I was introduced to this great idea of receiving Christmas baskets from your employer while working in Tuscany and though sometimes they can be quite predictable filled normal kind of stuff . . . every once in a while there are a few surprises. Last year both me and DH brought home Christmas baskets filled with sweets – and while they were all delicious . . . there is a limit to how much sugar two people can consume (I know not everyone agrees…but in our household it is true!)
This year we have two complementary baskets – DH brought home an artisan baked pandoro, ricciarelli, panforte and a delicious selection of dried fruit (figs, dates, apricots) AND chocolate covered torrone – then he had a hunk of Parmesan cheese, two different types of salami and the traditional cotecchino for the New Year celebration. – Practically one third of Christmas lunch is in his basket. I instead am bringing home three bottles of Chianti wine – another third of Christmas dinner. The last piece is already in the refrigerator waiting to be baked, broiled and roasted.
We will start off with what the Italians call “affettati.” Translated this is a huge cutting board filled with salami, prosciutto, dried figs, Parmesan cheese and honey and on the side there will be a few crostini neri (the Tuscan chicken liver patè) and of course a fett’unta! We have been saving all the bottles of fresh pressed oil so that we can taste our way through the holidays.
I admit we have already done a fair bit of taste testing – but in our defense we have received over 10 different olive oils from friends, clients and relatives. We couldn’t possibly control our urge to taste the new oil with some toasted bread, a bit of garlic, fresh ground pepper and salt…. yummmmmm.
After we have finished off the cutting board – we then move on to the pasta. This year DH has requested lasagna, just like Nonna used to make. Well I don’t know if it will rank up there with Nonna, but I have been told my lasagna is definitely a 4 star masterpiece. So I do aim to please. It’s simple enough in the ingredients (pasta, Italian style meat sauce, besciamella, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese) but the mix is just . . . oh scrumptious! I know most people are used to hearing ricotta in the list but in the area where I learned how to make lasagna …. or as some will call pasta al forno there is no ricotta.
Once the pasta has been drooled over and plates licked clean we start with the main course. Though many of you may be thinking…what?!? there is more to come? I say – YES ! absolutely, there is always more to come in an Italian household.
Another Italian tradition – anatra con l’arancia – duck with oranges. The main course for Christmas in Tuscany usually includes some kind of fowl and the list is long: there is chicken (three types to be exact: gallina, cappone or fararona) or duck (anatra) and then pigeon (picione), quail (quaglia), some will even do goose ( oca). This year I have ventured into unknown territory and bought us a lovely duck all decorated with oranges and pancetta (as if a duck needed any more fat in it!)
Though its hard to imagine – there will be side dishes to this meal – potatoes (because every thing that is roasted gets potatoes with rosemary and sage on the side) and most probably peas . . . another tradition with any Sunday or holiday lunch.
All this will be accompanied by a selection of various wines . . . and maybe some water but as the Tuscans, or any Italian for that matter, like to say – water? No thank you, I’ll wait until it rains. I will definitely start off with some chilled prosecco – because I love the dry bubbles! The lasagna can have either a lambrusco (because la Mamma likes it) or maybe a fresh white – we have a Pecorino sitting at home taht is very fregrant. Then the roast duck will most definitely have a Chianti Classico – and do have an selection to choose from! Probably something robust and flavorful – like those that Pierotucci gave out this year from Tenuta San Vito.
And then … well now the tough part starts because you just ate until you can eat no more and then there the desserts are spread out on the table, and they literally seem never ending. Panettone, Pandoro, panforte, ricciarelli, torrone, nuts and dried fruit, chocolates and candies, fresh fruit (well that is more for show than anything else) and the spumantes and vin santos.
It would appear that you really couldn’t eat another bite . . . but low and behold you start to nibble here and then there, and before you know it you have just consumed another 1000 calories without even trying!