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An Italian Christmas Meal

For Italian Americans who enjoy celebrating the holidays with authentic Italian tradition, here are a few authentic straight from Italy recipes to think about this year. Christmas in Italy varies from the Alpine Christmas traditions and markets of Trentino Alto Adige to country-side celebrations in Tuscany and Abruzzo to seaside celebrations in Calabria, Sicily, Naples and Sardegna. Here are a few ideas that are truly pan-Italian.

Christmas Dinner in Italy is often a mid-day feast following on a delicious Christmas Eve meal. Family and friends get together to celebrate the holiday and to enjoy a wide range of Christmas dishes, before heading off to enjoy a few days of skiing in Italy or a relaxing few days in the Italian countryside. Here below are a couple of made-in-Italy recipes for Christmas dinner favorites: an absolutely delicious mushroom lasagna as a first course, and then a fabulous braised beef roast in Barolo wine with a side of baked squash and fennel.

Buon Natale e Buon Appetito!

Wild Mushroom Lasagna (1st course)

 Oven 350 degrees F

Ingredients:

 Sauce:

1 ½ pounds fresh mushrooms (any variety)

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

5 cloves garlic

½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp salt

½ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Lasagna:

2 (9 ounce) boxes Lasagna (can be no-boil )

½ pound fresh mozzarella, diced

1 ½ cup grated Parmigiano- Reggiano

Bechamel sauce

 Directions: 

  • Clean mushrooms with damp cloth. Soak dried porcinis in hot water until soft.  Discard longer stems, then chop into small cubes.  Smash garlic cloves and simmer with olive oil in large saucepan for 5 minutes to flavor oil
  • Add salt and mushrooms to the oil and sauté over medium heat. Cook down the mushrooms, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and to combine flavors. While mushrooms cook, prepare béchamel.  Cover sauce with plastic wrap, once made, to prevent skin from forming.
  • Add parsley to cooked mushrooms and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Once thoroughly sautéed, remove larger pieces of garlic and puree about ¼ of the mushroom mixture for sauce. The other ¾ will be used in lasagna layers.  Whisk in pureed mushrooms with béchamel until blended
  • Coat bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole dish with mushroom béchamel sauce. Layer with lasagna noodles, carefully not to overlap, then béchamel.  Sprinkle with sautéed mushrooms, diced mozzarella and parmigiano.  Repeat for layering until ingredients are used, topping with a last layer of noodles, béchamel and cheeses.
  • Bake covered with foil 40 minutes, remove covering and bake another 20 minutes until hot and bubbly

 

Braised Beef in Barolo Wine Sauce (2nd course)

Ingredients:

5 pounds rump roast or top round of beef

3 onions, roughly chopped

2 large carrots, roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

1 bouquet garni (fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves tied with a string)

1 ounce butter

6 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 whole cloves

A few juniper berries, if available

Salt and peppercorns

2/3 bottle Barolo or a full bodied red wine

2 cups vegetable or beef stock

 

Directions:

Marinade:

  • Place the meat in a large bowl; add all of the vegetables along with the bouquet garni, cloves and juniper berries, a bit of salt and peppercorns and the Barolo
  • Let the meat marinate for 12 hours or more in the refrigerator. Turn the meat often

Braising:

  • Drain wine from meat by allowing it to drip off once taking it from the bowl. Reserve marinade! Dry it with a towel and sprinkle with salt.
  • In a large, heavy pot, add the olive oil and the butter; when the pot is very hot, carefully place the meat inside, browning it on all sides to seal in the juices. Then slowly add the marinade, the vegetables and stock.  Gently bring to a boil with the lid on.
  • Simmer on a very low flame. Cook for 2 ½-3 hours.  The meat will reduce in size to about a half and will be very dark on the exterior.  Be sure to cover meat with liquid at all times, adding water when necessary.
  • Before serving, transfer the brasato to a cutting board for a few minutes, covered with aluminum foil. Discard the bouquet garni and pass all the sauce through a vegetable mill, which is preferred over a food processor or an immersion blender.  Re-heat the sauce and let it reduce a bit and adjust with salt, if needed
  • Cut the brasato into thin slices and place on a hot dish; add some sauce on top-or serve separately.

 

 

Baked Squash and Fennel (served with meat course)

Oven 375 degrees F

 Ingredients:

3 cups Butternut squash or other seasonal squash (cleaned and cubed)

2 Fennel Bulbs (cut into cubed pieces)

3 garlic cloves (leave unpeeled)

3 stems of rosemary

2 sage leaves

5 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt, pepper

Directions:

  • Place the cleaned and cut-up vegetables in a casserole dish large enough for them to be cooked in one layer.
  • Season with olive oil, salt, pepper, sage leaves (torn into several pieces), rosemary sprigs (break up into 3 pieces) and unpeeled garlic cloves. Mix well.
  • Bake for about 35 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Useful in the preparation: a beautiful handmade Chef Knife by famed Italian knife makers Coltelleria Saladini