My Family Christmas Menu Suggestions

Passing It On--Cooking with My Godson
Passing It On–Cooking with My Godson

Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.

3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.

We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.

Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.

Antipasto (before the meal)

The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

 

A platter with a selection of Italian salumi (cured meats) and cheeses is a must. Watch me put together a beautiful antipasti platter in this short video.

Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives
Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives

I may pair the platter with a traditional Neapolitan Christmas salad, insalata di rinforza.

 

 

If we don’t go the platter-salad route I know my family will want some artichokes to start the our Christmas meal.

Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes
Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes

 

These crispy baby artichokes are always a favorite.

Or make one Roman-style stuffed artichoke for each guest.

 

 

 

Primo  Piatto (First Course)

A fancy pasta is our usual choice. We’ll probably make a lasagna. Here are 2 to choose from.

Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.

 

The lasagna al forno is a bit more complicated but you can assemble it the day before and bake it Christmas day. It’s incredible and well worth the effort.

 

 

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

 

 

This lasagna is a quick version that you can get in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with spinach & ricotta in a light tomato sauce.

 

And I know there will be some votes for one of my Mom’s spinach & ricotta cannelloni in a simple tomato sauce.

 

 

 

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

 

 

For a lighter first course try my delicious “Italian Wedding Soup” with chicken, escarole & tiny veal meatballs. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

My choice is my porchetta roast with onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

This was the episode that started the “Porchetta War” with a bunch of Italians. If you have time, check out my video on how I beat the Italians at their own game.

If you want to combine these 2 versions of porchetta just ask you butcher for a skin-on pork belly and wrap that around the loin roast before you tie it up and roast it in the oven.

Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto
Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto

 

 

Or if we don’t do pork, my family hasn’t had my turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto with a quick pan gravy. Serve it with my garlic mashed potatoes for an easy second course.

 

 

 

 

Dolci (Dessert)

And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.

Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.

Tiramisu, the Italian "pick-me-up" with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over
Tiramisu, the Italian “pick-me-up” with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over

 

Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.

 

 

 

Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding
Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding

 

This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.

 

 

Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liquore)
Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liqueur)

 

A Finishing Touch

Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.

A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal

Buon Natale. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Buon Appetito!

Christmas Eve Feast of 7 Fish Recipe Roundup

Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily
Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily

I’ll be with family and friends for Christmas. Our Neapolitan family tradition is to prepare a 7-fish Christmas Eve dinner, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

Seven fish unless I’m with the Sicilian branch of the family, then it’s 13!

I hope you will be with the ones you love too.

Here’s a collection of my fish dishes that you can make for all your friends and family around your Christmas Eve dinner table to enjoy.

Buon Natale! Happy Holidays!

All in One

Cioppino Video: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco
Cioppino, 7 fish stew, a delicious San Francisco treat

If you want all 7 fish in one pot make cioppino, the San Francisco fish stew treat.

This is my go-to recipe if I want to make something fast and easy for the guests around my table. All 7 fish are cooked in one pot. A hunk of grilled bread scraped with garlic and you’re good to go.

The hardest part of cioppino is the trip to your fishmonger. You can have cioppino on your table in about 30 minutes.

Antipasto Picks

If a 3 or 4-course feast is what you have in mind make these dishes for an antipasto course, many ready in less than a half-hour.

Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce
Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce

Arancini, everybody loves rice balls. They are a perennial favorite at my table.

They come in many different shapes with various fillings.

This version is from my friends at North Beach’s da Flora restaurant.

The arborio rice has shrimp hidden in the middle of the crispy orb. Eat these arancini with or without the aioli. But if you don’t make the dipping sauce you’ll be missing a real treat.

 

Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti
Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti

You gotta be careful with this one. Often my fried calamari never makes it to the table. Everyone gathers in the kitchen around the stove and grabs a tender fried ring or crunchy tentacle as soon as they come out of the hot oil. If that happens to you make sure you quickly sprinkle some sea salt on the calamari as they drain on paper towel.

If the fried calamari survive poaching in the kitchen make sure that you get them to the table while they are hot out of the oil. That’s the way to maximize your enjoyment.

Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a  flavorful broth
Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a flavorful broth

How about some steamed mussels & clams ready in about 10 minutes?

Be sure to pick out the heavy clams & mussels with tightly closed shells.

This is a quick dish. The hardest part is scrubbing the shells prior to cooking.

You can serve up a big bowl and let your guests help themselves.

Just make sure that everyone gets at least one slice of the grilled bread. Dunking the bread in the sauce is my favorite bite.

Halibut and potato fish cakes
Halibut and potato fish cakes

My Mom made her fish cakes with baccala. If you don’t have time to soak dried salted cod for 3 days use fresh cod or halibut.

You can make the fish cakes ahead of time and heat them in the oven just before serving.

A bonus with the fish cakes, a recipe for grilled trumpet mushrooms and another for pickled carrots.

 

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread

Mussels with a spicy tomato sauce is a real crowd-pleaser. This is my Dad’s recipe.

Some of my nephews insist that I make these mussels any time we’re together. My Dad always made them when they visited.

That was nearly a half-century ago. It warms my heart that I can revive those moments gone by.

Be sure to have extra twice-baked bread. Everyone wants more than one piece.

Primo Piatto (The First Course)

Dungeness Crab
Spaghetti with spicy Dungeness crab

It’s crab season in San Francisco. Dungeness crabs are always an important part of our holiday meal in the Bay Area.

They’re big and tender this year and the price isn’t bad either. Use your favorite crab if you can’t get dungeness.

Here’s a recipe with a spicy tomato sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the sweet tender Dungeness crab. A marriage made in heaven.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies

Spaghetti with onions and anchovies is a simple dish that packs intense flavor in every bite.

The nutty flavor of the whole wheat pasta really takes this dish over the top.

Be sure you get a quality imported Italian whole wheat spaghetti or other long pasta for this dish.

With a few ingredients the pasta has to be the star. No mushy hippie whole wheat pasta will do.

Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce
Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce

Strozzapreti and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce is beautiful to behold and an elegant addition to your holiday table.

Roast the peppers ahead to save you some cooking time on Christmas Eve.

You can make it in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

 

 

Another quick preparation for a busy night, spaghetti with clams.

Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples
Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples

A Neapolitan favorite, you can’t go wrong with this pasta.

Long strands of spaghetti with clams in a spicy garlic sauce. It’s a little bit of heaven.

Put on a big pot of well-salted water to boil. Steam the clams in the spicy broth while the pasta is cooking.

The clams will have opened and the sauce will be waiting as you pull the spaghetti out of the boiling water to finish cooking in the clam sauce.

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce
Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce

Sole is one of my favorite fish.

It’s easy to work with and has a delicate flavor.

Sole with capers is really easy. Saute the filets and make the sauce right in the same pan.

The delicate Petrale sole has a crispy crust with a moist flaky interior.

The capers perk up the sole. The light buttery sauce ties it all together.

 

Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon
Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon

 

Nothing easier and tastier than quick-cooked shrimp.

Shrimp on the east coast, prawns here in the Bay Area.

The hardest part of this recipe is cleaning the shrimp.

Once that’s done the shrimp are ready in less than 10 minutes.

I take that back, the hardest part of this recipe is not eating them all up as they drain on paper towel.

To augment your main course choose from my collection of vegetable side dishes on my website or those in my Vegetable Recipes eBook. It’s my holiday gift.

Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives
Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives

But if you want your fish, veggies and starch all in one go make my halibut roasted in parchment is the one for you.

Use halibut, cod or your favorite fish.

The halibut is wrapped in parchment or foil with the potatoes, tomatoes and olives so you get it all.

Drizzle some olive oil and dry white wine over the fish and vegetables and when you open the pouch you have a  complete plate for your table. Quick, easy and oh so flavorful.

Dolci

Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus
Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus

For these holiday meals we often buy some of our favorite pastries to end the meal. If you have the time make cannoli.

But if you want something homemade and light make strufoli, little fried dough balls in a honey glaze sprinkled with colorful holiday confetti. Another traditional sweet is to end your meal on a traditional holiday note is cenci, those delicate bow-ties. Be careful, the powdered sugar doesn’t get on you.

Buon Natale! Buon Appetito!

 

 

Porchetta War: Who will win?

Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.
Picking a Rancho Llano Seco porchetta to slow roast on an open spit.

I shot a porchetta episode a while ago. It’s a favorite among my friends and family so I had to share my recipe. And the episode got lots of views and tons of positive comments. Then, things suddenly turned nasty. The Italians got involved.

They started to flame me. One guy said I was like a counterfeiter handing out phony money with this recipe. The comments really made me mad.

But, after a time, I realized that the Italians weren’t being mean. They were just protecting their food culture and traditions. My porchetta was an American variation and the Italians weren’t happy I desecrated the classic porchetta they loved.

So they inspired me to do a Bay Area farm to table traditional whole pig porchetta. And I’d do it literally farm to table. I’d find a pig. I’d visit the farm and see how it was raised. I’d help butcher it and season it. I’d cook it on a spit over charcoal. And we’d film the whole thing.

So me and my Hungry Village producers found Rancho Llano Seco, a local farm north of San Francisco. We met up with Jamie at the Rancho to pick out the pig for my porchetta. When we got to the barn and open pen where the mature hogs spend their last days on the Rancho, there she was, a big sow with a beautiful red coat hiding just inside the barn. There’s my porchetta. I called her Bella.

Jamie sent Bella to my butchers at Golden Gate Meats in San Francisco’s Ferry Building .  I joined Tom, who deboned the porchetta with a surgeon’s skill. Shoulder, sirloin, rib meat and loin all intact with a thick layer of belly and fat under the skin.

We scored the skin to form diamonds. Nothing less for Bella. Meat side up I scattered chopped rosemary, garlic, golden wild fennel pollen, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over. Rolled and tied, the porchetta sat for 2 days to let the aromatics infuse all the meat.

The porchetta slowly roasted on a spit over an open fire for hours. Each slice included a little bit of rib meat, loin, belly and crispy skin. A few lucky people also got shoulder or sirloin. 3 dozen friends and fans enjoyed a wonderful afternoon on San Francisco’s Russian Hill eating porchetta panini done the Bay Area Slow Food farm to table way.

And, in a nod to how porchetta sandwiches, are served around the Bay Area, I offered caramelized onions, sautéed broccoli rabe and fresh baby arugula as toppings. They don’t do that in Italy. I hope I don’t get in trouble again. I don’t want to go to Italian prison.

So there you go, Italy. I did porchetta the way it’s supposed to be done. Let’s be friends again.

Make A Perfect Antipasti Platter

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

An antipasti platter is your culinary canvas. Lay out a couple of your favorite Italian cheeses and salumi (cured meats) that pair well together. Add some veggies for color. Olives maybe? And what about some taralli scattered all around?

A feast for the eyes but more importantly an icebreaker for those around your table. A little prosecco doesn’t hurt to get the conversations flowing. Let their eyes feast on your canvas for a short while.

It’s a set-up. The antipasti course is an important beginning to a leisurely 4-course Italian meal. Wake up the taste buds with a little something. A variety of tastes preview what’s to follow.

The one I made is a classic from my days in Jersey. Some variation of that platter started every holiday meal.

No time? Get everything you need at an Italian deli or well-stocked market. Then you just have to paint your canvas.

But if you want to add something homemade, make my quick olives marinated with orange, oregano and chili flakes. My roasted peppers are always a favorite. Invest a little more time and make my homemade giardiniera, still crunchy pickled vegetables.

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss my upcoming porchetta episode. A real farm to table story about a sow from Chico and the beautiful spit-roasted porchetta devoured by a crowd on Russian Hill. Here’s a peek at the porchetta party.

Warning! Don’t fill up on the antipasti. You got a soup, pasta or risotto coming followed by the main course and dessert. Depending on who’s at my table sometimes I make individual plates for everybody so nobody eats too much right away.

Buon appetito!

Marinated Roasted Peppers
 
Cook time
Total time
 
Roasted peppers flavored with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2-3 red or yellow bell peppers (don't use green)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Roast the peppers right on the burner. Turn so that the skin is blackened all over.
  2. Put the blackened peppers in a covered bowl or paper bag to let them steam a bit.
  3. When the peppers are cool enough to handle cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds and membranes, turn over and scrape off the blackened skin.
  4. Cut into 2-inch strips.
  5. Put the roasted peppers in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic and oregano and mix well.
  6. Let the peppers sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Serve at room temperature.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:123]

 

Food Network? Me?

My "Baby" Cooking Stool
My “Baby” Cooking Stool

Whadda youse crazy? I can’t compete on Food Network.

I don’t like tension in the kitchen. My focus is the food not the drama. And I gotta do things my own way.

When inspired I share recipes on my blog. When my producers’ and my stars align we shoot new cooking episodes for my YouTube channel. That’s it.

But, my producers saw a casting call for Next Food Network Star and they suggested I apply. It’ll be fun, they said. You’ll be great, they said. You’ll love it, they said. They’re sneaky, my producers, and they talked me into it.

I couldn’t make it to LA last month to interview in person so my producers and I decided to shoot a video instead.

For the video, I made one of my favorite dishes, spaghetti aglio e olio. The garlic and olive oil sauce is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It’s typical of dishes I’ve been making for years. A few quality ingredients. Quick simple preparation. Incredible flavor.

This dish is near and dear to my heart because it comes from my mother. My family food traditions have their root in her birth town east of Naples. She learned to cook from her mother and I learned to cook from her.

I love to pass on the traditions, share the recipes that fill my belly and warm my heart.

Now, more than 100 years after my ancestors came to America our favorite dishes still draw us to the table. Our days together, many generations cooking in the kitchen and around the table, are precious.

Anyway, watch me make spaghetti aglio e olio in my Food Network video. It did turn out good if I do say so myself.

And wish me luck! Or maybe not.

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss what Food Network says.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Olive Oil)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A quick complex sauce ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) imported dried spaghetti
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 anchovy filets, roughly chopped
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino
  • Italian flat parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
Instructions
  1. In a large pot bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
  2. Add the salt.
  3. Cook the pasta to al dente, about 8 minutes.
  4. In a large pan heat the olive oil.
  5. Add the anchovy, garlic and chili and cook over medium-high heat until the anchovy dissolves and the garlic just begins to take on color.
  6. Add the pasta water and mix well.
  7. Over high heat add the drained spaghetti and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.
  8. Off the heat add the pecorino and mix well.
  9. For a little color sprinkle the parsley on top to add some color before serving.