Two Christmas dinners this year: one with friends in Rome, one in San Francisco with family. The San Francisco meal is a wonderful collaborative affair with my sisters and extended family and the other a feast I offer up to my friends.
I'll tell you about our Rome Christmas, starting with the table. A great meal involves every sense and this begins with where we all join together to share our meal. It's the Christmas season so reds and greens are an obvious choice. I love natural, homemade, preferably edible centerpieces so this combination of apples, walnuts, bay leaves and candles was perfect.
Individual plates echoed the red and green theme with a star formed from bay leaves and half a cherry tomato.
We had two starters, beginning with a lentil soup with mussels and clams.
We were just in Naples and since that trip I've been wanting to make a giant frittata di spaghetti. This is a simple but delicious dish usually prepared from leftover spaghetti. One beaten egg per 100 grams of pasta and abundant grated pecorino and parmesan cheese is added to the spaghetti. The mixture is then cooked in a well oiled (olive oil of course) large, deep frying pan. I use the flat lid of a smaller pan to compress the frittata while cooking. It needs to be cooked slowly so the eggs cook thoroughly. Once done the frittata is removed and cooked on the other side.
We have meat lovers and fish lovers in our group of friends so I prepared both. Lamb is the traditional Christmas dish in Italy so we had a de-boned leg of lamb prepared with an olive oil, ginger, fresh rosemary, soy sauce and garlic paste. The additional paste is used as a dipping sauce for the lamb.
Our salmon was de-boned by the fishmonger and stuffed with mussels, clams, fish fillets, bread cubes, minced onions, parsley and fish broth. The salmon was then baked to an internal temperature of 170F. It makes a delicious, beautiful presentation which is very easy to serve.
Our potato side dish cooked stove top for 20 minutes, then 20 minutes in the oven, in a deep-dish, oven-proof cast iron pan. A stick or two butter is melted and drizzled on the layered potatoes as they're added to the pan. Once cooked through the excess butter is drained off and the potatoes inverted onto a serving platter. Buttery and delicious.
Our winter garden is exploding with vegetables. I served cauliflower and mixed dark greens sauteed in olive oil, peperoncino and garlic.
Fresh mandarin oranges are a must at the Christmas table.
I spent last week making acorn flour from the acorns in our yard. I prepared a hearth bread from acorn and whole wheat flour.
We had three cakes and three ice creams for dessert. We started off with pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin souffles, which I love because they rise three or four inches out of the ramekin.
My favorite ice cream was the peanut butter and chocolate chip ice cream, which was served with a chocolate torta caprese.
I used the acorn flour to make the torta caprese and although it was good it didn't compare to the original recipe which uses almonds.
Our final dessert combination was cranberry cake and torrone ice cream. For the cranberry upside down cake I used dried cranberries soaked for several hours in warm water and then drained. The cranberries were mixed with brown sugar and melted butter, poured into a baking paper lined spring form pan, topped with the batter and baked.
No Italian Christmas is complete without torrone, a nougat prepared with honey and egg whites and almonds. I made the ice cream with honey and cream. Five minutes before it was done I added chopped torrone to the ice cream.