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Christmas 2015 A Celebration of Italian Traditions and Festive Foods


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Christmas before Santa Claus

Well before Christmas became associated almost exclusively with Santa Claus – the ‘jolly old man in a bright red costume’ – and with other Anglo-Saxon customs, Italy abounded in Christmas-related traditions of its own. In this year’s Christmas supplement, “Il Globo” takes you on a journey to explore these ancient traditions, most of which are still present in many parts of Italy: from the gift-bearing Santa Lucia and the “Befana” (the crone on a broomstick), to the ubiquitous “presepe”, found in Italian homes and in picturesque towns all over the country. The journey’s not complete, however, without a look at the rich culinary heritage of the festive period. As in previous years, you’ll find various menus to inspire you: regional dishes for the Christmas Eve banquet, Christmas Day favourites including seafood alternatives, foods that bring good luck in the New Year, and other special and unusual recipes. We also suggest the best wine pairings with these dishes, as well as recommend wines that are perfect for meditative contemplation, and those simply intended for relaxing and enjoying your holidays to the full. There is also a day-by-day guide leading up to Christmas. You can savour every moment of the Advent season which culminates on 25th December when you’ll be ready to spend a wonderful day of joy together with those closest to you. Best wishes to all of our readers!

Italians can be divided into two categories: “alberisti”, those who put up Christmas trees and “presepisti”, those who set up Nativity scenes. For the tree-lovers, the concept of “having” is more important than that of “being”. They place a greater emphasis on wealth, and the richer they are, the more elaborate their trees. On the other hand, the “presepe” represents the human spirit. It is a project that can span the year and you grow fond of each piece. In Naples, all crèche figurines are referred to as “pastori” (shepherds). When a tree ornament breaks, you throw it out, but you never throw away a “pastore”. If he loses a leg, you hide him behind a bush. We used to own a statuette we nicknamed Pasqualino Passaguai, because he was accident-prone. The only part of him that eventually was left was his head, so Uncle Alfonso, would prop him up at a window, as though he were looking out. In the set we also had “il pastore della meraviglia” (the dumbfounded shepherd). He was visibly awestruck and his arms were open wide; he had just witnessed the comet streaking across the sky. On his face you could almost read his bewilderment and joy. They say that when Jesus was born, snowflakes halted – for only five seconds – in mid-air, between the sky and the earth.” Luciano De Crescenzo, I pensieri di Bellavista, 2005 Compiled and edited by Margherita Angelucci Sara Bavato Eleonora Cavallero Francesco Cozzolino Riccardo Schirru Mary Zuppardo

Christmas 2015


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From the Alps to the islands, in search of spectacular Nativity scenes in towns of timeless beauty

A touch of magic between fact and ďŹ ction... Italy is beautiful in every season. Even in winter, this boot-shaped peninsula has plenty to offer, especially when Christmas is around the corner. The anticipation of this holiday generates a magical atmosphere. The major cities and smaller towns gear up for 25th December in the grandest way: the streets are full of colourful decorations and lights, the squares come to life with market stalls and the centuries-old tradition of the presepe* reawakens. Christmas in Italy is primarily represented by the Nativity scene, a much-revered icon which offers visitors another dimension to their winter holidays. It is an opportunity to see artisans and volunteers from north to south working assiduously

Christmas 2015

and passionately to create exquisite mangers, figures and settings, so lovingly crafted as to melt the hearts of even the least pious of us. An imaginary line that joins the most awe-inspiring presepi in Italy becomes in itself a unique itinerary. This timehonoured ritual is so entrenched in the culture that it survives the passing of time. The first port of call in this journey has to be Greccio, a small town in the region of Lazio. It was here in 1223 that the first live manger scene was set up. It is believed that Saint Francis of Assisi, upon his return from a visit to Palestine, had the idea of replicating Bethlehem’s Nativity scene with real people and animals. Motivated by this project and with the aid and support of local nobleman Giovanni Velita, the friar of Assisi was able to commemorate the birth of Jesus; in so doing, he gave birth to the first Nativity scene in history. Since then, every year, as if by magic, this little village clinging to a spur of rock, is transformed into Bethlehem, making it arguably the most authentic Christmas experience in the world.


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Poffabro, in the heart of the Carnic Pre-Alps

Not too far from the places where Saint Francis used to preach, is another outdoor spectacle on our ‘Christmas crib route’. The backdrop to this unique representation is the town of Corchiano, which lies about 65 km from Rome. This particular re-enactment of the Nativity scene is so theatrical that the whole of the Lazio region eagerly awaits its exhibition year after year. The magnificent setting, the period costumes and realistic props, contribute to the success and popularity of this event. The main drawcard is ,however, the location. This live Nativity scene has a very dramatic stage: the Natural Monument of the Forre (ravines), situated on the Rio Fratta, an affluent of the Tiber; an environment of natural beauty with tangible traces of the past. As we cross the precipitous ravines, encased by rock walls and eroded by water courses commonly found in this area, and head along intriguing Etruscan pathways carved in tuff stone, we finally come to a vast plateau set in such majestic scenery that the Nativity comes to life in spellbinding realism. We leave Lazio, and although the region can claim rightful ownership of this art, it hasn’t stopped other regions from adopting and adapting it to suit their environment. Flying north, through the Friulian Dolomites, it is certainly worth stopping at Poffabro, an enchanting village in the heart of the Carnic Pre-Alps, home to an open-air museum of Nativity cribs like no other. As Christmas approaches, hundreds of crèches – traditional or unconventional – populate windowsills,

ledges, balconies and courtyards of the distinctive sandstone and wooden houses. Porcelain, plaster and wooden statuettes, some made of glass or fabric, others even sculpted from soap or chocolate, appear from every nook and cranny replicating the life and activities of the residents of this tiny mountain town. And when the sun descends, and the light of day makes way for the glow of candles, Poffabro morphs into an enplein-air Nativity scene, mesmerising its countless visitors.

The art of wood in Val Gardena

While the most characteristic aspect of crib-making in Poffabro is the variety of materials used, in the not-so-distant Val Gardena, wood is the hero. In Santa Cristina di Val Gardena, nestled in the South Tyrol region, for the last 26 years, 18 sculptors have got together every Christmas to work on the world’s biggest crib, hand-carved entirely out of wood. The first of the larger-than-life-size figures – a Madonna and Child – was sculpted in 1989. Since then, every year during Advent, the wood-carvers of Val Gardena join forces to produce a new figure to add to the manger; at the same time, consolidating a tradition which is being passed from one generation to another. As we say goodbye to the Carnic Alps and cross the Ligurian Apennines, we encounter another remarkable presepe – one of rare visual impact. It is in the Cinque Terre territory and is guaranteed to take our breath away. During the

Christmas 2015

Christmas season, the stunning pastelhued village of Manarola sparkles with its illuminated Nativity scene. As it is the only one of its kind in the world, it naturally features in the Guinness Book of Records. In the tiny seaport on the eastern Ligurian Riviera, every year since 1976, artist and retired railway worker, Mario Andreoli, returns to his project using waste and recyclable materials for the figures that represent the shepherds and other characters in the Bible story. Set in the Tre Croci hills above Manarola, the scene bursts into life when twilight falls. The fruit of 50 years’ meticulous labour and dedication of the retiree from La Spezia, Andreoli’s presepe has become ecologically sustainable: it is lit thanks to the surplus energy guaranteed by the installation of a photovoltaic system which powers the entire town during the day. Manarola’s Nativity setting may be unparalleled in terms of size and originality, but there are other presepi around Italy which are testament to an art that combines creativity and ingenuity, virtues which often challenge the limits set by nature. One excellent example of how tradition, imagination and daring coalesce to uphold a custom even in the most unaccommodating of conditions, is the underwater Nativity of Laveno Mombello on Lake Maggiore. Since 1979, in the week before Christmas, organisers have submerged 42 statues on five steel platforms weighing a total of 18 tonnes; all of this, two metres below the surface of the water. Carved by maestro Tancredi da Brendale, the statues are made of white Vicenza stone and not only represent the Holy Family and other key figures, but also a host of lesser-known roles, like the wayfarer contemplating the horizon, a country woman holding chickens and baskets, and a shepherd with lambs around his neck. On Christmas Eve night, the Baby Jesus is carried in a procession and after being blessed, is laid by scuba divers in an illuminated shell-shaped crib. During daytime, the sculptures are barely visible in the water, but at night they appear to float as the scene comes alive thanks to potent underwater beams which produce a magnificent show of lights and waterworks.


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Via San Gregorio Armeno

A completely different type of exhibition can be admired in Emilia Romagna. During winter, this coastal region offers up its beaches to this age-old art form. Here, the Nativity scene is made out of sand, another perfect example of how a long-standing tradition can be readapted to suit the natural environment without losing its potential to fascinate. The annual construction of these sandy life-size cribs takes place in the famous sites of the Adriatic Riviera. The most popular locations where sand is the main component of these artistic creations are Rimini, Torre Pedrera, Bellaria-Igea Marina and Marina di Ravenna. Not to be missed is the presepe of Marineria di Cesenatico, hailed as “the only floating Nativity scene in the world”. The boats of the town’s Marine Museum become the stage for the so-called “Presepe della Marineria”, which features 50 lifesize characters inspired by the lives of ordinary people living in a fishing village. If we consider raw materials, the counterpart of the ‘sand crib’ has to be the ‘ice crèche’ of Massa Martana, near Perugia: 16 square metres in area with life-size statues which have included replicas of popes John XXIII and John Paul II. As well as its icy crystal-like Nativity scene, this ancient hamlet perched on a rock at the foot of the Martani mountains, is also renowned for the national exhibition of cribs: “Presepi d’Italia”. Every year, this important event showcases works from all over

Italy: anything from classic manger scenes to masterpieces made by skilful ceramics designers and sculptors, some even in coral or cameos in the Torre del Greco style. Having discovered the intricate carvings of the artisans of Torre del Greco, near Naples, and appreciated their meticulously engraved red coral Nativity scenes, it is worth staying in the area to appreciate just how broad this crib culture is in the region of Campania. Here the word presepe rhymes with Via San Gregorio Armeno, the picturesque street where we can admire the best of crib craftsmanship. This street has

Christmas in Alberobello

Christmas 2015

gained world-wide recognition for its numerous workshops dedicated to a Neapolitan tradition which established itself in the 1700s and has never faltered since. The stalls display terracotta crib figurines, portraying biblical or imaginary figures. They attract visitors throughout the whole year, but it is when ‘Christmas is nigh’, that this charming street draws its greatest crowds. So, between November and December, inquisitive tourists and Neapolitan families throng the workshops, and, whether consciously or not, their patronage guarantees the survival of this art, of which Goethe himself was profoundly impressed. While the popularity of the Neapolitan Nativity scenes has never waned, other similar displays have only recently started to gain momentum. One instance is in Puglia, where the live Nativity scenes offer an extensive itinerary which stretches across the entire region. Often identified as the ideal summer holiday destination, Puglia, in fact, boasts different types of presepi – all unmissable. Enthusiastic tourists and committed travellers can experience the culture and deep-rooted traditions of the local inhabitants along with the sheer pleasure of the visit. First among these is the “Living Nativity of Alberobello”, near Bari, where the characteristic “trulli” (conical dwellings) become the perfect backdrop for the re-enactment of the significant religious event.


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Every year, in the Monti area and Aia Piccola (the oldest part of the village), the uninhabited “casedde” (houses) are reopened and transformed into workshops for tinkers, weavers, blacksmiths, fishmongers and other forgotten trades. More than 200 volunteer background actors intermingle with the spectators along the alleyways illuminated by flaming torches and oil lamps in an enthralling reproduction of the Christmas Story. Not far from Alberobello, but no less captivating, are the live Nativity scenes at Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic coast, near Bari, and in Tricase, further south, near Lecce. In the first case the presepe is set up inside the extraordinary underground sea caves; in the latter, on nearby Monte Orco hill, in a breathtaking location with extensive views of the surrounding terrain, embracing towns and even the cape of Santa Maria di Leuca, the lowest point of the ‘heel’ of the Italian peninsula. Tricase’s Nativity is undoubtedly grand. It covers an area of two kilometres and comprises around 50 scenes in which the locals take part. This environment provides an uncannily realistic setting, very reminiscent of ancient Rome. To see the largest live Nativity in the world, we need to leave Puglia, and head towards Matera and its ancient cave dwellings known as “Sassi”. It is here, in the third oldest town in the world (predated by Aleppo and Jericho), that another Guinness Book record

Living Nativity scene among the Sassi in Matera

holder, is held. More than 1000 people participate in the five-kilometre itinerary which winds through the streets and the squares linking the two major areas of the city: Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. This event sees a growing number of visitors each year, all ready to be catapulted back to the Galilee of 2000 years ago. A completely different scenario exists in Sicily, a region which, even during the Christmas period, never ceases to amaze. On this fascinating journey, it is imperative to find time for a visit to Caltagirone, leading Sicilian manufacturer of ceramics and “the city of a hundred cribs”. In actual fact, the number of cribs in this Unesco World Heritage Site, by far exceeds one hundred. The reason being, that every year, artists, performers, local people, families and communities strive to make their manger scenes different and more personalised, whether in homes, bakeries, public gardens or the city’s baroque churches. Since we’re here, it would be remiss not to visit Erice, one of the prettiest locations in Italy – a place where religion, history and folklore intertwine. Amid the laneways, courtyards, churches and shops of this medieval town perched 750 metres above sea level overlooking the city of Trapani, we discover the artistic aspects of the 18 presepi, all in varying styles and materials, all assembled with love and the utmost care by the townsfolk and

Christmas 2015

local storekeepers. Of particular value is the mechanical “Monumental Crib of Peace” made by Jaemy Callari. A faithful reproduction of a 16th century Sicilian Nativity scene, this installation comprises more than 130 figurines handmade in wax and terracotta, 70 moving parts and authentic representations of ancient crafts, local agricultural cycles and Erice’s typical cobblestones. From the island of Sicily to the island of Sardinia, this journey in search of the most spectacular Nativity scenes in Italy is coming to an end. Sardinia, land of monuments and tower-fortresses called “nuraghi” – remarkable legacies of the Stone-Age – is considered primarily a summer destination, but also has much to offer at Christmas time. As well as the quaint market stalls in Quartu Sant’Elena, near the island’s capital, Cagliari, we mustn’t miss the traditional bread crib of Olmedo, located 15 minutes from Sassari. This manger scene is prepared entirely by the deft and patient hands of the village’s female bakers; a unique opportunity to marvel at the superb creations fashioned from bread dough, of which some are portrayed in the national costume. Take a chance to discover another side of Christmas – one to keep in our hearts the whole year long... * the words ‘Nativity scene’, ‘crib’, ‘crèche’, ‘manger scene’ and ‘presepe’, have been used interchangeably to avoid repetition.


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Christmas time is loved by all children. There’s a spirit of giving, sharing, compassion and a sense of anticipation which is relived year after year. There’s a magic in the air and an aura of mystery surrounding the characters who play a leading role in these festivities

St Nicholas celebrations in Bari

Popular Christmas characters: from Saint Cecilia to the Befana In Italy, long before Father Christmas with his red costume and reindeerpowered sleigh, there were other mythological figures who brought presents to the little ones. Italian grandparents remember Saint Lucy, Saint Nicholas and the “Befana”, who would arrive in the dead of night leaving sweets or fruit for those children who had been good during the year. These are treasured memories of simple acts that warmed the heart and provide a precious legacy for today’s young children. Each city and village has claimed one of these figures as its own, to remember and celebrate to this day.

Christmas 2015

Saint Cecilia Santa Cecilia

On Saint Cecilia’s feast day you can already start to breathe in the holiday atmosphere, along with the unmistakable smell of “pettole”. In the coastal city of Taranto in Puglia, Christmas actually begins on 22nd November, the day on which the patron saint of music, musicians and composers, is honoured. From the early hours of the morning, the neighbourhood is pervaded by wafts of the commercial and domestic frying of these traditional delicacies. The aroma of pettole weaves itself around the notes of the “pastorali tarantine” (Christmas music) performed by the wandering bands. In this part of the world some families start setting up their Nativity scenes or adorn their Christmas trees, and the first of many games evenings with relatives and friends takes place. Out come the pack of Neapolitan playing cards and the old Tombola (Bingo) game. It isn’t clear why Taranto celebrates the feast day of Saint Cecilia in this way. Some say that many years ago, the city band came out at dawn on this day, in order to pay homage to the martyred saint. This ritual unintentionally became a tradition. Whatever the reason, Saint Cecilia’s Day is very special for all the inhabitants of the “City of the Two Seas”.


PETTOLE Fried dumplings

The pettole made in Taranto on the feast day of Saint Cecilia herald the coming of Christmas. These soft, tasty clouds of fried dough are served hot, coated in sugar, or as savoury finger food. One story relates how a woman rose early one day, as she was wont to, in order to make bread. While the dough was fermenting, she heard the sound of bagpipes and went to the window to watch the minstrels go by. Bewitched by the sound, she found herself following the music makers through the streets of the city. Once home she realised that the dough had over-proofed so she couldn’t use it to make bread. Meanwhile, her children had arisen and were demanding their breakfast. Undeterred, the woman put a pot of oil on the stove and started to fry little snippets of the pastry which soon puffed up and turned a golden colour. The little ones were quite impressed with the improvised recipe and asked their mother what these delicious cloud-like balls of fried dough were called, and she promptly replied “pettel”, imagining a mini version of the local focaccia called “pitta” in the vernacular.

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Ingredients 500 g plain flour (or 300 gr flour type 00 + 200 gr durum wheat flour) 25 g fresh yeast 1 teaspoon salt Lukewarm water Olive oil, for frying Method Sift flour into a large bowl, sprinkle in

the salt and pour a little water into the centre. Add the yeast to the water and stir until dissolved. Gradually incorporate all the flour, adding water and working the dough energetically until smooth and sticky with a consistency of thick cream. Cover the dough and set in a warm place to rise for at least two hours.

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14 It will be ready when it has doubled in volume and the surface shows air bubbles. Set a pot of olive oil to heat (the pettole need to be deep-fried, otherwise the middle will not cook properly). Dip your hands in warm water (this will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers), take a piece of dough, tighten your hand into a fist and form a ball between your thumb and forefinger, then let it slide into the smoking oil. If this sounds too complicated, use a spoon to help you. Once the dumplings hit the oil, they will puff up. As soon as they turn golden, remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on absorbent paper and .... Buon appetito! The savoury version has a filling. Before frying the pettole, you can stuff them with bits of fried cod, anchovies, raw mussels, Parmesan shards, olives, ham, tomatoes or capers, etc. For those with a sweet tooth, coat the pettole in sugar, honey or vincotto (grape must condiment). A modern take on this specialty is to lather the inside with Nutella, close and dip in sugar.

Saint Nicholas San Nicola

them three sacks of gold coins, one for each girl. One night he introduced a bag through an open window and did the same on the second night. On the third night, however, he found the window closed, so he dropped the bag from the chimney. The now not-so-poor family were overjoyed. In iconography, Saint Nicholas is easily identified by the three bags (or one) of gold coins, or by the three balls of gold he is holding. His feast day is on 6th December.

L’OMETTO DI SAN NICOLA Saint Nicholas’ biscuits

The most popular legend about the saint who helped children is the story of three young ladies who were so poor they could not marry because they had no dowry. The girls and their father cried desperately. Saint Nicholas took pity on them and decided to help by offering

Christmas 2015

Ingredients For the pastry: 500 g plain flour 1 ½ teaspoons of salt 1 tablespoon caster sugar 60 g softened butter 20 g fresh yeast 300 ml lukewarm milk To decorate: Sultanas Almonds 1 egg, beaten Pearl sugar Method Put flour, sugar and salt in a big bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre, pour in the warm milk and add the yeast. Combine, then add the soft butter and knead. Put the pastry into another bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel and set it aside in a warm place to rise. Divide the pastry into equal parts and shape them into oval pieces. Using your hands, twist the dough to form the neck and head, and using scissors cut arms and legs, mould the hat and braids for the female figures and ties for the males. Decorate with sultanas and almonds. Rest for another 15-20 minutes, then brush the figures with a beaten egg, and sprinkle on the pearl sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes at 200°C.


Saint Ambrose Sant’Ambrogio

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Every year, around 7th December, Milan commemorates its patron saint, Ambrose with a fair called “O bej! O bej!” (Oh nice! Oh nice!), an exclamation used by children in the past to indicate the lovely toys on display. The street stalls used to line the piazza surrounding the basilica dedicated to the saint; it was mandatory to visit the church and kiss the display cabinet containing the saint’s relics. These days the stalls are located elsewhere but they still continue to sell bric-à-brac, sweets and roasted chestnuts. The O bej! O bej! fair remains a favourite annual event in honour of the saint and it is customary, on his feast day, to bake and eat the “biscuits of Saint Ambrose”. Below is the recipe for those who want to join in the tradition.

BISCOTTI DI SANT’AMBROGIO Saint Ambrose’s biscuits

Ingredients 1 kg plain flour 6 eggs 400 g caster sugar 200 g butter, melted 1 sachet vanillin (or vanilla extract) 1 sachet baking powder (Bertolini, Paneangeli) Method Sift flour onto a pastry board or flat work surface. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, butter, vanilla and baking powder. Work into a dough and form a ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Roll the pastry out to a thickness of 5mm and cut out shapes using Christmas-themed cookie cutters. Lay biscuits onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake for 15 minutes at 180°C.

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Saint Lucy Santa Lucia

On the night of 12th December, many parts of Italy and Europe celebrate the arrival of Saint Lucy. This feast day is filled with wonderment fuelled by heartwarming tales, inspirational gifts and exotic delicacies. Lucia was born in Syracuse in Sicily, but she is commemorated in northern Italy, as well as in Sweden. Often overshadowing Santa Claus himself, hers is the story of the multi-faceted journey of a woman who brings with her the gift of light, quite aptly, during what was once – before the Gregorian calendar – the longest night of the year.

CUCCÌA DI SANTA LUCIA Wheat and ricotta dessert Not only is this dish delicious, it also has a fascinating story behind it. Legend has it that Palermo, Sicily’s capital, was struck by a major famine. The desperate inhabitants prayed to their Saint, and it was precisely on 13th December, Saint Lucy’s Day, that a ship carrying a cargo of wheat docked in the port of the city. The feast of Santa Lucia is important throughout all of Italy and everyone celebrates it in their own way. On this magical night, many children (and adults!) receive their gifts. If you want to add a sweet touch to this special day, here is a very simple recipe of Sicilian origin: Cuccìa!

Christmas 2015

Ingredients 600 g cooked wheat 800 g ricotta 400 g caster sugar 100 g dark chocolate 100 g candied fruit (citron, orange, pumpkin) Cinnamon powder Coarsely ground pistachio nuts Method If you are using boiled wheat from a jar, rinse the wheat in running water and drain thoroughly. If it is raw, cook it in salted water for about three hours. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the sugar and mix with whisk or electric beater until smooth and creamy. Let it stand for about 30 minutes. Cut the candied fruit into small pieces and chop chocolate finely; add them to the ricotta cream. Drain the wheat thoroughly (it must be cold) and add to the cream, blending it gently. Allow to cool in the fridge. When ready to serve, sprinkle with cinnamon and pistachios.


The Three Kings I Re Magi

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Let’s end the holidays majestically with a fabulous cake shaped like a royal crown; a crown which brings to mind the “Magi”, the three wise men who followed the rising star to pay their respects to the Infant Jesus. The three kings of Orient – Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar – were said to have brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In numerous European countries a special crown-shaped cake is baked on the sixth of January, the day of the Epiphany. A small trinket or almond is hidden inside and whoever finds it will have good luck for the whole year.

LA CORONA DEI RE MAGI The Three Kings’ cake

Ingredients 500 g plain flour (type 00) 1 sachet of dried yeast 1 teaspoon salt 100 g caster sugar 1 sachet vanilla sugar Grated zest of ½ lemon 1 egg 200 ml lukewarm milk

200 ml lukewarm cooking cream 100 g melted butter, cooled 50 g sultanas 2 tablespoons milk (to brush over) 2 tablespoons almond flakes (to decorate) Method Sift flour into a bowl and mix in the yeast. Make a hole in the centre and add the salt, sugar, vanilla sugar, lemon, egg, milk, cream and butter. Using the spiral hooks of the electric beater, mix well until the dough detaches from the sides of the bowl and forms bubbles.

Cover with a damp cloth and leave it to prove for about 60 minutes in a warm place: it needs to double in size. Mix again, adding the sultanas. Divide the pastry into 10 identical balls. Take two of them to form a bigger ball and place it in the middle of a 24cm cake tin. Flatten slightly. Lay the other balls around it, cover the tin and allow to rest for another 20 minutes. Brush on the milk and scatter the almond flakes. Bake for 40 minutes at 200°C.

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The Befana

Of all the Christmas characters, one of the most important is the “Befana”. This ugly old witch-like woman dressed in tatters, wearing worn-out shoes and a kerchief on her head, straddles a broomstick and flies from house to house at night leaving a stocking filled with sweet (and notso-sweet) surprises. Many children have woken up to find a piece of coal in their stocking, as a reminder of the mischief they got up to during the year! The name “Befana” derives from the word “Epiphany”, of seemingly Greek origin and is associated with a divine manifestation; in this case, that of Christ to the Magi as representatives of the Gentiles. The 6th January was appropriated by the Christian Church from an ancient pagan festival of light which took place during the winter solstice, as a rebirth

after the ‘darkest hour’ and the new life about to burgeon after the cold season. It is with this period that many a propitiating rite is linked. Fire, fireworks and bonfires inflame the Italian countryside on the night of the fifth and serve to leave the old behind, to purge the fields and purify the heart, as a good omen for the coming year. Since the beginning of time, the Befana has had a kinship with other female mythological figures, who, in the 12 nights following the winter solstice, would fly over newly-sown fields making them fruitful. A more recent legend claims that on the way to Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men stopped to ask an old lady for directions, inviting her to follow them to pay homage to the newborn King. The woman refused. She later felt guilt-ridden, so she set off with a basket of goodies. But she couldn’t find the Magi or the Baby Jesus. Undaunted, she decided to offer her sweets to every child that she encountered. Since then, as an act of penance, the old woman continues to bring gifts to children all over the world.

I BEFANINI The Befana’s biscuits An old Italian saying goes: “L’Epifania, tutte le feste si porta via!” (Epiphany Day takes all the holidays

Christmas 2015

away!). In Tuscany, on the 12th day of Christmas, delicious biscuits called “Befanini” are made from rumflavoured pastry and decorated with coloured sprinkles. To make these biscuits, Christmasthemed cookie cutters are used; originally they were in the shape of the Befana. It is said that these specialties were first made in the Tuscan sea town of Viareggio and that it was customary to exchange them among family members as gifts, along with the moulds used to shape them. They were also put in the stockings hung out for the Epiphany. Ingredients 300 g caster sugar 150 g butter Zest of 1 orange 4 eggs 1 sachet (16 g) of baking powder (Bertolini, Paneangeli) 80 ml milk 500 g plain flour (type “00”) Rum Salt Coloured sprinkles (or 100s & 1000s) Method Make a mountain of flour on a pastry board or flat surface and form a well in the centre. Add the butter, three eggs and the sugar. Knead thoroughly and add a little rum, the grated orange zest, a pinch of salt, the milk and baking powder. Combine and continue kneading to form a compact dough. Shape into a ball and put in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge and roll pastry out to a 5 mm thickness. Cut out the pastry with the cookie cutters and place them well apart on a greased tray. Beat the remaining egg. Brush the biscuits with the egg mixture, then top with the coloured sprinkles. Bake in conventional oven (not fanforced), at 180°C. When the biscuits are a light amber colour, remove them from the oven and allow to cool on a rack. Variations: The rum can be substituted for essence, or maraschino and aniseedflavoured liqueurs.


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Most Italian families really look forward to the “Cenone della Vigilia”, their Christmas Eve dinner. From the early hours of the morning, after a last-minute dash to the market, the kitchen is pervaded by the aromas and flavours of those essential favourite dishes whose recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. The typical menu is fairly ‘light and lean’: it respects the religious tradition of preferring simple foods and abstaining from eating meat, in preparation for the big celebration.

Christmas Eve... a regional menu ENTRÉES

Campania

Insalata di rinforzo con bocconcini di baccalà fritti Pickled vegetables with codfish nuggets In the region of which Naples is the capital, this salad and fried codfish are indispensable on Christmas Eve. This “reinforcing salad” is believed to add substance to the lean dishes of this meal. Another theory claims that this salad is ‘reinvigorated’ during the festivities

Christmas 2015

by the gradual inclusion of other ingredients. Ingredients For the nuggets: 600 g salted codfish pieces (baccalà) soaked in water 500 g vegetable oil for frying 100 g flour For the salad: 1 medium cauliflower 1 head of endive (optional) 100 g black olives 100 g green olives 100 g red or yellow capsicums 100 g salted capers 100 g mixed vegetable pickles 6-8 salted anchovies Pepper, salt, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar Method Wash cauliflower and divide into florets. Cook them in a large pot of boiling salted water for no longer than 10 minutes: they must still be firm, not tender. Drain and allow to cool. Place the florets in a large salad bowl and add four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and four tablespoons of vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine gently. Wash and drain the endive, cut into fine shreds and add to the cauliflower. Remove stems from capsicum, deseed and cut into chunky strips. Clean the anchovies, divide into thin fillets, cut into tiny pieces and add them to the salad along with the pickled vegetables, olives and the thoroughlyrinsed capers. Mix gently and let the salad stand for a few hours before serving: this will enhance the flavours. To prepare the nuggets, wash the codfish and cut into cubes of approx. 4 cm per side. Remove skin and bones, pat dry and coat in flour. In a deep pan, heat oil and deep-fry the pieces of cod until they are golden. Pat off excess oil and season with salt if necessary. Serve warm, accompanied by the pickled salad.

This dish requires a slightly aromatic white wine like a Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or a Semillon


Sicily

Pastizzu agli spinaci Spinach “Pastizzu” A “pastizzu” is basically a pie with a filling of spinach, broccoli or cauliflower. This specialty is eaten on Christmas Eve in the historic town of Modica in southeastern Sicily. Modica is also famous for its exquisite chocolate. Ingredients For the pastry: 500 g durum wheat flour 1 tablespoon dried yeast Water Salt Olive oil For the spinach filling: 800 g fresh spinach Capers Breadcrumbs Walnuts Sultanas Oil Salt

Method Place flour in a mound on a flat surface and make a well. Into this, add the yeast dissolved in a little warm water and a pinch of salt. Combine and add sufficient water to obtain a smooth, soft dough. As you work the dough, poke holes into it with your fingers where you can add the oil; knead until the oil has been completely absorbed. Roll out two discs of 1 cm thickness, the bigger one for the casing which lines the tin, the smaller for the lid. For the filling, wash the spinach thoroughly and heat in a pan without oil or seasoning, so as to eliminate any bitterness. Add the capers, breadcrumbs, walnuts and sultanas which have already been lightly toasting in oil. Season with salt and a little more oil. Pour filling into the casing and cover with the smaller disc. Press the pastry lid and casing together to seal the edges rolling them to form a border. Brush the top with oil and bake in a hot oven until golden brown.

21

Savoury tarts and pies call for a light white wine such as Riesling or Traminer

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22 1st DECEMBER

Prepare the Advent Calendar

hris C

2nd DECEMBER

6th DECEMBER

10th DECEMBER

Make an Advent Wreath

Celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day

Time to start the Christmas shopping

3rd DECEMBER

7th DECEMBER

11th DECEMBER

Write a letter to Santa

Set up the Nativity Scene

Buy a Christmas poinsettia

4th DECEMBER

8th DECEMBER

12th DECEMBER

D.I.Y. decorations for the home

Remember the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Bake sweets and treats for family and friends

5th DECEMBER

9th DECEMBER

13th DECEMBER

Decorate the Christmas Tree

Send greeting cards

Saint Lucy comes bearing gifts


istmas

23

Getting ready for

22nd DECEMBER

Gather around a book

a day by day guide 14th DECEMBER

18th DECEMBER

23rd DECEMBER

Add a warm glow with lights and candles

Stock up on Christmas crackers

Set the table for Christmas

15th DECEMBER

19th DECEMBER

24th DECEMBER

Organise a Kris Kringle at work

Sing Christmas carols

Leave a snack for Father Christmas

16th DECEMBER

20th DECEMBER

25th DECEMBER

Do some voluntary work

Hang up the Christmas stockings

Best wishes to one and all!

17th DECEMBER

21st DECEMBER

Visit a Christmas market

Watch a Christmas movie Natalizie

Tradizioni

e le feste in cucina


24

FIRST COURSES

Tuscany

Cacciucco alla livornese Fish stew Livorno-style

Numerous legends and stories surround the origin of one of Tuscany’s favourite year-round dishes. One likely and accepted by linguists, is that its name derives from the Turkish “kucuk”, meaning “small”, referring to the unsold catch of the fishermen. Ingredients 500 g octopus 500 g cuttlefish 4 dogfish (gummy shark) steaks 8 other types of stewing fish (gurnard, snapper etc) 4 Moreton Bay or Balmain bugs 1 kg fish for soup 300 g tomato paste Extra virgin olive oil Celery Carrot Onion Garlic Sage Chilli flakes 12 slices of bruschetta bread - toasted Method To make the broth put celery, carrot, onion and soup fish (scaled, gutted and cleaned) in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. In a saucepan, lightly sauté onion and chilli in oil. To this, add the octopus and cuttlefish, tomato paste and the broth passed through a sieve or mill. Add the sage and all the other fish. Prepare a tureen which will contain the toasted bread rubbed with garlic. Start with the octopus and cuttlefish, followed by the shark and bugs. Pour over some broth and drizzle with olive oil.

Marries well with a dry Rosé, a Pinot Noir or flavoursome, young reds like the slightly fizzy Lambrusco

Liguria

Pansotti in salsa di noci “Pansotti” in walnut sauce

These ‘paunchy’, triangular ravioli are filled with “preboggion”, a mixture of at least seven wild greens and herbs. This is a quintessentially ‘lean’ Ligurian dish usually paired with a walnut sauce. Ingredients For the pasta dough: 600 g flour 3 eggs 1 glass of dry white wine For the filling: 500 g silverbeet 500 g borage

Christmas 2015

500 g spinach 300 g ricotta (or curd) 200 g grated Parmesan cheese 5 eggs Marjoram, salt, pepper For the sauce: 400 g walnuts 1 bread roll - inner crumb Milk 1-2 cloves of garlic Parmesan cheese, grated Marjoram Extra virgin olive oil Method Wash silverbeet, borage and spinach and cook in lightly salted water. Cool and chop greens and combine with the ricotta, parmesan, eggs and marjoram. Add salt to taste. Make a dough with the flour, eggs and white wine and roll out to a very fine sheet. Cut pastry into squares of about 12 cm per side and put a small amount of stuffing on each. Fold the corners over to form a triangle and press to seal edges. Allow to rest. Prepare the sauce by first removing the skins from the walnut kernels. Using a pestle and mortar crush walnuts, garlic, marjoram, bread, Parmesan and oil to a creamy consistency. Cook the pansotti in boiling salted water, drain and dress with the sauce.

The ideal companion to “pansotti in walnut sauce” is Vermentino, either imported or a goodquality, dry local


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26

Main courses

Molise

Baccalà arracanato Codfish au gratin

This is a very appetising dish from the region of Molise. In the original recipe, it is cooked in the ashes of the fireplace. Ingredients 600 g salted cod, soaked 250 g soft bread crumb 200 g walnuts 50 g sultanas 100 g pitted black olives 6-8 cherry tomatoes 1 glass of white wine 2 bay leaves 1 garlic clove Parsley, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper Method Cut cod into medium-sized pieces and arrange them in an oiled baking tray (with lid). Steep sultanas in warm water. Combine the bread, finely-chopped parsley, walnuts, minced garlic and sultanas (squeezed). Gradually drizzle enough oil to moisten the mixture. Season with salt and pepper and spread mixture over the cod. Halve the tomatoes and scatter them and the olives over the fish. Cover the tray with its lid and place in oven at 180°C. Bake for about 10 minutes then baste the fish with a mix of oil, white wine and bay leaves. Continue to cook for another 35 minutes. Serve warm. Slices of potato can be baked together, and capers can replace the olives, if preferred.

Puglia

Capitone in umido Eel Stew

Eel is the primary ingredient of many Christmas recipes in central and southern Italy, especially in Puglia. This particular dish is not only extremely tasty but easy to prepare. Ingredients 1.2 kg eels 3 tinned tomatoes, chopped 1 glass dry white wine 2 bay leaves ½ brown onion 2 cloves garlic 1 bunch of parsley 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 fresh red chilli Salt

The ideal wine here is a still, faintly aromatic Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or vintage bottle of Hunter Valley Semillon

Christmas 2015

Method Cut off the head and tail of eel, rub skin with coarse salt to remove the slimy outer layer then soak eel in water and vinegar for an hour. Wash and cut into 5cm cubes. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sear the pieces of eel along with the bay leaves. Pour over half a glass of wine and allow to evaporate completely. Remove the eel from the pan and set it aside. Finely chop onion, garlic, parsley and chilli together and soften over low heat in the pan containing the eel juices and the bay leaves. When slightly coloured, pour over the rest of the wine and allow to evaporate. Add the chopped tomatoes, cook for five minutes then pour in ½ litre water, and cook until the liquid is reduced by a half. Return the eels to the pan and make sure they are completely covered by the broth, add salt and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the eel pieces are well done, take them out of the pan and let them cool; then remove the backbone. Place filleted eel back into the sauce. Reheat until the desired consistency is reached. Ideally matched with a sapid, fresh sparkling red like a Lambrusco, or a Barbera, or why not an Australian Sparkling Burgundy Brut?


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SIDE DISHES

Lazio

Insalata di puntarelle Catalogna chicory salad

“Puntarelle” are a variant of chicory (also called asparagus chicory), usually found in Roman cooking. They are a bit fiddly to prepare but their unique flavour, redolent of ancient Rome, is well worth the effort.

Sardinia

Carciofi con bottarga Artichokes with cured fish roe This very versatile dish can be offered up as a side dish, entrée or as a base for a sauce.

Ingredients 500 g chicory 2 cloves garlic 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 4 anchovy fillets, cut into pieces Salt, white pepper Method Rinse the chicory, eliminate the tough stalks and leaves and cut off the shoots. Using a sharp knife cut the shoots into thin strips. Rinse and allow to soak for about an hour in ice cold water (so they curl up). This will also mitigate the bitterness. In a mortar, crush the garlic and anchovies and grind with pestle, gradually adding oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. To maintain crispness, dress the chicory with this emulsion just before serving.

Christmas 2015

Ingredients 50 g bottarga (grey mullet roe) 4 artichokes 1 lemon ½ shallot ½ onion 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Salt, pepper Method Clean the artichokes by snapping off the outermost leaves then cutting away the spiky top section. Cut these in half and eliminate the choke (the hairy fibres). Dip artichokes in water with the juice of half a lemon for about 10 minutes to prevent browning. Meanwhile, finely slice the onion and shallot and combine with the coarselygrated roe. In a bowl, emulsify oil and the rest of the lemon juice, adding a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of black pepper. Rinse and dry the artichokes, and arrange on a serving platter. Spread the roe mixture over them and drizzle with the emulsion. Garnish with slices of lemon.


to be eaten on special occasions in Calabria, mainly at Christmas time. Ingredients 1 kg dried figs 150 g walnut kernels 125 g almonds 70 g candied citron 50 g sugar 100 g dark chocolate drops Cinnamon sugar for coating Method Roughly chop the almonds and walnuts; combine with the chocolate drops and chopped citron. Cut figs in half without breaking the tiny stem and fill them with the mix. Join the halves and place in a lukewarm oven for a few minutes to dry out and to become a golden colour. When done, roll each in the cinnamon sugar to coat, or alternatively, in melted dark chocolate.

28

Desserts

Abruzzo

Parrozzo pescarese Pescara’s Christmas cake

“Parrozzo” is a symbol of the city of Pescara, and a favourite of local poet and writer, Gabriele d’Annunzio, born in 1863. Now, this cake is widely enjoyed in the rest of the Abruzzo region. Ingredients For the icing: 200 g dark chocolate 100 g butter For the cake: 220 g caster sugar 3 tablespoons olive oil 150 g ground almonds 150 g white flour and/or semolina 7-8 bitter almonds (or 1 tbs amaretto liqueur) 6 eggs Pinch of salt Lemon (or orange) zest Method Whisk egg yolks and sugar until frothy. Add the ground almonds, then gradually sprinkle in the sifted flour/ semolina, (alternating if using both), and finally the oil. Whisk the egg whites to firm peaks and fold them gently into the cake mixture. Pour into a dome-shaped mould which has been greased and floured and bake at 160-170°C for about 40-45 minutes. To check whether the cake

is cooked, use a skewer: if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Don’t open the oven door ahead of time as this will stop the parrozzo from rising. When cooked, turn cake out onto a rack and let it cool completely before icing. Roughly chop the chocolate and melt in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water (a bain-marie). Add the butter and stir until the mixture is smooth and well-blended. Pour it over the cake and spread evenly using a spatula.

We recommend a good Moscato with this “parrozzo”

Calabria

Fichi a crocetta Fig crosses When served, these figs are positioned in such a way as to form crosses. This delicacy was actually invented in ancient Rome, then resurfaced in the Middle Ages and is now passed on from one generation to another. These “fig crosses” are only meant

Christmas 2015

A meditation wine, like Passito di Pantelleria or a local Moscato, will enhance the experience


Most popular gifts for 2015 Again, this year, we expect tech gadgets to head the list. The Apple Watch launched in Australia in April, will be the runaway favourite for him and for her, but only for those with a substantial budget (prices range from $800 to $24,000 for the limited editions in 18-carat gold). Very popular with the more health-conscious are fitness wristbands: these monitor your heart rate, sleep and diet. One of the hottest gifts of the season, especially for adolescents, is the remote-controlled drone which can execute simple flights or dangerous manoeuvres and take photos or videos. Many will have their hearts set on a GoPro – an HD-quality, waterproof, video recording device. Take it anywhere, from the dizzying heights of parachute jumping to the boundless depths of underwater diving. Others, will prefer tablets, also available in LeapPad, a kid-tough educational model. Conventional toys, however, never really lose their appeal; so much so, that the Lego brand announced it could not meet the demands for this Christmas. In the first half of the year, sales increased by 18% and the production lines in the Lego factories in Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic and Mexico are still finding it difficult to keep up the supplies, despite running at full capacity. Soft toys, Barbies and other dolls are still favourites with little girls. As for the adults, traditional gifts include board games and books (cookery and gardening, but why not go back to the classics?). A few novelty items have surfaced this year: colouring books for adults, (considered

therapeutic and stress-relieving); and, Cards Against Humanity, a fun game described by its creators as “a party game for horrible people”. Naturally, there are always those 45612 Aurora Ice Cream A1 Poster V2.qxp

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29 timeless gifts like perfume, chocolates, jewellery, a tie for him, a bag for her. If you know the other person’s tastes, you can’t go wrong. If you are nevertheless a little undecided as to what the recipient would like, gift vouchers or gift cards are the perfect solution. An endless variety exists: department store, online, movie, music, travel, hotels, ‘experience’... the choice is yours. Just use your imagination and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

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30

What are the most popular games Italians play at Christmas? And the more traditional? And which are most suitable for children?

La Tombola Bingo

At Christmas time, Tombola trumps all the other family games. It’s a fun game which can involve a large number of players. Originating in the south of Italy as a combination of a Neapolitan game and a type of lottery, it is indirectly the result of a historic argument between King Charles III of Bourbon and Gregorio Maria Rocco, a Dominican friar. In 1734, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, lotteries were banned but betting was rife, especially in Naples. The King wanted to legalise them so the State’s coffers could officially collect all the money spent on gambling. The friar was against this proposal claiming that by officialising the lottery, the faithful would be further distracted from

Games Italians Play prayer and worship. The King eventually had his way, but with a compromise: the game would be suspended over the Christmas period. The Neapolitans (and other citizens of the realm), however, had no intention of giving it up, so they continued to play .... at home!

Christmas 2015

The 90 lotto numbers were put into “panarielli” (wicker baskets) and cards with numbers and matching pictures were crafted in order to keep a tally of the numbers extracted. “La smorfia” is a system of symbolic numerology which expresses itself in the picking of lotto numbers. Each of the 90 numbers is represented by a symbol, which varies from town to town, and in Naples, from district to district, some terms allusive and often scurrilous. This system was then applied to the game of Tombola. Tombola is said to derive from the word meaning ‘to tumble’, as do the tokens in the basket; others believe it is linked to “tumolo” (mound), with reference to the pyramid shape of the same baskets.


How to play: It’s actually quite simple. The caller has a pouch, plastic bag, barrel or other receptacle containing 90 tokens, balls or tiles with the numbers from 1 to 90, as well as a board with all 90 numbers printed on it. Cards depicting 15 random numbers arranged in three rows of five are bought by the players and the money collected is divided into five categories: ambo - 2 in a row; terno - 3 in a row; quaterna - 4 in a row; cinquina - 5 in a row; and tombola for all the numbers on the card. As the caller extracts the numbers, he marks them on the board, as do the players on their cards. The first person who gets the combination of numbers in the same row, wins the amount put aside for that category. Tombola is the ideal game to play with family and friends, especially where there are children, who seem to really love extracting the numbers, placing them on the board and, naturally, winning.

Mercante in fiera Merchant at the Fair

This game dates back to the early 14th century. It was presumably Geronimo Bambarara, a secondhand clothes merchant operating in the Rialto district of Venice, who invented this game and possibly, the first actual ‘lottery’. Bambarara started selling tickets for 20 soldi (silver coins) which would go into a draw. He had previously put aside cards (covered) with the winning numbers. Many

Sette e mezzo Seven and a half

people won and so did the enterprising salesman. How to play: The Mercante in Fiera is played with special cards, each with a different illustration – some quite bizarre. The object of the game is to buy a card hoping that it will be among the winning cards (usually three) which have already been drawn from an identical pack and set aside (covered) by the ‘merchant’ (dealer) who also ascribes a value to them, auctions them off and handles the exchange of money between players. As he begins to uncover the cards from the second deck, the player with the matching card discards that card. The players in possession of each of the (three) matching covered cards, win. The game can be rendered more dynamic by players bartering, negotiating, selling or swapping among themselves. Two participants can even co-own a card! At first glance, this game could appear complicated, but it can be played with children, too. The visual association of cards is simple enough, and kids are generally familiar with the concept of swapping and buying.

Christmas 2015

31

The south of Italy has spawned another entertaining card game where the object is to collect cards totalling 7 ½ points, without ‘busting’ by going over. Similar to Black Jack, but usually played with Neapolitan cards; each card has a nominal value, apart from the picture cards which are worth half a point. The only exception is the “Re di Denari” (King of Diamonds, only instead of diamonds, it’s gold coins): this acts as “la matta” (joker or wild card) so it can substitute any other card and take on any value the player needs. Children who can’t count yet are probably not suited to playing this particular game, but older children will find it very engaging. Definitely of Italian origin but of uncertain date, this simple fast game has spread across the world giving rise to other versions. Like Tombola, its merit is that of literally bringing families together at the table on these wonderful occasions.

L’Assassino The Assassin

Again, Neapolitan cards are used here, but a version with poker cards also exists. To begin with, the dealer picks a number of cards equal to the number of players, preferably picture cards. The selection must include the “Re di Denari” (King of Diamonds), and the “Asso di Spade” (Ace of Spades). The dealer hands out these cards face down. The player who receives the King will be the inspector, the one with the Ace – the assassin. All the others will be civilians. No one must show their card to anyone else. The ‘assassin’ will start winking at different players. Those who notice that they have been winked at, must acknowledge this by showing their card and declaring themselves ‘dead’. Dead men tell no tales, so it is absolutely verboten to reveal the assassin’s identity. The civilians can’t pretend to be the assassin. The inspector’s role is to uncover the assassin, by observing who does the winking. If he feels he has unmasked the bad guy, he will intimate an arrest by showing his card to the putative assassin. If he’s right, he wins, otherwise the real assassin claims victory.


32 FIRST COURSE Ravioli con ripieno di carni miste Meat medley ravioli

ENTRÉE Sformatini di polenta con provola e salsiccia Mini flans of polenta and sausage

Ingredients 250 g cornmeal 120 g smoked provola cheese 50 g butter 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 3 sausages (skin removed) Salt and pepper to taste Method Grease six “babà” (or ramekin) moulds. To make the polenta, sprinkle the cornmeal in 1 litre of salted water in a pot on the stove. Stir continuously to prevent lumps from forming and cook for about 10 minutes (or simply follow the instructions on the packet). Remove from heat and add 30 g of the butter and the Parmesan, mixing well.

Christmas... a traditional menu Fill the bottom and sides of the moulds with the polenta, leaving a hollow in the middle. Grate pepper into the cavity and add pieces of sausage and cubes of provola. Fill the moulds with the rest of the polenta and bake in oven for 8-10 minutes at 180°C. Remove the mini flans from the oven, turn them out and serve immediately.

Start with a Barbera Vivace, a slightly effervescent young wine

Christmas 2015

Ingredients 300 g flour 5 eggs 100 g roast beef 100 g chicken pieces 50 g sausage 50 g ham Breadcrumbs 1 bunch parsley, chopped 1 onion, sliced Butter Salt Method In a large saucepan, sauté onion with a knob of butter. Add the parsley, beef, chicken, ham – all minced, the crumbled sausage and two tablespoons of breadcrumbs, and cook for two minutes. Then whiz the mixture in a food processor. Transfer it to a bowl, add two eggs and combine. Make a smooth dough from the flour, remaining eggs and a pinch of fine salt. Roll out using the pasta machine and divide it into slightly thin strips. Cut into 8x5 cm rectangles. In the centre place a dollop of filling, fold the pasta over and cut into half-moon shapes, sealing the edges using a fork. Cook ravioli in boiling salted water and serve them al dente with a rich meat sauce. The versatile Barbera is the ideal companion to this dish


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MAIN COURSE Tacchino ripieno Stuffed turkey Ingredients 1 boneless turkey (6 kg) 400 g sausage 400 g beef mince 400 g veal mince 400 g mortadella 2 eggs Grated Parmesan cheese 4 bread slices Milk 2 sprigs rosemary 20 sage leaves

1 small bunch parsley ½ onion Dry white wine or vegetable stock 20 chestnuts Salt Pepper Nutmeg Butter Extra virgin olive oil Method For the stuffing: finely dice the mortadella. Remove skins from sausages. Soak the bread in milk. Boil chestnuts for 10-15 minutes. Combine the veal and beef mince, sausage and mortadella in a large bowl.

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Mix well using your hands. Add 2 eggs and eight tablespoons of Parmesan and continue mixing until thoroughly blended. Finely chop the rosemary, sage, parsley and onion and add them to the mixture. Peel the chestnuts and crumble by hand; squeeze the bread, and add both to the mix. Season with pepper and a generous sprinkling of grated nutmeg. The turkey is now ready to be stuffed. Rub salt and oil on the inside of the turkey, then spoon the filling loosely into the cavity (don’t overfill; stuffing will expand as turkey roasts). Using a trussing needle and kitchen twine, close the opening very tightly to avoid spillage. Also tie the wings and drumsticks close to the body. Cover the bony tips with aluminium foil so they don’t burn. Lay the turkey in a roasting pan, lathering it with melted butter. Season and place in oven. The turkey needs to cook for about three hours in a preheated oven set at 180°C. For the first 30 minutes increase temperature to 200°C for skin to turn golden in colour, then lower to 180°C and continue roasting. Every 45 minutes baste with white wine or vegetable stock to keep the bird moist and tender. If the skin becomes too dark, cover the turkey with aluminium foil for the last hour of cooking. Once done, remove from oven and leave it to cool before slicing. Cut the drumsticks first to facilitate the process. Serve the turkey with mashed potatoes.

This meal is perfectly paired with a still wine, like the Lagrein Scuro


34 SIDE DISH Insalata russa Potato salad - Russian style Ingredients 300 g potatoes 250 g carrots 180 g baby peas 120 g green beans 300 g mayonnaise 50 g gherkins (pickled cucumbers) 2 hard-boiled eggs 1 tablespoon capers, desalted Method In a saucepan, boil eggs for about eight minutes. Strain and run cold water over them till cooled; remove shells. Peel the carrots and potatoes and boil them separately in plenty of salted water. In another pot, cook beans and peas for about 10 minutes. (Or use canned or frozen peas). Drain all the vegetables: they should be firm, not limp. Leave to cool for about 20 minutes. Evenly dice carrots, potatoes and beans. Transfer to a large bowl, add mayonnaise and combine. Spread the salad on a serving dish or use individual bowls. Decorate with the capers, eggs and sliced gherkins. Cool in fridge for at least an hour before serving.

DESSERT Panettone farcito alla crema pasticcera Italian Christmas cake with custard cream ďŹ lling

Ingredients 1 panettone (Italian Christmas cake) weighing 750 g 1 liqueur glass of rum 200 g caster sugar 4 egg yolks 40 g plain flour ½ litre milk Water 1 vanilla pod 2-3 drops of lemon juice Almonds Method To make the cream filling, pour the milk in a saucepan, add the vanilla and bring to the boil. Beat egg yolks and sugar until frothy, then add the flour. Transfer this mixture to another saucepan and gradually drizzle in the milk which has been filtered to remove

the vanilla pod residue. Continue to stir the cream on low heat until it starts to simmer, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Cut the panettone into four horizontal layers. Dilute rum with water and brush this liquid over each layer of cake. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate, spread the cream over it and cover with the next layer of cake. Repeat procedure for the other layers. For the toffee brittle, combine 100 g of caster sugar, two tablespoons water and lemon juice in a pan and heat till pale amber. Remove from heat and using a spoon, drizzle toffee over the panettone. Decorate with almond flakes and let it set.

Tradition and taste call for Asti Spumante


35 Traditional Christmas fare ... a lighter version Created by Francesco Cozzolino

Seafood menu

ENTRÉE Capesante gratinate Scallops au gratin Ingredients 12 scallops 2 tablespoons parsley, minced 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs Extra virgin olive oil Salt Method Clean the scallops keeping the muscle (meat) and the roe (coral). Wash and dry the shells. In a small bowl mix the breadcrumbs, parsley and salt. Reassemble scallops back in their half shell, cover with a tablespoon of the mixture and drizzle with oil. Place in preheated oven at 250°C for 15 minutes and serve immediately.

The light but characterful Vermentino di Sardegna marries well with this delicacy

MAIN COURSE Lasagne di pesce Seafood Lasagne Ingredients 400 g egg lasagne sheets 250 g cuttlefish 400 g prawns 600 g mussels and clams ½ glass white wine ½ onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves 4 zucchini 500 g béchamel sauce Parsley Salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil Method After purging mussels and clams in salted water, place them in a pot with the oil and one crushed garlic clove. Once cooked, remove shells and keep the cooking liquid. Shell and devein the prawns. Clean the cuttlefish and cut into fine strips. Lightly fry these in a pan with the oil and the

other garlic clove, splash with the wine and let evaporate. Continue to cook for 15 minutes. Slice the zucchini in rounds and sauté in a pan with the onion, then add the cooking liquid from the mussels and clams, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Using a stick blender, whiz zucchini to a creamy consistency. Mix in the béchamel sauce. Line an oven dish with this cream. Top with the seafood and over this place a lasagna sheet. Continue layering in that order finishing with the zucchini-bechamél mixture. Bake at 180°C for about 20 minutes (depending on the type of lasagna).

Here we need a Gavi di Gavi or an aromatic Gewürztraminer


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DESSERT Torta cioccolato e barbabietole Chocolate & beetroot cake

MAIN Scampi pepe e miele Honey and pepper scampi

Ingredients 16 scampi (yabbies or prawns) 2 tablespoons honey ½ glass white wine Salt, pepper Method Thread scampi (yabbies/prawns) onto four skewers and cook for a minute or so on a hot grill or in a pan. Splash with the wine and allow to evaporate. Once almost done, add the honey and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot.

Branzino al sale Sea bass in salt crust Ingredients 1 sea bass (approx. 1 kg in weight) 1 kg coarse rock salt 1 egg white Herbs of your choice (tarragon, sage, rosemary etc) Method Whisk egg white until stiff, then mix in the herbs and salt. Clean the fish and place it on a thick layer of the salt mixture in a baking tray. Cover the rest of the fish with the salt mix, light the oven to the highest temperature and bake for about 45 minutes. Once cooked, break the salt crust with a hammer. Fillet the fish starting at the head, then remove skin and spine.

Ingredients 200 g dark chocolate 250 g cooked beetroot 100 g caster sugar 120 g almonds, ground 4 eggs 1 tablespoon dark cocoa 1 tsp baking powder (or lievito Bertolini, Paneangeli) Method Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (bain marie). Meanwhile, finely grate the beetroot and add the yolks of the eggs (setting aside the whites). Add the sugar, almonds, one tablespoon of dark cocoa and the baking powder. Mix thoroughly and incorporate the melted chocolate. Whisk egg whites separately until firm, then gradually fold them into the chocolate mixture scooping from the bottom and moving delicately to the top. Pour mixture into a greased cake tin. Bake at 180°C for about 50 minutes.

The perfect way to finish is with Moscato d’Asti or Passito di Pantelleria


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By Riccardo Schirru

“Rossi e mossi”: Fizzy reds

For some strange reason a number of experts and wine enthusiasts seem to regard bubbles as being of nobler standing if emitted by a white wine, yet somewhat inappropriate if found in a bottle of red. Owing to climatic conditions, the production of fizzy wines is a natural oenological choice for the northern regions of Italy. The most famous of these, is the vivacious Lambrusco, or rather Lambruschi in the plural, considering this wine hails from a ‘family of grape varieties’ with a long history. The origins of this wine date back as far as 3000 B.C. and evidence exists of winemaking in both the Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations. In Italy, thanks to archaeological findings, the first traces of a wild vine called “labrusca” can be placed in the Bronze Age. Subsequent retrieval of fossil leaves and seeds demonstrates that the Latians (Latins), the Etruscans and the Galli Ligures also cultivated these wild grapes. We have direct proof regarding the Latians via the great Latin poet, Virgil, native of Mantua, one of the leading areas of modern-day wine production. Two thousand years ago, Virgil wrote about the existence of “vitis labrusca” (wild vine). This centuries-old tradition has also been mentioned by the Roman senator and historian, Cato; by Roman scholar, Varro; and by author, naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder in his encyclopaedia “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History). As mentioned, the production of fizzy wines is concentrated mainly in northern Italy because of the climate. The ripening of the grapes occurs later, and this often meant interrupting the fermentation process, which would begin in the final months of the year to be resumed with the first signs of spring. The still version of this wine was widely consumed, but at times, the second fermentation, in bottles or demijohns, produced a liquid saturated with gas. With the introduction of pressureresistant bottles, this wine could undergo a second fermentation (the same method used by the French producers of Champagne) making it fresh and sparkling. The practice of bottle fermentation spread throughout Italy around the

Wines for the holidays middle of the 19th century: in Piedmont for the production of Asti, in Veneto for that of Prosecco, and in Emilia for Lambrusco. At the end of the 19th century, an alternative process called the Metodo Martinotti, using autoclaves (large hermetically sealed pressure tanks in which the second fermentation took place) was invented by Federico Martinotti, director of the “Istituto Sperimentale per l’enologia” (Experimental Wine Institute), in Asti. However, it ended up being patented in 1907 by French engineer Eugéne Charmat, who popularised it not only in France but in all of the wineries around Europe, reaping the commercial benefits. The Metodo Martinotti is also known as the Charmat Method, the Tank Method and Cuve Close. In recent years, both consumers and producers seem desirous of a return to more traditional philosophies and a less sophisticated, more gratifying drinking culture. Effervescent wines should never be confused with spumanti, which are considered special wines. A wine that is sparkling by way of effervescence and mousse (foam), stands half way between a still wine (without bubbles) and a spumante. A slightly effervescent wine

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is referred to as “mosso” in Italian, or “pétillant” from the French. The Lambruschi are produced in the geographical areas around Modena, Reggio Emilia and Mantua. In the Modena territory, historically renowned for its fizzy reds, we find DOC (origincontrolled) wines like Lambrusco di Sorbara, sometimes called “Lambrusco della viola” because of its perfume, redolent of violets (a darker, more full-bodied wine, deep ruby to purplish colour); and the widely-cultivated Lambrusco Salamino (its grape clusters resemble sausages) from Santa Croce Grasparossa di Castelvetro. In the province of Reggio Emilia, we find Reggiano Lambrusco DOC. The only one outside the region of Emilia-Romagna is the Lambrusco Mantovano DOC with the two subzones: Viadanese-Sabbionetano e Oltrepò Mantovano. Whatever the provenance, Lambrusco wine is generally purplish-red, ruby or rose and slightly sparkling; it has a fruity to floral fragrance, average acidity and low alcohol content of 10.5 to 11%. The palate can vary from secco (dry) to abboccato (slightly sweet) to amabile (medium sweet) and the finish is fresh and harmonious.


of the tank is lowered and fermentation is interrupted. The carbon dioxide present in the tank at the end of this stage of fermentation is transferred into a bottle: this is what creates the effervescence in the Moscato d’Asti.

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Meditation wines

The Emilia-Romagna region doesn’t just produce Lambrusco. Other wines considered mossi (effervescent) using Pignoletto grapes are Barbera, Bonarda and Malvasia, from the Colli Bolognesi (hills around Bologna), Colli Piacentini (hills and valleys around Piacenza) and the adjacent Oltrepò Pavese, an area of the province of Pavia, in north-west Lombardy, which lies to the south of the river Po. Bonarda Oltrepò Pavese is a deep ruby-coloured wine with a creamy mousse showing garnet hints. It has strong wild berry notes and a slightly astringent palate, but is overall well-balanced with high flavour intensity. The Barbera Frizzante of the Colli Piacentini is characterised by a soft foam, notes of black cherry and spices, and persistence in the mouth. Sparkling reds are extremely ‘foodfriendly’ and pair very well with rich, fatty dishes because they effectively cut through the lingering greasiness.

Moscato wine

‘Light, aromatic, sweet and simpatico, ideal companion to pastries, but delightful on any occasion.’ This descibes Moscato, the celebration wine par excellence, traditionally served with the classic “panettone”, “pandoro” or other Italian Christmas cakes. Very fashionable a few years ago in Italy, it has recently gained wide appeal all over the world, thanks to its substantial residual sugar and relatively low alcohol content. Cultivated and produced throughout the entire Italian peninsula, there are now versions of Moscato made in Australia, some very palatable indeed, and all characterised by a wealth of aromas transferred to the wine. There are countless Moscato wines on the market, but Asti’s, made from Moscato bianco from Canelli (the only white muscat grape allowed in the production of Moscato d’Asti), is by far the most famous. The history of this wine has its roots in the Middle Ages and the first documents

which attest to its production in Piedmont, date back to 1300. Its name comes from the Latin “muscus” or “muscatus” which literally means “odour of moss”, an essence used in perfumery, indicative of a complex and aromatic bouquet. Moscato, as we know it today, owes its reputation to Giovanni Battista Croce, jeweller of the royal Savoy family, and wine expert, who, in the early 1600s, suggested that it should not be “dried out” as was the practice then, but that the alcoholic fermentation be repeatedly stopped, so as to produce a sweet and effervescent wine. At the end of the 1700s, the Agricultural Society of Turin incorporated the Moscato among the finest Piedmontese grape varieties, and at the turn of the century, Asti and Canelli established themselves as the symbolic areas of its production. In the late 1800s, Asti Spumante began its existence by way of a secondary fermentation of the Moscato in the bottle, and the two types would differ in character, even though many still find it difficult to distinguish between them. Asti Spumante, produced by notable Piedmontese companies, is known throughout the world, while Moscato d’Asti is lesser known but more highly regarded, and displays a lighter effervescence and a more delicate perfume, typical of that grape. A few smaller producers of Asti use the Metodo Classico or Champenoise Method – where secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle as it does for Champagne and the best Italian spumanti – but generally, Moscato, both Asti and Spumante, are produced in autoclaves, using the Martinotti-Charmat Method. The wine must is introduced into the autoclave together with the sugars and natural yeasts. The fermentation process is activated by increasing the temperature and allowing the natural yeasts to commence transforming the sugars into alcohol. When the level reaches 5.5% and a perfect balance between acidity, sugars and alcohol is obtained, the temperature

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What is a meditation wine? Well, this is hard to answer, when put on the spot. They could be catalogued as dessert wines but this definition wouldn’t be comprehensive enough. These wines are ‘older’ and different from those usually consumed during meals because they are difficult to pair with any particular dish. They are flavoursome and complete on their own, owing to the intensity of their aroma and taste. They can be sipped leisurely, relishing the moment, preferably in total relaxation. The expression “meditation wines” was coined in the 1980s by Luigi Veronelli who dedicated his career as a writer, journalist and publisher, to divulging knowledge of the Italian enogastronomic heritage. In fact, two attributes the whole world acknowledges are good food and good wine. Italian wine culture used to be based solely on the idea that wines should be drunk during meals, but thanks to modern technology, these meditation wines have arrived on the scene. First and foremost they include sweet wines, which in the past were only sugary and oxidised, and needed to be consumed with pastries and cakes. The new wines are sweet but no longer oxidised. There are myriad excellent Italian meditation wines. Here are just a few we recommend: Vin Santo, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, Passito di Pantelleria Murana, Rosso del Ciano, Picolit of the Colli Orientali del Friuli, and even Barolo Chinato. Barolo Chinato is an aromatic wine, produced by adding sugar, ethyl alcohol and slow-macerated spices to a Barolo. It was invented by Giulio Cocchi, a creative, open-minded pastry chef from Florence who moved to Asti, where the Chinato was produced in 1891. Australia, too, has quality meditation wines: the sweet, fortified wines of Rutherglen, in the north-eastern region of Victoria, and the award-winning Noble One. Quoting Plato, we could define wine as “a drink that gives rise to profound philosophical dialogue”. Meditation wines do just that. We can attain that perfect balance between ourselves and our wine by savouring every drop and succumbing to the pleasure. Simply “di-wine!”


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Spiedini uva, salmone e formaggio Grapes, salmon and cheese skewers Ingredients 150 g smoked salmon 100 g roquefort cheese 120 g white grapes Salt, pink peppercorn A few sprigs of dill 1 lemon Method Cut the salmon into rectangular pieces, sprinkle with a little salt and a few drops of lemon juice, and roll. Dice the roquefort. Take some wooden skewers and thread the clean, dry grapes, rolled salmon and cheese cubes onto them. Arrange skewers on a serving plate and decorate with the pink peppercorns, dill and slices of lemon.

ENTRÉES Calzoncini di bietole con sorpresa Silverbeet pasties with surprise

Ingredients 1 packet pizza dough (or pizza bases) 250 g silverbeet (or spinach) 1 egg yolk, beaten 30 g pine nuts 1 clove garlic ½ fresh red chilli Extra virgin olive oil Salt, pepper Parma ham, cubed Method Roll out the pizza dough and use a pastry cutter or saucer to make rounds. Clean and chop the beets. Mince the garlic and heat in a non-stick pan with oil and chilli. Add the greens and after a

New Year’s Good Luck Menu few minutes, the pine nuts. Cook, then season with salt and pepper. Fill the pastry rounds with the mixture and fold over, sealing the edges with the egg yolk and a fork. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes. For the surprise element, place a cube or two of Parma ham in the pastie before sealing.

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You can’t go wrong with a Vermentino or a Gewürztraminer


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FIRST COURSES Risotto allo champagne e scampi Champagne and scampi risotto

Ingredients 350 g Carnaroli rice 80 g butter 750 ml champagne (room temperature) 12 whole scampi (or prawns) 2 shallots 1 bunch parsley 2 cloves garlic 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 40 ml brandy Salt, pepper Method Clean the scampi by removing the head and eliminating the black vein from the intestine. Make two cuts in the sides of the shell and extract the flesh and put it aside. Roughly chop the carcasses which will be used for the stock needed for the rice. To make the fish stock, place two tablespoons of oil and the finely chopped shallot in a pan, then add the fish heads and shells and let sizzle. Pour over brandy and flambé. Pour in 250 ml of hot water and simmer for 10 minutes, with a lid. Season with salt, then when ready, filter the stock and set it aside. Meanwhile, cut the scampi meat into pieces and lightly fry in a pan with two tablespoons of oil and the crushed garlic. Cook for two minutes. Season with pepper, remove from heat. Keep in warm place. To make the risotto, in a wide pot melt 50 g of butter, add the finely chopped shallot and allow to soften, then add the rice. Toast for one minute then pour in champagne a little at a time.

The perfect pairing with risotto is Verdicchio; the spaghetti need a Sauvignon Blanc

Continue cooking the rice, gradually adding the crustacean stock. When the rice is al dente, add the scampi pieces and combine. Turn off heat, add the remaining butter and a generous sprinkling of minced parsley, and fold through to a creamy consistency. Spread onto a serving plate, grind over some pepper and scatter over some more parsley. For a nice garnish, leave a scampi whole to sauté in butter for a couple of minutes, season to taste, then serve with the risotto.

Spaghetti con bietole, aglio, peperoncino e pane croccante Spaghetti with beets, garlic, chilli and aromatic crumb

Ingredients 320 g spaghetti 200 g fresh marinated anchovies (optional) 2 garlic cloves 400 g beets (silverbeet, chard, spinach) Extra virgin olive oil Salt Chilli For the aromatic bread crumb: 2 slices Continental-style bread (crust removed, cut into cubes) 4 anchovies in oil 1 small onion Capers

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2-3 tablespoons of double-concentrated tomato paste Extra virgin olive oil Method Start by preparing the aromatic bread mix. Sauté the finely sliced onion in oil, add the bread and toast slightly, followed by the capers, anchovies and tomato paste; cook til liquids are absorbed. Whiz the mixture to coarse texture. If it isn’t crunchy enough, place in the pan for a minute or so, being careful not to burn it. Heat oil in a pan, then add crushed garlic and the chilli. Add the chopped beets, raw if tender, otherwise blanch them and squeeze thoroughly. Cook the pasta al dente, drain it and toss it in the pan with the greens. Dress with the bread mixture and serve with the optional marinated anchovies on top.


41 Filetto di maiale con uva, mosto e rosmarino Pork medallions with grapes, must and rosemary

MAIN COURSES Tacchino al melograno Turkey with pomegranate

Ingredients 1 whole turkey 100 g pancetta (or bacon) 120 g butter A sprig of sage A sprig of rosemary 100 ml brandy 4 pomegranates 100 ml white wine 50 ml vinegar 10 ml olive oil Salt and pepper To decorate: 3 pomegranates 60 g green lettuce Method Rinse the turkey inside and out under running water, then rub it with a cloth soaked in water and vinegar. Thoroughly pat dry, season with salt and pepper, then set aside. De-seed a pomegranate, taking care to remove all of the bitter white membrane. Mince the sage and rosemary sprigs using a sharp knife. Blend the herbs together with 70 g butter, season with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity of the turkey with this paste. Lay the pancetta over the breast and secure it with kitchen twine. Set the oven at 180°C. Cover an oven rack with aluminium foil, smear foil with oil and puncture with a toothpick. Gently

lay the turkey breast-side down on the foil. Fetch a wide oven tray and position it under the rack. Pour the wine in the tray so that when the fat of the bird melts and drips into the tray while cooking, it won’t spit. The juices will be needed for the sauce. Roast turkey for one hour. Meanwhile, cut the other three pomegranates and squeeze them using a juicer. Put aside half a glass for the sauce. Add the brandy to the other juice and baste the turkey with it on one side. After 30 minutes, baste the other side. Continue cooking for another hour at 160°C. To prepare the sauce, take the juices from the oven tray and pour into a saucepan with the half glass of pomegranate set aside previously. Heat for three minutes. Add salt, pepper and 50 g butter and mix well. Reduce over heat, then remove from stove and add the pomegranate seeds. Lay the turkey on a platter and serve with sauce as a separate accompaniment. Decorate with the three pomegranates halved, and the lettuce leaves.

A premium Nebbiolo is ideal for the turkey but the pork prefers a Nobile di Montepulciano

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Ingredients 4 pork medallions (200 g each) 1 glass grape must 200 g black grapes 2 tablespoons flour Extra virgin olive oil 1 sprig rosemary ½ shallot Salt and pepper Method Tie the pork medallions with kitchen twine so that they retain their shape while cooking. Coat in flour and sear in a frypan with a little oil, cook for two minutes on each side, then season with salt and pepper. Remove the pork from the pan and transfer to an oven pan and continue cooking in oven at 150°C for 10 minutes. In the same frypan, sauté the chopped shallots, then add the rosemary, the grapes and cook for two minutes at high heat. Next, pour in the grape must. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes or until the must has reduced to a velvety sauce, adjust seasoning if necessary. Return the pork medallions to the pan with the grape sauce. On a moderate heat allow the pork to absorb flavours for a few minutes. Spoon sauce over the pork medallions and serve.


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SIDE DISHES Insalata di lenticchie con polpa di granchio Lentil salad with crab meat Ingredients 25-30 g dried lentils per person (80-90 g cooked) Crab meat or seafood sticks Extra virgin olive oil Curry powder or pepper Salt Celery Garlic Method Boil the lentils with the garlic and celery. Drain and cool. Season with salt, curry (or pepper), fresh celery pieces and the crab meat or seafood sticks cut into rounds.

DESSERTS Torta al melograno Pomegranate cake

Ingredients 200 g flour 100 g spelt flour (farro) 150 g caster sugar 2 eggs 1 sachet of Italian yeast (16 g baking powder) 1 pinch of salt 75 ml sesame or peanut oil 250 g yogurt Milk (optional) 2 pomegranates Method In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar using an electric beater until frothy, add the oil and mix well. Add the yogurt, salt and both types of flour sifted with the baking powder. Add milk, if necessary. Remove the seeds from one pomegranate and whiz them in a mixer, pass through a strainer and add the juice to the cake mix. Add a handful of seeds from the other pomegranate and fold in. Grease and flour a cake tin. Pour the mixture into tin and tap to level out. Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 30 minutes. Use a toothpick to check when cooked: it should come out clean. Remove cake from oven and when cooled transfer to serving plate and scatter over the remaining seeds from the second pomegranate.

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Bavarese al mandarino Mandarin Bavarois

Ingredients 200 g milk 150 g mandarin juice 200 g cream 2 egg yolks 80 g icing sugar 8 g gelatine Candied mandarin Method Start by preparing the crème anglaise. Heat the milk without reaching boiling point, add the yolks which have previously been whisked in a bowl with the sugar until pale and foamy, and continue to stir with a spoon. The cream is ready when it starts to thicken slightly and coats the back of the spoon. While it is cooling, whip the cream until stiff and slowly drizzle in the strained juice of the mandarins. Add the gelatine which has been soaked and squeezed to remove liquid. Blend the two creams together then pour into the chosen water-moistened moulds. Rest in fridge for a few hours until the individual servings of bavarois have set. Turn out and decorate with candied mandarin.

Naturally a red Spumante with the pomegranate cake and a luscious Marsala for the Bavarois


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Unusual Christmas icons from around the world

The Feast of Saint Nicholas in Holland

The King’s Cake: Portugal

13 Christmas desserts in France

In Portugal at Christmas, one hopes not to find the fava bean hidden in the traditional “Bolo Rei” (King’s cake). For this person there will be no gifts and they will be in charge of buying or making the cake the following year. In some cases, the fava bean is replaced by a ring, coin, or small toy.

Ukrainian spiderweb tree In the Ukraine, it is customary to decorate the Christmas tree with spiderwebs. The tradition harks back to ancient times, when very poor families could not afford sparkly baubles or other decorations. An old folk tale tells of spiders spinning their webs on a children’s tree on the night of the Eve. The morning after, the sun’s rays turned the webs into silver and gold threads. Even now, families use paper or crystal spider webs as symbols of good fortune.

Krampus, Santa’s nemesis In Hungary and Austria, Father Christmas makes way for Krampus, a hairy, devilish figure with long goat horns and cloven hooves. This beastly character roams the streets raising a ruckus by banging on pots and pans as he searches for naughty children to punish.

The Feast of Saint Nicholas in Holland A very important day in the Netherlands is 6th December. Children receive their gifts from Sinterklaas, a tall, elderly red-garbed bishop complete with mitre. On this day, families celebrate with a special cake called “letterbanket”: a cake in the shape of the first letter of their surname.

13 Christmas desserts in France

The King’s Cake: Portugal

In the south of France, Christmas Eve dinner comprises a particular ritual: the table is laid with three white tablecloths, and on each, there are three symmetrically-placed candles. The table is embellished with holly and red berries, or rose of Jericho and wheat of Sainte-Barbe (wheat seeds planted on St Barbara’s Day, 4th December). Each ornament has a precise symbolic meaning. The three tablecloths and candles represent the Holy Trinity. The 13 bread rolls which accompany the meal refer to Jesus and the 12 apostles at the Last Supper; similarly, to the 13 desserts, which can be served at the beginning of the meal as a sign of abundance.

Superstitions at the dinner table: Czech Republic On Christmas Eve, Czechs eat carp and the lights mustn’t be switched on until the first star appears in the sky. Only then can the lights come on and diners can start to eat. There must be an even number of diners at the table, none of whom should sit with their back to the door. There are strictly nine courses and alcohol is not allowed. Under the table, a mandatory wreath or bowl of garlic is believed to have the power to protect and strengthen all those present.

Keeping candles lit on the Eve: Ireland On Christmas Eve, a lighted candle is placed outside a window. This has profound religious significance: it is primarily a symbol of welcome for Joseph and Mary who wandered in search of shelter on that fateful night. The candle is lit by the youngest member of the household and must be extinguished by a girl bearing the name “Mary”.

Krampus, Santa’s nemesis

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Superstitions at the dinner table: Czech Republic


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