3 antipasti for the holidays
|December 8, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under appetizers, holidays, Italian|
People blame the lack of time and money. And then there are all the commercial pressures to give -and get- material gifts.
I can’t say I don’t partake in the rush too, to some degree, but I can’t thank my parents enough (again) for teaching me a different way of living the holidays.
Early on, they ingrained in us the need to be frugal and de-preciate material gifts (we would get one only, each). They would encourage us to “create” something to give (a drawing, a craft, a scarf… one year -i must have been 8 or 9- I filled small jars with colored water and labeled each “happiness”, “health”, “fun”, “humor”, “love”, and so on and gave them to everyone as my gift). And mostly they would gather us around the kitchen to bake and cook as a family: the true spirit of the holidays. I still have a strong “allergy” to a mound of parcels and the holidays for me are synonymous with 4 elements: fire, food, family, fun.
I try to pass that on to my kids… instead of handing them catalogs of gifts to choose from, I ask them to write a letter to Santa and ask for the ONE thing they most wish for. This year one asked for a lego box, and the other for Pokemon cards. I was so happy to see that they were not writing a shopping list! As for me I asked for a week-end off somewhere romantic with my husband…
The holidays are by no means perfect in our family (after all, cabin fever catches everyone), but there is one thing we give each other more than anything: time. This year, after not having been to visit for Christmas in a while, I am finally headed to Italy for “le vacanze” (the holidays). Ironically, le vacanze in Italian literally means “the vacancies”, as in time to take time-off and do some “dolce far niente” (the sweet doing-nothing). I am bringing with me photographs, a couple of books, a blocked-out calendar, recipes, and much excitement!
And it will be about food, again. Yes, that binding element that brings us together around the table. In that regards, here are three relatively simple (and not terribly time consuming) antipasti that work well for a cheerful holiday gathering: 1) “olive marinate” (olives dressed up with citrus) 2) “baccalà mantecato” (whipped salt cod spread) with crackers, and 3) “bastoncini di sfoglia con gorgonzola, rosmarino e marmellata di fichi” (puff pastry twists with gorgonzola, fig jam, and rosemary).
Ciao and cheers!
This one is the easiest one of the three antipasti to create and you can do it ahead of time.
The trick is getting the best possible olives you can find: crisp, juicy, firm green ones are my favorite: Cerignola, Picholine, Lucque, …
I find the citrus very festive and I add a little secret holiday ingredient to bring out the sweetness of the olives: vanilla.
1 lb. (about 500 gr.) green olives
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
A few slices of orange and lemon
2 tsp. Fennel seeds
2 tsp. Coriander seeds
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 to 1/2 cup Good quality Italian extra virgin olive oil
Optional: crushed red pepper, TT.
Also optional: 1 clove garlic, smashed
Toss all the ingredients together and allow to marinate for a few hours or -better- overnight.
This Venetian dip is a cousin of the “brandade de morue” from Provençe.
Baccalà is salted cod, and it is a very commonly used ingredient over the holidays in Italy. Mantecare means to whip with fat as to create a creamy consistency.
You need to plan ahead, because the salt cod needs to be soaked for a few days to remove the salt (unless you can find it already de-salted at a specialty store)
500 gr. (1 pound) salt cod, pre-soaked for 2-3 days in cold water (refresh frequently)
2 small potatoes (russet or baking), peeled and diced small
2 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
2 bay leaves
1 liter (4 cups) milk
Optional: 2 anchovy filets
250 ml (1 cup) good quality Italian extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Add the pre-soaked salt cod, potatoes, garlic and bay leaves to a pot and cover with the milk. Bring to a boil and cook about half an hour, until the cod is flaky and the potatoes are medium-soft. Remove the fish, potatoes and garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside (keep the milk!).
Add the cooked cod, potatoes, and garlic, then the anchovies (if using) to the bowl of food processor equipped with a steel knife blade. Pulse a few times to break up the pieces. Add about half cup of the reserved milk and puree the mixture. Next, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil in a thin stream (“a filo”). Add more milk, as needed, to get to a spreadable, smooth consistency. Season with freshly ground pepper.
Serve lukewarm, or cold (if preferred), with pepper water crackers.
3) “Bastoncini di sfoglia con gorgonzola, rosmarino e marmellata di fichi” (puff pastry twists with gorgonzola, fig jam, and rosemary)
This antipasto comes along really fast, while you prepare martinis for your guests, as a matter of fact. You are preparing one, right?
All you have to remember is to keep the puff pastry in the fridge in time to defrost. Then you roll it out, fill, brush with egg wash, season, bake and voila’.
You can also make them ahead, if you don’t mind them cold. I like mine lukewarm.
1 package (2 sheets) good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator for a few hours
1/2 cup gorgonzola (or other blue cheese), crumbled
1/2 to 3/4 cup fig jam or preserve
A few sprigs rosemary, de-stemmed, and chopped
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water (to make an egg wash)
Preheat the oven to 400F (200 C). Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.
Roll out the puff pastry into a square over a surface dusted with flour, without thinning too much. Spread the fig jam only on half side, leaving a small margin on the edges. Sprinkle the gorgonzola cheese over the jam and then sprinkle a few chopped leaves of rosemary over it. Brush the egg wash (not all of it!) on the other half of the puff pastry as well as around the unfilled edges. Fold the pastry over to form a closed pocket then, using your finger tips, press the edges to seal and remove air bubbles. Very carefully (this is messy business!), using a rolling pin, roll out the large pocket into a larger rectangle. Brush the remaining egg wash over the top and season with fresh ground pepper. Cut into strips using a pizza cutter (i find this to work great), then twist them a few times and place on lined baking sheet. Brush on last time with egg wash. Repeat procedure with the second sheet. Bake 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.