December 31, 2008
Christmas Eve dinner
As in most Catholic families as far as I know, Christmas Eve is the big night in our house. Growing up, we would sometimes have 15 to 20 people over for Christmas Eve dinner. My mom did all the cooking and when my brothers and I were young, we got to open almost all of our presents on that night too. Christmas morning was reserved for the presents that Santa brought.
It's still the night that my family celebrates with a big dinner. When my mom was alive she did the cooking and it was always traditional Italian fare: stuffed manicotti or shells, baked ziti, breaded chicken cutlets, and always an assortment of beautiful homemade cookies and desserts.
Now that I am the cook, I still make something Italian. One year I did baccalà (it was a disaster, but some day I'll try again), and last year I did a Sicilian pork roast with olives and grapes. But the family's favorite is probably my Cioppino.
In the South of Italy it is traditional to eat the "Feast of Seven Fishes" on Christmas Eve -- usually seven courses all with a different seafood ingredient representing the seven holy sacraments. I have not been that ambitious (yet) so I make a seafood stew and throw all seven (almost) fishes into the pot. This year it was shrimp, scallops, mussels, halibut and clams.
My recipe is from Michael Mina and the best part is this little spicy basil oil that gets drizzled on at the end before serving. It's also nice to bake some large crostini with garlic and olive oil to serve alongside the soup.
And this year, we had my brother's slow-roasted Heritage Farm pork as a second course with the most delicious orange-glazed sweet potatoes. It was one of our best Christmas Eve dinners to date. It was fun to cook together with my bro this year. I hope that's a tradition that continues.
And, for dessert, I made the special almond-orange cake with pears and creme anglaise pictured above. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. Our family chose not to do gifts this year and there was something really refreshing and simple about that. Everything then revolves around the food, which is fine with me! To cook together and eat together as a family was the best gift we could get.