An Italian Christmas
…well, a Kentish Italian Christmas Eve!
Christmas has always been about tradition for me…traditions passed down, chopped, changed, developed but ultimately shared.
Traditions that bring family and friends closer together and remind us how important we all are to each other…and the best vehicle for this rejuvenation of familial bonds…food!!
The Cuomo timetable is directly linked to the countdown to the day itself and the days that follow.
The secular focus is the 25th and the great British turkey feast, but Christmas for me really kicks in with the cold, creeping evenings of December and steadily builds and builds to a frenzied climax on Christmas Eve when, buzzing on espresso and mince pie fuelled adrenaline, we shut up shop for a handful of days, kick back and relax.
True to our Southern Italian, ‘catholic’ roots, supper on Christmas eve is a fishy affair that takes the same shape year on year. The fish will be planned and someone will be sent out to see what is available.
By 6pm a bottle of white wine will be open in the kitchen whilst ingredients are prepared for the feast ahead, windows steamed up by pans bubbling on the stove top.
Holidays are always a time to ‘push the boat out’, so a drop of something special will be cracked open on this auspicious day. Usually this is a white that has a heritage linked to the Mediterranean. Maybe an Albarino or a Gavi, the latter which my father enjoys. However, I am edging towards a wonderful Sicilian wine our friend Luigi let us in on called Leone d’Almerita – a fantastic blend of grapes that come together to form a fresh and aromatic white that is perfect to start the festivities, pan in hand.
My father, the head of the family, will take his position at the oven (a place where he is happiest!), cooking up a feast for the rest of us to sit down and enjoy. Each dish is someone’s favourite, so we will fight over what is going to be on the menu each year, but steady winners always come out:
- Spaghetti with Seafood – My wife Priya loves vongole, so we will often have clams with garlic, chilli, white wine and a little fresh tomato.
- Squid – My eldest daughter gobbles it like popcorn, rolled in seasoned flour and fried in clean, hot seed oil.
- Scarola – Endive is usually used to bring bitterness to salad, but its firm leaves make it ideal for steaming and sautéing into the wonderful dish below.
- Capitone – A nod to our roots… On my father’s island of Ischia the noble Conger Eel is a specialty really appreciated at this time of the year.
Table laid, the food is served as it comes – a glance around to see the smiles and chattering faces as three generations sit down together to start the holidays.
- In a thick-bottomed pan fry off crushed garlic cloves and anchovy fillets.
- Add pinenuts, plump sultanas (I’ve started adding chopped dates too!) and olives.
- Wash, rinse and chop the endive and then, still wet, put in the pan, stick on the lid and let the moisture start to steam the leaves.
- Once the scarola has reduced a little stir and put the lid back on…keep stirring as appropriate.
The finished leaf is tender but still firm and the wonderful combination of sweet and sour with the crunch of pinenuts is divine.