By Nancy Caivano
Hello there and welcome to the December edition of Pasta, Risotto and You!! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!
This is my Holiday edition, and one thing that I hope really comes through is how much I love these winter holidays. Christmas to me was always my absolute favorite time of year. I would start counting the days until I could legitimately start playing the Christmas carols without everyone thinking I was crazy, and I would want to put up the tree and decorate the house right after Thanksgiving! Somehow there is always a feeling of happiness, anticipation and a little bit of peace in the air. New York is especially beautiful at this time of year. There are twinkle lights everywhere, the trees glow, you can hear Christmas music in the street coming from the stores, and even in the malls where the shopping pace is frantic, the happy music and beautiful decorations put you a little bit at ease.
Aside from all of this, the foods of this time of year are especially wonderful. I sometimes think that they are better than normal, because your family is all together sharing it. When I stop to think about it, I could make any of the foods I make for the holidays at any other time of the year, but everyone really looks forward to them at Christmas. I think the seasoning of all of us being around the table together really makes it that much more special.
For this column, instead of giving you different pasta and risotto recipes, I've created a complete menu for your holiday table, with pasta and risotto included, but not totally dominating the menu. It is a large menu, from appetizers to desserts with a lot of things in between. If you see the menu, and like certain components but think the entire thing is too much, feel free to take some of the recipes and experiment with the rest. Or you could take just the main course, leaving out the appetizer and first courses to make a smaller meal. However you choose to use them—I certainly hope that you enjoy them!!
To start out, we have an appetizer of Eggplant, Mixed Roasted Pepper and Mozzarella Terrine. This is a beautiful dish, full of colors and VERY easy to prepare and serve. It can be made well in advance which is a definite plus around the holidays!
As our first course, we have Seared Potato and Carrot Gnocchi with Tomato Cream Sauce. These gnocchi are not the traditional heavy kind. The addition of the carrot lightens them considerably and makes them a beautiful color. They are seared until crisp and then quickly tossed in a light tomato cream sauce. Because this dish can be somewhat filling, use a light hand in serving these gnocchi, especially as a first course.
I decided to do something really fancy for the main course (it IS Christmas after all), so I thought we would go with a Standing Rib Roast with Portobello Mushroom Sauce. The rib roast makes such a stunning presentation, and the delicious mushroom sauce really compliments the flavors of the meat. If the rib roast is a little pricey, try doing a different cut of beef using the same sauce.
To accompany our main course, I have a starchy side dish and two vegetables. Risotto with Lemon and Basil makes a refreshing and fragrant partner to the roast. It is very simple, laced throughout with lemon, with fresh basil stirred in at the end for the best flavor. Sautéed Spinach with Dried Tomatoes and Orange is full of flavor, and even sports Christmas colors! The tangy tomatoes combine beautifully with the orange flavored spinach making this a great dish all on its own. Our last vegetable, Fennel with Tomatoes and Raisins is a comforting dish. Slow cooking mellows the fennel and tomatoes and the raisins add a perfect touch of sweetness.
I thought an elegant salad would be the perfect counterpoint to the meal, so I decided to use Endive, Roasted Pear and Gorgonzola Salad. This lovely salad combines fresh Belgian Endive and mixed greens with luscious roasted pears and tangy Gorgonzola cheese. These ingredients are combined with a terrific vinaigrette flavored with Star Anise, orange juice and port wine.
Instead of plain bread, I thought you might like some zesty Romano Cheese Rolls. These smell heavenly when baking and taste even better than they smell!
Now, no self-respecting Christmas meal would be complete without dessert! I have two for you to enjoy. Mascarpone Cheesecake with Balsamic Marinated Strawberries is a smooth, creamy cheesecake that has a crushed biscotti crust, and is topped with sweet/tart strawberries marinated in rich balsamic vinegar. These flavors together are simply marvelous.
Polenta Cake with Lemon and Raspberries is a great cake for people who like their desserts not so sweet. The rich cornmeal cake is layered with a tart raspberry filling and frosted with whipped cream frosting flavored with vanilla and spiked with lemon flavored vodka. The cake is finished with toasted almonds, raspberries and candied lemon peel.
I hope that the holidays and the upcoming year are filled with blessings and happiness for you and your family. As we head into the next century (unbelievable!) I think we will find ourselves pulling closer to each other than ever before, and if we are going to all be together, we might as well have terrific food to eat!!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!!
This page created December 1999
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