Keeping the Christmas Tradition with Patrizia

By Patrizia Cucca

Christmas is the biggest holiday for my family. Life can get crazy but Christmas is the one day that we know we will definitely all be together no matter what. It’s different than one of our regular gatherings. We eat different foods, the house is decorated, the tables are set with beautiful linens, moms fine china and crystal glasses are brought out. The tables include center pieces and flowers and everybody dresses up. Through the years we have developed a lot of different traditions. Some are serious ones, while the others always get everyone laughing. Here are some of my family’s Christmas traditions.
Seafood on Christmas Eve
Coming from an Italian family, we tend to keep with tradition. On Christmas Eve, we always have many different types of seafood. While I love that we stick to the tradition of not having meat on Christmas Eve, I didn’t always like this. When I was a kid seafood wasn’t my favourite, so I didn’t always appreciate this tradition. I made sure to fill up on a big plate of spaghetti and clams. In recent years I learned to enjoy the octopus as well. Dinner is always a big, long process followed by lots of talking, some relaxation and plenty of card games and by the time midnight hits, we are hungry. So, as soon as it hits midnight, we yell “BUON NATALE!” crack out the prosciutto with some cheese and bread. It’s a nice way to get Christmas off to a great start.
Four Course Meal
We have 4 different courses for Christmas dinner. It starts with an appetizer, perhaps some baked figs stuffed with goat cheese or a beautiful caprese salad. Our second course is lasagna and my all-time favourite. Mom makes the BEST lasagna and if you’re lucky enough to get a corner piece that has crunched up around the edges, well, that is even better than the best. It is safe to say we have an elaborate Christmas dinner and we make it something special. Third course, our meat! We serve crowned rack of lamb, tasty tender; melt in your mouth lamb. Simply delicious! There are roasted potatoes, a variety of vegetables and a beautiful green salad that always includes sliced fennel. Once all the dishes have been cleared, roasted hazelnuts and chestnuts come out and adorn the table with a beautiful spread of the most exotic fruit we can find. After about an hour, we put on the espresso and bring out the desserts. There are so many desserts, mom’s struffoli, cannoli, and a croquembouche consisting of choux pastry balls piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel. So good! By this point in the evening we have changed into our most comfy clothes, elasticized waistbands, leggings or even Christmas themed pajamas.
Christmas Crackers & Crowns
For as long as I can remember, we have had Christmas crackers. We place one at each table setting. When we sit down to eat our first course, we pop open our crackers. The crackers come with little tiny trinkets inside them as well as little jokes that we share and laugh at. Also inside the crackers are little coloured paper crowns. Everyone at the table puts them on their head as we eat.
Secret Santa This is another tradition that we most recently adopted. Over the years the family has grown so much that is simply impractical to buy individual presents for everyone. So, we decided to start doing a Secret Santa so that everyone has a gift to open. Some of the gifts are serious and some are hilarious. Regardless, it gets rowdy as the room bursts into laughter with all of the chaos that ensues as the gifts are opened. This is one of my favourite traditions.
Our Lasagna recipe is the perfect meal for any occasion. You can never go wrong with this classic! Deliciously cheesy, it’s as easy as one, two… three!
Sauce ingredients
1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 chopped onion, 3 finely chopped plump garlic cloves, 1/2 pound lean ground beef, 1/2 pound ground veal, 100 ml red wine, 2 tbsp tomato purée, 400g plume tomates, a handful torn basil leaves.
For the layers
250g tub/basket ricotta, 2 packages lasagna sheets (about 500g/10 sheets per box) no pre-cook, 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pound), basil leaves and green salad leaves, to serve.
Method
Make the meat sauce: heat oil in a large sauté pan, then tip in onion and fry for 5 mins until golden. Add the garlic, and then fry for 2 mins more. Stir in both meats, breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon. Cook over a high heat until the meat is no longer pink and the juices are released. Pour in wine, scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir, and then cook for 1-2 mins until the liquid is reduced. Tip in tomato purée, tomatoes and 2 tbsp. water, and then stir to break up tomatoes. Add some pepper, cover, then simmer for 1 hr., stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt if you like. Mix in torn basil. Sauce can be chilled for up to 1 day. While the sauce is simmering, prepare the other layers. Soak the lasagna sheets in a single layer in boiling water for 5 mins. Drain well. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Combine ricotta, 3/4 cup Parmigiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of 13″ x 9” baking dish. Place cooked lasagna sheets over sauce, overlapping to fit. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture evenly over the sheets. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta mixture. Then, spoon 1 1/2 cups of sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover. Repeat layering with remaining lasagna sheets, ricotta mixture, mozzarella and sauce. Top the final layer with remaining sauce and Parmesan. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Uncover, and then bake until hot and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Let lasagna stand 10 minutes before serving.
It’s a nice way to get Christmas off to a great start!

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