By Nancy Caivano
Hello!!! Welcome to the December edition of Pasta, Risotto and You! I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
With both Christmas and Hanukkah coming up, the word, to me, that describes both of these holidays is—TRADITION. Every culture has their own traditions for these holidays, especially food-wise. In my American-Italian household, Christmas always meant the array of fishes on Christmas Eve, Lasagne on Christmas Day, plus Christmas cookies that have been in my family for as long as I can remember. As another example, a friend of mine who is also a chef was recently making Tamales for Christmas, which is the tradition in her family.
With today's style of eating, what has changed is the amount of food and the variety of dishes. We don't make the foods as heavy as we did before, and definitely not quite as much. Having many health conscious people in our family has brought lighter dishes to our Christmas table. So, the question is, how do you change with the times, but keep the traditions?
Easy—you keep the ones that mean the most to you, and incorporate new ones. We don't always have our Lasagne at Christmas; I try out new pastas every year. The surrounding meal is lighter, maybe a turkey breast with trimmings, instead of more pastas, the traditional "Ragu," or other, heavy foods. So we still have a dinner with "heavy" pasta, but it is varied. I still make the same Christmas cookies, but I have tried to add a new variety every year, or make the regular recipes a little different. Keeping variety in your holidays make it more enjoyable for both you and your family and friends.
Our most important holiday tradition is being together. The food that we love and remember makes that occasion special and comforting. It makes the holiday a special time, and it brings us closer together. Whatever your holiday table holds, it will be loved by your guests because they will see the time and effort that went into the planning and preparing of the meal. This special time with our families is a time of great joy, especially to cooks, who show their love by putting extra effort into the dishes.
The recipes that I have included for December are a combination of very traditional and not so traditional. I have given more than the usual number of recipes, because it's a big holiday! Five pasta recipes and five risottos that I'm hoping you might make part of your holiday table. First up in the pastas is Spinach and Roasted Pepper Stuffed Shells. The shells are stuffed with a ricotta mixture colored with spinach and roasted peppers for a great holiday look. It's a dish that could be made ahead of time, so you can spend more time with your guests. Next is a Baked Pasta with Sausage and Four Cheeses, a much more elegant version of Baked Ziti, which can also be made ahead. Then there is a Spinach Pasta Roll, which is an elegant, rolled pasta filled with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. Next, there is Pasta with Mussels Fra Diavolo. This is a very traditional part of the Christmas Eve dinner, mussels and pasta coated in a spicy tomato sauce. Lastly there is Cannelloni, with homemade pasta and a hearty meat sauce filling, which also, can be made ahead.
For the risottos, first we have Risotto al Natale (Christmas Risotto), which has seared scallops, red bell peppers and pesto sauce, which is also a traditional Christmas Eve dish. Then we have Risotto with Spinach, Mozzarella and Red Pepper Flakes, which is both spicy and creamy and a great meal starter. Next up, again a traditional Christmas Eve dish, Risotto with Shrimp and Tomatoes, also a great dish to begin your meal. Then we have Risotto with Lobster, which is an elegant and savory risotto, with the lobster sautéed in brandy. A great dish for a New Years Eve supper, also. Last, we have Risotto Siciliana, a fantastic dish made with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and black olives. A wonderful savory dish.
As a holiday gift to you, I have also included two Christmas cookie recipes that have been in my family for generations. Our Rugelach recipe, which we make in individual cookies instead of the traditional roll, and Snowballs, which are shortbread cookies with ground walnuts, rolled in powdered sugar while they are still hot.
I wish you the warmest of holiday seasons, and a happy, healthy New Year. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please drop me a line, Chefchk@[email-address-removed]. I'd love to hear from you!
See you next month,
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