while you prepare the flour. Mix the flour and salt into a large bowl, make a hole in the middle, pour the yeast mixture into the hole. Use your hands and knead the mixture to form a dough. You may need to add a little more flour if the mixture is too wet or more water if it is too dry. Knead it until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover it with plastic wrapping or a tea towel.  Leave in a warm room until the dough has doubled in size – about an hour. Add the oil and knead it again.

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PIZZA DI NATALE

Mix together: 500 gr walnuts (broken up into large bits), 200g raisins, 200g dried figs (chopped), 100g of citrus peel, black ground pepper and nutmeg to taste (I like it spicy), 350g sugar and grated rind of 1 lemon and 1orange.

Juice of the orange and lemon to add to the mixture when you combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture in case it is too dry. Or splash some rum or orange flavoured liqueur to moisten the dough – alcohol is my preferred choice, but is not traditional.
Combine the dough with the fruit and nut mixture and knead well.
Divide the dough into two and shape into round loaves or place it into two tins -the dough needs room to rise so choose suitable tins.
Leave the Pizza Natalizia to rise for 6 hours or overnight.
Bake them in the oven at about 210°C for about 40-50 minutes.  Do the usual things that are done when baking, i.e. cover the tops with baking paper if the top is cooking too quickly, insert a skewer into the dough at the end of 40 minutes to see if it is cooked etc.
Store in cake tins or a couple of layers of foil till ready to slice.

Other posts about pizza- like Sicilian goodies

Scacce and Pizza and Sicilian Easter

Scacce (focaccia-like Stuffed Bread)

Sfincione

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

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Photo by Patrick Varney, Raglan Images for  Italianicious ( magazine) Nov- Dec 2010

I first posted the content of this post on Dec 20th, 2010. I called it: PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat?

I am able to view the stats for each of my posts and all of the posts about Christmas have been viewed many times, but this one has not been popular. Is it the title?

It contains some general information about the food that is common in Sicily around Christmas time but it also contains information about Panettone and Panforte – both popular at Christmas. There is also a recipe for Panforte.

Now, on Dec 15, 2014, it is time to post it again and give it another title:

PANETTONE AND PANFORTE for an ITALIAN CHRISTMAS

 

CHRISTMAS IN SICILY

You are probably wondering what Sicilians eat for Christmas in Sicily.

When the respected writer Mary Taylor Simeti (an expatriate American, married to a Sicilian organic wine maker and farmer and most importantly, one of the greatest authorities and writer about Sicilian food) visited Melbourne recently, she and I and pastry cook Marianna De Bartoli, who owns Dolcetti, a pasticceria in North Melbourne, were all asked this same question during an interview for Italianicious Magazine (Nov-Dec issue 2010).

We all gave the same answer, which is that there is no one answer since the cuisine and traditional food of Sicily is very regional. Sicily may be a small island, but the food is very localised and very different from region to region.

The three of us also agreed that Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas day – it is a meatless occasion and fish is the first choice. In some places Sicilians eat stoccofisso (stockfish) or baccala, where in others they eat eel. Usually families wait up and go to midnight Mass. And for those that do, Christmas lunch will often begin with a light first course. For example, chicken broth with maybe some pastina (small pasta suitable for broth) or polpettine (small meatballs) made with shredded cooked chicken meat, egg, a little fresh bread and grated cheese.

In Ragusa, where my father’s family comes they tend to eat the same foods as they do at Easter: scacce and large ravioli stuffed with ricotta dressed with a strong ragu (meat sauce) made with tomato conserva (tomato paste) and pork meat.

These are followed by some small sweets like cotognata (quince paste), nucateli  and giuggiulena (sesame seed torrone).

In other parts of the island gallina ripiena (stuffed chicken cooked in broth) is popular, while others may eat a baked pasta dish, for example: anelletti al forno. timballo di maccheroni or lasagne made with a very rich, strong meat ragu. This may be followed by capretto (kid) either roasted or braised.

There may be cassata or cannoli for dessert or the wreath shaped buccellato made with dried figs, almonds, walnuts, sultanas and spices (from Latin buccellatum meaning ring or wreath).

There are links to recipes for all the words in blue above.

PANFORTE or PANETTONE FOR CHRISTMAS

Both panettone and panforte are popular Christmas sweets in Italy.

In recent years panforte has become popular in Australia, but you are probably more familiar with panettone. This may be because there are so many different brands of panettone available and they are exported to many parts of the world, especially in countries where Italians have migrated.

Italians are very happy to buy both of these Christmas sweets and the big brands are of excellent quality. Generally Italians where ever they live would rather buy these than make them at home. I have never tried to make panettone but I have made panforte several times very successfully.

PANETTONE

This Christmas sweet bread is now popular not just in northern Italy where it originated.

It is said that the early version of panettone ( means bread big) was not the light textured, yeast perfumed, fruit bread we are familiar with, before it was made common by industrial production. It was a type of heavy, enriched, Milanese fruit bread baked at home and not just eaten at Christmas time. Panettone was made famous and affordable when it was commercially produced (from the 1920’s) and railed all over Italy. As a child growing up in Trieste the most famous panettone was the Motta brand (and still a well known brand in Italy) and part of the charm was opening the box and releasing the fragrance.

Popular brand of Panforte

PANFORTE

Panforte is from Siena (within Tuscany) and contains exotic spices of ancient times. It is made with dry fruit and nuts – candied orange peel, citron, chopped almonds, spices, honey, butter and sugar and very little flour to bind the ingredients; it has no yeast, has a very solid texture and is shaped like a disc. Panforte (from pane forte) means strong bread and in earlier times it may have been derived from the Tuscan pane pepato (peppered bread), meaning strongly peppered with spices.

Just like panettone there are some excellent varieties of imported panforte. I like Panforte Margherita (the light coloured version developed in honour Queen Margaret of Savoy’s visit to Siena). Panforte Nero is the dark variety made with dark chocolate.

Being a purist (or as my daughter used to refer to me as a food fascist) I cringe when I see ”gourmet” versions of panforte for sale, some of these contain glace cherries, or glace ginger; I even hesitate at the inclusion of pistachio or macadamia, not the norm, but could be more acceptable.

My favourite recipe is from The Italian Baker by Carol Field (recipe below).

In spite of writing recipes, I am not one for following recipes closely. I always improvise and adapt amounts of ingredients to suit my taste. For example I double the amount of pepper, nutmeg and coriander.  On occasions I have also included walnuts and pine nuts which were included in panpepato, a predecessor.

If I make Panforte Nero I add unsweetened cocoa (Dutch cocoa powder about 2-3 tablespoons) and some bittersweet chocolate.

 Ingredients:
1 cup whole hazelnuts,
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup candied orange peel and citron, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg, ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Method:
Heat the oven to 180c.
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until the skins pop and blister, 10 to 15 minutes.  Rub the skins from the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until very pale golden, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Chop the almonds and hazelnuts very coarsely. Mix the nuts, orange peel, citron, lemon zest, flour, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and pepper together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.
Use a 9 inch springform pan; line the bottom and sides with baking paper Heat the sugar, honey, and butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until the syrup registers 242 to 248 on a candy thermometer (a little of the mixture will form a ball when dropped into cold water). Immediately pour the syrup into the nut mixture and stir quickly until thoroughly blended.  Pour immediately into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  The batter will become stiff and sticky very quickly so you must work fast.
Bake about 30 to 40 minutes.  The panforte won’t colour or seem very firm even when ready, but it will harden as it cools. Cool on a rack until the cake is firm to the touch. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a sheet of paper. Peel off the baking paper. Dust heavily with confectioners’ sugar.
Love this stuff!!