Let’s Talk Food: Merry Christmas to all

Today is Christmas Day. It’s an exciting day, especially for all the children who have been waiting for Santa to deliver all their presents since they were all good boys and girls.

Our family decided to do Italian food for Christmas lunch today, as each year we choose a country’s food to celebrate the holiday.

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If we were really in Italy, the Christmas feast might include the following classic dishes:

1. Capitone, or the female eel, because her head is bigger than the males and in the Neopolitan dialect, “capitone” means “big head.”

In Naples, the capitone is roasted and baked on Christmas Eve because of the superstition that the eel is a symbol of evil because it resembles a snake.

In the Christian Bible, the snake tempted Eve to eat the “forbidden apple,” which condemned humanity to death. So during Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, “who by his death has redeemed humanity from all sins, eating the eel means “eating the snake.”

This symbolic act will bring good luck.

Another reason to eat eel at Christmas is because eel is very fatty, so it is an ideal dish for those who need to eat something substantial.

I have only seen eel in the form or unagi or anago and not fresh, whole, so I don’t think we will be able to have this dish for Christmas.

2. Each family has their favorite lasagne recipe, and a dish with Bolognese sauce and bechamel is a Christmas favorite.

Lasagne dates back to the ancient Greeks, when the Romans conquered Greece about 146 BC. The Greek word “laganon,” or flat dough sliced into strips, is thought to be the origin of the word “lasagna.” The traditional Italian lasagne features ragu, or meat sauce, bechamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in between flat noodles.

3. Abbacchio, or lamb, with potatoes is usually a more typical Easter dish but also is often cooked at Christmas.

4. Pasta in brodo, or pasta in broth, is popular throughout Italy and the noodles vary from tortellini to spaghetti.

5. Cappone ripieno, or stuffed capon, is usually the second course of an Italian Christmas meal. Today, the capon is stuffed with ground beef or pork that is mixed with stale bread in water, eggs, sausage, ham or sausage and dried fruits. This recipe originated in the countryside of Piedmont.

A capon is a castrated rooster that is fed lots of porridge to fatten him up. The breasts are wide and meaty and the size of a small turkey.

6. Pandoro and panettone is a must in an authentic Italian Christmas meal. Pandoro is a typical Christmas cake, originally from the city of Verona, from as far back as the 18th century. The panettone, a typical Milanese cake, is sweet and stuffed with raisins and candied fruit and is served with dried fruits and walnuts at the end of the hearty Christmas meal.

Here is a recipe for pasta in broth, a simple recipe and one you could easily make.

Capellini en Brodo

From: Bon Appetit

Serves: 2

2 ounces capellini pasta

2 cups Parmesan broth (recipe below)

2 large egg yolks

Grate Parmesan, fresh thyme leaves and freshly ground black pepper for serving

Cook pasta and Parmesan broth in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring, until pasta is al dente and broth is reduced and thickened, about 3 minutes. Divide pasta between bowls; twist into tight nests. Add broth and top each with an egg yolk, Parmesan, thyme and pepper.

Parmesan Broth

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, peeled, quartered

1 head garlic, halved crosswise

1 bunch thyme

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs parsley sprigs

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cup dry white wine

1 pound Parmesan rinds

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns, stirring often, until garlic is deep brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine, bring to simmer and cook, scraping up any brown bits, until liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.

Add Parmesan rinds and 8 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent cheese from sticking to bottom of pot, until broth is flavorful and reduced by half, about 2 hours.

•••

In Japan, Christmas cake, a light and airy sponge cake frosted in whipped cream and decorated with strawberries, is very popular, along with ordering chicken from KFC.

It is interesting that it is not a family affair, but more like Valentine’s Day for couples or just being alone.

If you are in France, this is what you might have for a Christmas feast:

1. The French might start their feast with caviar or smoked salmon on blinis.

2. Especially Parisians, many French people love oysters as an appetizer.

3. Pricey lobster or crab often will appear in a French meal.

4. Foie gras is served on slices of bread with a Sauternes, sweet wine.

5. Escargot, or snails, especially in Burgundy, cooked with garlic and parsley butter.

6. A creamy scallop dish called Coquilles Saint Jacques is a popular holiday appetizer or first course.

7. We have roast turkey at Thanksgiving, the French have it with chestnut stuffing at Christmas.

8. If all of the above wasn’t enough, there are 13 desserts to help you finish off your meal. The 13 desserts represent the 12 apostles and are normally made of dried fruit as well as a traditional cakes called pompe a l’huile.

9. The traditional Christmas log, or buche de noel, is a rich chocolate cake wrapped up into a shape of a yule log.

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Wishing you all a very merry Christmas today!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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