Italian Christmas

Waste not want not, leftovers from an Italian Christmas

Though the quickly ending year is leaving quite a bit to be desired behind, all in all I can say that there were nothing but upsides this past December 25th. They are:

Christmas morning
Christmas morning
  • Spending Christmas morning in bed with the amore piccolo and the amore grande watching "The Interview"
  • Finding Christmas joy in cooking and hosting a meal for 30, and managing to sit them all
  • Knowing at least 30 people who understand that the first item on this list completely justifies delaying festivities by 3 hours
  • Discovering that the 12 days of Christmas START rather than end on Christmas Day (did everyone know that? If so, shouldn't someone have told me on by Day 2 or 3 of my Italian holiday table series??)
  • Having enough leftovers to continue the series for several days
Christmas dinner 2014
Christmas dinner 2014

First up: repurposing that lone octopus tentacle swimming in its own perfect broth. This one accounted for 2 meals, one of spaghetti-below and one of risotto-coming soon...


Spaghetti al sugo di polpo piccante

Spaghetti with spicy octopus sauce

 

for 6 people

lone octopus tentacle from recipe described here

1 garlic clove

1 handful basil leaves

2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

1 cup octopus stock olive oil

red pepper flakes to taste

splash dry white wine

salt to taste

 

Cut the octopus tentacles in very small morsels. Smash and peel the garlic clove.

Stack the basil leaves, roll them longitudinally and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Heat the octopus stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic clove and half the basil in a sautè pan. Gently heat everything until the fragrance of the garlic wafts to your nostrils.

Discard the garlic clove and add the cut octopus. Warm for a couple of minutes and deglaze with the wine.

Wait until the wine smells caressing rather than acrid then add the octopus stock with the tomato concentrate.

While it is gently simmering to slightly reduce, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water.

Using a handheld strainer transfer the spaghetti into the sautè pan about 4 minutes before the suggested cooking time printed on the package.

Finish cooking by gradually adding small amounts of the water in which the spaghetti cooked. Be mindful to add the liquid in small amounts so that the pasta has a chance to absorb it. If too much liquid is added, one is bound to end with with either overcooked or soupy pasta.

When the spaghetti have reached the consistency most palatable to you, finish with a short stream of olive oil and serve immediately in a warm platter after garnishing with the remainder of the basil.

NOTES

  • You might have noticed that I omit the salt from this recipe except for what goes in the water for the pasta. That is by design in that the octopus stock is more often than not salty enough to carry it on to the rest of the dish, however, I do suggest that you try the sauce to make sure it is agreeable to your preferred level of saltiness

Buon Natale ~ Happy Christmas

Panettone
Panettone

Today, before delving into capons and puntarelle, I am observing my favorite Christmas tradition: brekfasting on panettone lefotver from last night. Put on the robe that someone is bound to have re-gifted you, place a slice of panettone in the toaster over and, while heady from the smell which will soon kidnap your home and senses, prepare your caffelatte.

Sit, while listening to Christmas music-I am loving Barenaked for the Holidays by the Barenaked Ladies this year-and lazily dunk your toasted panettone into your warm coffee and milk.

Repeat until the slice is gone, including the crumbs.

Repeat until you have enough strength to lift 8 pounds of capon out of the refrigerator.

And, no, you do not have to make your own panettone, and can definitely get your mate or children or roommate to prepare your caffelatte.

Buon Natale!

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 9: polpo

Today is fish day. No it will not be 7 fishes, rather just one veeeery long cooking octopus. Below are pictures of what is happening in my kitchen as I write.

Merry Christmas!

 


Polpo alla Luciana

Braised octopus

 

for 6 to 8 people

3 to 4 pounds octopus

salt to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 handful parsley

1 ripe large tomato-if in season

OR 2 or 3 canned tomatoes

OR 2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

2 garlic cloves

pepper to taste

 

Lightly sprinkle salt on the octopus and place it in a Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and wine.

Rinse and add the parsley, stems off.

Chunk the fresh tomato or smash the canned one with your hands. Smash and peel the garlic. Add them to the rest of the ingredients-or add the tomato concentrate.

Season with pepper-or red pepper flakes if you want to give it a kick.

Seal the pot with a layer of parchment paper and tie it around its circumference with kitchen twine. Cover tightly with the lid and place over the lowest heat your stovetop can dispense.

Cook slowly and lovingly for 3 to 4 hours, or more if you have a big octopus, without ever opening and unsealing the pot.

Bask in the fragrance until you deem it ready.

Open and drain the octopus from its water. You can serve it as is, cool it and make a salad with it, mince it for a pasta sauce.

Whatever you do, keep the stock it has produced so we can use it for our days of leftover fun.

NOTES

  • This is an old Italian classic, there are versions that use onion and/or celery for a richer stock
  • I have made this also without wine, or using basil in the summer
  • A pinch of oregano adds a delightful dimension
  • The stock will be rather intense so do not add salt or reduce, otherwise you will not be able to use it
  • Lastly: a picture of my child and some of his cousins after having eaten spaghetti with a sauce from the recipe above last summer in Tuscany
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 5: cappone bollito con 2 salse

I am a little off with my countdown, I just realized. If my limited math skills serve me correctly, 12-5=7 but 25-20=5. Instead of cramming 7 recipes in 5 days, we will continue our journey past Christmas to make the best out of leftovers. And nothing produces better leftovers than the capon my mother unfailingly poached every Christmas. In case you are wondering, a capon is a chicken whose renounces his manhood-possibly not willfully-tobecome larger, fattier, tenderer, juicier and much more flavorful.

I am lucky enough that in San Francisco, I actually get to pick which butcher will do me the honor of purveying the ingredient without which Christmas just isn't Christmas for me, elsewhere in the US capons might not be terribly common, so order it in advance from your specialty butcher.

 


Cappone bollito con 2 salse

Poached capon with 2 sauces

 

for the bird

1 onion

6 cloves garlic

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

2 leeks

1 lemon

2 to 3 bay leaves

6 to 8 peppercorns

1/2 cup white wine

1 handful coarse salt

1 capon

 

for the salsa verde

1 tablespoon capers in salt

1 clove garlic

1 bunch parsley

1 lemon

3 to 4 anchovies fillets

thick slice stale country bread

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

splash of vinegar

 

for the salsa gialla

1 pinch saffron

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 pint capon stock

1 egg yolk

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

 

Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel the celery and carrots. Remove the green leaves from the leeks. Score them along the middle and remove the dirt under cold running water. Cut 2 slices from the lemon.

Fill a pot with water big enough to hold the capon fully submerged. Add the spiked onion, celery, carrots, leeks, lemon slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to a simmer and lower the capon into the water. It will need to poach gently until very tender, for about 1 hour.

While the capon is cooking, make the sauces.

For the salsa verde: rinse the capers off the salt and soak them in hot water.

Pick and wash the parsley leaves, dry them well.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Grate the zest of the lemon and juice it. Drain the anchovy fillets from the oil.

Remove and discard the crust off the bread slice. Tear the remaining soft part in chunks.

Place the parsley, garlic, zest, juice, anchovies and bread chunks in the food processor bowl.

Drain the capers and add them to the food processor.

Lock and start processing while adding oil in a thick stream. Keep the motor running until you have a homogeneous paste.

Transfer to a bowl adjust the balance of salt, vinegar and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salsa gialla will need to wait until the capon is almost done as you are using the stock in which it is poaching.

Ladle a pint of capon stock out of the poaching pot and filter through a paper towel.

Crumble the saffron threads in between your thumb and index finger into a small sauce pot and toast it gently for 2 to 2 minutes.

Add the flour and very lightly toast for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it around constantly.

Add the butter, It will melt with the flour and saffron into a deliciously fragrant, golden roux to which you will add the hot stock in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and emulsifies well.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolk and lemon juice.

Adjust salt and pepper and transfer to a cool container right away to avoid curdling the yolk.

When the capon is ready, drain from the stock and cut as you would a chicken.

Arrange in a shallow bowl with a few ladlefuls of the stock on the bottom to keep warm.

Place the capon in the middle of the table with the 2 sauces alongside it.

NOTES

  • A capon can easily serve 10 to 12 people, for a smaller party, you can use a chicken
  • The stock is like a chicken's to the Nth power, you will have a lot since the capon is quite large, keep it for a myriad other uses
  • Keep the vegetables in the stock, we will use them in our Christmas leftover project

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 4: Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

As this audience might have imagined by now, I adore cooking, but it is hard work. I often find that a little sip of something special can mitigate the fatigue. Despite the undaunted efforts of my sommelier friends to counter the tendency, I continue to enjoy light fruity drinks often based on prosecco, a bottle of which is a staple in my refrigerator.

I view prosecco as a blank slate that allows me to raid my pantry of spices, syrups, fruits and even jams...kind of like the crostata of drinks.

This is my latest toastworthy obsession, born during a recent visit to New York, where I sipped a sparkling pear concoction for the better part of a mid-Eastern flair brunch in this lovely restaurant with my darling friend Andrea.

 


 

Bellini invernale speziato alle pere

Spiced pear winter Bellini

for 1 bottle of prosecco

3 pears

1 lemon

1/4 cup+2 tablespoons+2 tablespoons fine sugar

cinnamon to taste

1 Fuyu persimmon

1 small pomegranate

 

While the prosecco is chilling, quarter, core and chunk the pears. Zest and juice the lemon.

Mix the sugar with enough cinnamon to make it agreeable to your taste.

Place the pear chunks, zest, lemon juice and the quarter cup of sugar in the blender jug and add 3 cups of room temperature water.

Start the motor and blend until a fine, runny purè is yielded.

In the meantime, slice half the persimmon paper thin and seed the pomegranate.

Fill the bottom third of a flute with the blended pear and sink in a slice of persimmon and 3 to 4 pomegranate seeds.

Slowly top with prosecco, letting it slide down the side to minimize foam.

Sprinkle the foam left on top with a pinch of the remaining cinnamon sugar.

Raise your glass and sip slowly while slaving away on that timballo di pasta.

NOTES:

  • You can swap cinnamon for a spice with a similar profile, like clove, nutmeg or even ginger
  • If you use pears with a red peel (Crimson or Red Bartlett, for example) your glass will be festively rosy
  • Use a sparkling rosè for an even more intense festive look

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 3: puntarelle alla romana

My 2 favorite classes among the ones who live in my head and I yet to find the courage to teach are one on anchovies and one I like to call Bitter is Better, to highlight such flavors as broccoli and chicories. The salad I am featuring today marries those 2 dreams in what I view as a perfect apotheosis of Christmas cheer. Puntarelle are a fibrous and bitter winter chicory which always sat prominently on the table of my grandparents' Christmases in Rome.

A tip when selecting puntarelle-literally little tips, they should be short and stout, if they look long and lanky, they've grown past their prime.

 


Puntarelle alla romana

Puntarelle with anchovy and garlic dressing

 

for 6 people

2 to 3 heads puntarelle (depending on the size)

4 anchovies packed in salt (or a small tin of fillets in olive oil)

1 garlic clove

1 lemon

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning or even the evening before, prepare the puntarelle. Divide the heads into stalks and run the tip of a sharp paring knife lengthwise along the leaves and the hard center, effectively shredding each stalk in several longish, thin slices.

This is a rather tedious task, and if you are lucky enough to spend Christmas in Rome, you will find the chicory already skilfully prepared for you for a premium as you can see from the picture.

Once all the puntarelle are cut, place them in the salad spinner, submerge in cold water, add several cubes of ice and let sit until they curl.

To prepare the dressing, rinse the salt off the anchovies under cold running water, separate each anchovy in half from the tail up and remove the spine. Smash and peel the garlic clove. Zest and juice the lemon.

Place the anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice in a food processor bowl. Start the motor and process while adding olive oil in a thin stream until you have a runny and shiny well balanced dressing. Adjust salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, drain the puntarelle and spin several times to eliminate as much water as possible.

Place in a serving bowl, pour the dressing on them and toss well to coat all the curls thoroughly.

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 2: Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

When it comes to showing holiday spirit, the table is the altar at which my family has always prayed. Food and the cooking of it have always been somewhat of an obsession for us, and no time of the year is marked by planning, discussing, concocting, experimenting as much as this. In this vein, my sister Silvia, who has already started making the cappelletti for which she's famous and sells throughout the month of December, found the inspiration in a central Italian specialty-baccalà e ceci-for a pasta dish to satisfy the requirement of a meatless Christmas Eve.

These tortelli are simply amazing. Grazie Silvia!

The pictures, by the way, are courtesy of my wonderful students.


Tortelli di Silvia al baccalà e ceci

Silvia’s codfish and chickpeas tortelli

 

for the filling and sauce

1/2 pound salted codfish (or fresh true cod)

2 cups chickpeas

1 small onion

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 black peppercorns

1/2 bunch parsley

1 lemon

2 eggs

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

for the pasta dough

5 large eggs (or 3 to 4 duck eggs)

500 grams flour (1 pound + 1.5 ounces)

salt

This recipe needs some advance planning. Three days before you plan to make it, wash the codfish to remove the surface salt and soak it in cold water.

The water on the codfish will need to be changed 3 to 4 times a day over the course of 3 days. Note that you can use fresh codin a pinch.

Place the chickpeas in cold water to soak for 24 hours.

After the chickpeas soaking period, clean and chunk the onion, carrot and celery and place them in a pot of water with the bay leaf, 2 to 3 parsley sprigs, the peppercorns and 2 tablespoons of salt.

Bring the water to a boil and add the drained chickpeas. Lower the heat to medium and cook the chickpeas until they are soft enough to be easily smashed with a fork. It will take about an hour.

To make the dough, salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. make a well in the center and add the eggs and a pinch of salt. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands or working it with 2 bench scrapers in samurai like motions.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the top third of the dough with your fingers up and away from you, folding and pressing it into the middle third with the heel of your hand and finally bringing everything into the bottom third. Turn the dough 90˚ or 1/4 hour and repeat the motions described above.

The folding and pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic. Wrap tightly and let relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Bring the water to a boil and put in the codfish. Lower the temperature to a simmer and poach the fish for about 20 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, mince the parsley and grate the zest off the lemon.

Smash the fish and half the chickpeas with a fork and mix well with the half the parsley, the zest, 1 egg and 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk an egg with 3 tablespoons of water.

Using a pasta machine or the KitchenAid pasta attachments, roll the pasta into strips thin enough for you to be able to see the outline of your hand through them.

Lay the strips of pasta on a lightly floured surface and using a pastry wheel cut them into squares about 2x2". Spoon a small mound of filling in the center of each square.

Dip a small pastry brush in the egg wash and wipe off excess liquid. Very lightly brush the top and left sides of each square.

Fold one square into a triangle and seal it by matching the bottom right corner onto the top left one and lightly pressing along the 2 longer sides, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

Grab the 2 smaller corners of the triangles in between your thumbs and index fingers and lift it off the table-the 90˚ angle should be pointing down

Bring the 2 tips towards each other until they kiss. Slightly overlap them and press them together.

Repeat the process starting from the rolling of the pasta strips until you have finished the filling and/or the dough.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Drop the tortelli in salted boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes after they float to the surface.

In the meantime, process the remaining chick peas and the garlic clove with a few spoonfuls of the tortelli cooking water and enough olive oil to yield a rather runny, shiny purée. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Douse the bottom of a warm serving platter with 1/3 of the chickpeas purèe.

Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse with the sauce, dust with the remaining parsley and sprinkle a few drops of lemon juice. Serve immediately.