Fresh Recipes, New Kitchen Ideas, Food News & Fun Things To Do In Sunny Italy
Christmas markets manned by local artisans, bakers, and craftsmen holding down their bancarelle,- colorful stalls-bursting with sweets, cantucci & biscotti, roasted nuts, chocolates, Christmas tree ornaments and le Befane, the kind little witch depicted on her wooden broom who brings treats to all the children. This is Christmas in Italy, a grand celebration kicking off December 8 which celebrates the Immaculate Conception. Piazzas, churches and small villages celebrate with church festivities and concerts no matter what your religion is. Cafes, pasticcerie-bakeries, panifici-bread shops are lined with holiday treats of pantone, roccoco, paneforte and torrone. The smell of café brewing steamy cappuccinos and chocolate caldo-hot chocolate umbrella the air in every piazza. Christmas trees are centered in piazzas decked & lighted, and fun filled festivals go on until the late hours everyday leading right through to Christmas and onto January 6,-la Befana. Food and wine fests in the small towns and villages, often called open doors, have friends popping in throughout the month with impromptu aperativi- sipping of Proseccos almost every day. This is Christmas in Italy!
Welcome to our December newsletter, written on a wet and windy Positano day, the rough sea and low temperatures a reminder that winter is well and truly at the door. And while it’s true most people head for Italy in the summer, make no mistake, in winter this country has quite a different charm. From the crisp mountain air of the Alps and the Dolomites to the mild wintry climate of Campania and Sicily, in December, every region works its special festive magic, delighting visitors with its Christmas markets, local food festivals and age-old traditions. Towns and villages are decorated with lights, garlands and wreaths and, especially in the south, beautiful handcrafted nativity scenes are set up in corners of churches, along the roadsides and in the piazzas. Pastry shops are full to bursting with local festive sweetmeats; panettone, pandoro, panforte, struffoli, and trays lined temptingly with roccocò, ricciarelli and mustaccioli.
Perhaps one of the most exciting things to do in December is visit one of the many Christmas markets to be found in almost all of the different regions. The most famous ones are to be found in Trentino and usually span the whole month of December. It’s always a delight to visit these markets (especially if you have children!) but at night when chestnuts are roasted on braziers and stalls are lit up with strings of fairy lights, the atmosphere is extra special. And as you stroll round the many stalls picking up stocking fillers and goodies for the festive season with Christmas music in the background and the aroma of spiced sweetmeats and mulled wine in the air, it really is like being in some kind of winter wonderland. On sale you’ll find everything from pretty Christmas decorations and painted wooden toys made by local artisans, to handmade figurines for the manger and mouthwatering displays of food and drink. Look out for local spiced sweets and cakes, torrone, and even candy coal for those who have been naughty rather than nice! So whether you take a walk round the Christmas market in Rome’s Piazza Navona, visit Naples’ Christmas Alley or are lucky enough to enjoy a snowy mercatino in Trentino, we think there can be few better ways to welcome in the Christmas season...
December brings a hive of activity to Italian kitchens. All through the month and especially during the run up to Natale, Mamma’s and Nonna’s are kept busy creating huge quantities of local dolci -sweets, some for their own family, and some to give to friends and extended family. Many of the traditional sweets are struffoli, roccocò, panettone, pandoro, panforte - can be made in advance, so it’s a great excuse for spending time in the kitchen and giving free rein to your sweet tooth.
Over the Christmas period most guests will turn up with some home-made gift or another: beautifully wrapped trays of hard, spicy Roccocò, a flat heavy round of panforte wrapped in sugar paper, a bottle of home-made limoncello, fennel or bay leaf liqueur, or dried figs stuffed with chocolate or almonds, fennel seeds and spices. Each offering is created with love and care and usually reflects local festive traditions, making it so much more precious than anything you could ever buy in a shop.
Then of course there is the question of the various important meals over the Christmas period. Apart from the impromptu dinners that occur when groups of family and friends get together, there is of course the Cenone di Natale which normally takes place on the evening of 24th rather than the 25th, and then Christmas Day lunch. Naturally, what will be cooked varies from region to region, and while the food is important, the most important thing of all is enjoying time spent with family. As the Italians say: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi’ - Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you please.
While not everyone is lucky enough to be able to spend the holiday season in Italy, most people have a local market to visit, a house to decorate and a fabulous celebration dinner to create. We at Cooking Vacations wish you the very best of festive seasons and the happiest of New Years.
Recipes From Our Kitchen
Vermicelli Con Alici E Noci ~ Vermicelli with Anchovies and Walnuts
This traditional recipe from the kitchen of our Secret Garden Positano Program is served every Christmas Eve and the recipe comes from the Amalfi Coast.
1 ½ cloves garlic
10 tbsp olive oil
Fresh Parsley, rinsed and dried
3 walnuts, shelled
7 salted anchovy filets
2 cherry tomatoes
Spicy Red pepper, as desired
Clean the salted anchovies under running water and remove bones. Smash the garlic by hand and chop the parsley and spicy red pepper. Break the walnuts into small pieces and slice the cherry tomatoes in quarters.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot then add garlic. Sauté until the garlic is blonde, not brown, then remove from heat. Add the anchovies, spicy red pepper, and walnuts and put back on the flame, reducing to medium heat. After about a minute add the chopped parsley and cherry tomatoes and stir together.
Add a spoonful or two of ‘magic water’ (the water from the boiling pasta pot) and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 2-3 minutes.
In the meantime, in a pot of boiling salted water, add vermicelli pasta and cook until al dente. When cooked, drain (saving a bit of the water) and add the pasta to the frying pan with the anchovy walnut sauce. Add another scoop of the ‘magic water’ to the pan and toss together over high heat for about 2 minutes.
Mix all the ingredients, except the olives and breadcrumbs, in a bowl. Form small balls by molding meat around one green olive. Once firm, roll the meatball in breadcrumbs, making sure it is thoroughly covered.
20g yeast, crumbled and mixed by hand in a little milk
Pinch of salt
Lemon zest, as needed
Oil for frying
Sugar and cinnamon as needed
Boil potatoes, and peal with your fingers while they are still hot. Allow to cool and then pass the potatoes through a ricer.
In a large bowl, mix riced potatoes, flour, yeast mixture, eggs, sugar, salt and lemon zest to form a smooth dough. Mix at first with a fork, and then use your hands to knead the dough together for several minutes, making sure it is well incorporated. Cover the dough loosely and allow to rise in a warm place for about ½ hour.
Slice off about 2 tbsp of dough and roll into a short rope, about ¾ inch in diameter. Form the rope into a ring and twist the ends to seal the ring. It will look like a ribbon. Set aside and allow to rise again for about ½ hour.
In a large frying pan, heat oil. Test the oil with a bit of dough, and fry zeppole until golden on both sides. Remove from pan and drain for a moment on a paper towel.
Add cinnamon and sugar to a wide bowl. Roll the zeppole in the sugar and cinnamon while still hot. Set aside and serve hot or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.
With Love From Italy
If you cannot make it to Italy, we bring Italy to you~
Martedi In Arte
This is the last month to benefit from the national initiative called Tuesday in Art where on the last Tuesday of the month you can enter a whole range of major Italian museums absolutely free. Participating museums include the sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, the Archeological Museum of Naples and the Museum of Capodimonte, the Pantheon, the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, and the Last Supper and Museum of Palazzo Ducale in Milan, to name just a few.
To celebrate the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy, the Scuderie del Quirinale di Roma has organized an impressive exhibition to illustrate how Italian painting represented the events which between 1859 and 1861 brought about the Unification of Italy. Artists on display include Francesco Hayez, Giuseppe Molteni, Domenico and Gerolamo Induno and Giuseppe Sciuti among others, and one of the objectives of the exhibition is to convey popular and idyllic aspects of the fundamental battles that took place, as well as military details.
Pick Up A Prosecco
Give champagne the cold shoulder this year and opt for some Italian bubbly to get you into the party mood. Once upon a time Prosecco was regarded as Champagne’s poor Italian cousin, but it is now coming into its own as a perfect festive drink, to be enjoyed either on its own or used to create delicious cocktails such as Bellinis. Some say Prosecco was produced as far back as Roman times, but whether this is truth or fiction, modern, crisp, aromatic versions are a real treat.
Italian Feasts And Celebrations
December is an especially magic month for visiting some of Italy’s many sagras and festivals, and taking in some of the most beautiful Christmas markets you could hope to find. Here are a few of the best.
Il Natale nel Medioveo - Mercato Medievale Natalizio: Lucca, Tuscany, 10th, 11th, 12th December. We just love the sound of this festival which is held in Lucca’s historic center, and offers guests a fascinating insight into how Christmas was celebrated during Medieval times. Best of all, there is a medieval market selling all sorts of goods and products typical of the middle ages in this part of the world.
Mercatino di Natale ‘Stella Cometa’: Torino, Piemonte, 5th - 12th December. The colors, perfumes and flavors of this Christmas market make it truly magical and a wander round the many pretty stalls is the perfect opportunity to pick up some gifts for friends and family, or even a few decorations for the home. The colored lights and the appearance of the Stella Cometta, the comet, will enchant children and grown ups alike as they nibble on local specialties and enjoy the background Christmas music. Kids can even hand their letter over to Father Christmas who will take a sleigh ride round town distributing candies and smiles all around.
Eurochocolate Ski a Cortina d’Ampezzo: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Veneto, 16th - 19th Decemeber. Anyone lucky enough to be in the pretty mountain town of Cortina d’Ampezzo this December will be able to ski to their heart’s delight (keeping an eye open for the many famous faces that flock to the town every winter), and enjoy a veritable feast of chocolate based goodies available all over town. The aim of this festival is both to promote lesser known sights around Cortina d’Ampezzo and celebrate local cuisine, giving it a delicious chocolate twist. Steaming hot mugs of hot chocolate will be on offer in bars, cafés, chalets and even on the slopes!
La Fiera di Santa Lucia, Bologna, 20th November - 26th December. This is one of Bologna’s most ancient festivals, one that dates back to Napoleonic times! Held at the Portico of Santa Maria dei Servi, numerous stalls are set up, and whereas it used to be more of a market in the true sense of the word, there are now many other aspects to the fair, including the possibility of picking up figures for traditional nativity scenes, sampling local gastronomic specialities, and finding out more about local artisan skills, including the production beautiful statues and nativity scenes.
Germaine continues her roundup of what's happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her chef of the month, book recommendation, and a list of seasonal foods for December.
What's in Season?
Cavolo Nero & Kale
Restaurant Of The Month
Gasthof Krone, Aldino, Alto Adige.
We’ve found the perfect winter hideaway for you this month: a beautiful hotel and eatery situated in the small village of Aldino in the Dolomites. Prettily decorated in the local style, wood features heavily in this typically South Tyrolean building, and the beautifully crafted vaulted ceilings, stylish rooms, carefully chosen furnishings, wood fireplaces and tile stoves all combine to create a wonderfully cozy atmosphere. It’s the type of place that’s beautiful both in summer and in winter, but we think December in Aldino is pretty special.
The Gasthof Krone inn and restaurant is run by the Franzelin family who have been in the hospitality business for centuries and who are experts at taking care of their guests’ needs. And the restaurant in particular has become well known for offering refined but unfussy food that delights locals, guests and critics alike.
Menus reflect the dishes and ingredients of traditional South Tyrolean cuisine, with much of the produce coming directly from the local farms. Gastronomically speaking, we’re in the Dolomites here and it shows. Antipasti might include marinated veal head, lentil salad or delicious sweetbreads. When it comes to the first course, the canerderli (dumplings) are really special, some stuffed with spleen or liver, others with mushrooms or spinach, but there are also usually good soups to choose from, wine soup perhaps, or a simple, creamy ‘burnt flour’ soup, and of course, a variety of handmade pastas. The second course usually features baccalà in some form, as well as lamb cutlets, rabbit, venison medallions, and boiled beef served with hashed potatoes (a real favorite!). There are also a number of interesting side dishes - soufflé of polenta, and speck and cabbage salad for example, with some of the quality cheeses on offer actually home made. Desserts are simple but delicious, with apple strudel, ricotta dumplings with zabaglione, and apple fritters with jam providing the perfect conclusion to a memorable meal. There is a very decent wine list, and lots of great countryside all around where you can start walking off dinner...
Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy
By Elizabeth Antoine Crawford
We thought now that it’s chilly outside and temperatures are falling, this was the perfect month to indulge in some hearty northern Italian fare, and Flavors of Fruili is the perfect kitchen companion for chilly days spent indoors. It’s actually a rather impressive volume which provides a good deal of geographical and historical background on this region tucked away in the extreme north east whose borders touch both Austria and Slovenia. And after reading of the countless invaders and immigrants (Celts, Romans, Lombards, Austro-Hungarians etc.) that shaped the region’s history over the various centuries, the unique nature of Friulan gastronomy within Italian cuisine becomes easier to understand. It’s probably the least typical of Italian regional cuisines, but this, argues Crawford, is precisely what makes it all the more fascinating. And, as with most other regions, geography also plays an important role: from the mountains come numerous cheese and herb based dishes, hearty soups, the wonderful prosciutto of San Daniele, and from the sea, seafood stews, soups, pasta with langoustines and of course, the area’s much loved baccalà.
A remarkable amount of research has gone into the book, and this is reflected in the authenticity and workability of the recipes. After so much time spent with home cooks and restaurant chefs in the region, Crawford manages to be both informative and direct, giving simple, concise instructions for each dish. We suggest you try out specialties like the balote, cheese filled polenta balls; frico con patate, the area’s well known cheese and potato pancake; jota, bean and sauerkraut soup; and of course goulasch. And while there are plenty of delicious fish recipes - baked scallops, salt cod with tomatoes and potatoes, trout with butter and sage, fish steaks with vinegar, marinated sardines - the meat dishes are also pretty mouthwatering: pork ribs in polenta; braised veal shanks; duck breasts with berry sauce; and sausages in bell pepper sauce. Not to forget the many different soups, pastas, including cjalsòns (a type of stuffed pasta), gnocchi and risottos.
Naturally, Friuli’s vicinity to Austria means there is an ample selection of sweets and cakes to be enjoyed: strucchi, dried fruit and nut filled cookies; torta dobos, a layer cake with chocolate buttercream and caramel; the famous torta sacher; and strucolo de pomi, apple strudel, to name but a few. All in all, we think Flavors of Friuli would make a useful addition to anyone’s culinary library and stands as a great testament to the infinite variety and diversity of Italian regional cuisine.
USA: 20 Park Plaza, #400, Boston, MA 02116, USA |
T: 617.247.4112 | F: 617.247.4850
ITALY: Via G. Marconi, 177-84017, Positano, Italy T: