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Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

Every year around mid December, friends and acquaintances start inquiring about everyone else's Christmas plans. For us they're a jumble of combining families, seeing one family and then another and then friends. Ours goes a little like this: a family dinner with my family and Mr NQN's on Christmas Eve, then my family Christmas Day, Mr NQN's extended family on Boxing day lunch and then seeing friends that are like family on Boxing day evening. We go back and forth seeing each family until New Year's Eve!

Christmas Dinner

As the Elliott family grows in size, the Ng family (my family with my parents and my sister) stays much the same. Mr NQN's brother Manu is overseas while the situation with his sister Araluen is complicated so it is a relatively small group of nine at our place. I asked Queen Viv to join us as her son isn't able to make it to Sydney from Brisbane and nobody should ever be alone on Christmas.

Christmas Dinner

The theme for this year's Christmas was formed a couple of months ago when we were in Italy. It's perhaps true to say that all food lovers have at some stage wished for Italian blood to run through their veins but it was when I was thinking about families and how they eat that I decided that Italy would be the theme. I started researching it and I found out that traditionally, the Italian meal taken on Christmas Eve is different from that on Christmas Day and of course there are variances with each region.

Christmas Dinner

Turkey "Porchetta"

Christmas eve is usually a meal replete with seafood dishes which happens to suit our warm weather perfectly. In the present day, a lot of people in Italy however are said to eat turkey for Christmas which suited me because I had seen a turkey porchetta in the window of a deli in Italy and thought that it was a brilliant idea. What I didn't figure on was a) a free range turkey shortage two days before Christmas or b) how easy it would be to produce something delicious and spectacular! Instead of cranberries, I took advantage of the fantastic fruit on offer and used spiced cherries cooked in red wine with a cinnamon stick. They take just ten minutes to make and are fantastic with the turkey.

Christmas Dinner

Soup and pasta also features on Italian Christmas menus and I decided to make a version of lasagna that I had wanted to make for the longest time but needed a special occasion for - a crab and leek lasagna. I crossed my fingers, bought a tub of crab meat and hoped for the best. It was the hit of the night and I was delighted when the whole thing disappeared without me even having to urge anyone to have seconds.

Christmas Dinner

Italian Roasted Vegetables

We had two main side dishes, a hot dish with Italian roasted vegetables seasoned with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and balsamic vinegar.

Christmas Dinner

There was also a fresh caprese salad, inspired by Rebecca's gorgeous wreath salad that took all of five minutes to put together!

Christmas Dinner

Dessert was inspired straight from our visit to the Testaccio neighbourhood where we visited a patisserie called "Barberini". It was there that I fell in love with a chestnut dessert that featured meringue and billows of whipped cream studded with small pieces of marron glaces. I wanted to recreate a simpler version because the kitchen would be busy enough as it was.

Christmas Dinner

Of course we finished things with Matilda's incredible cookies. She is a Dear Reader that has been reading for years and every year I have been lucky enough to get a beautiful box of her Italian ciambelle and biscotti! These were served along with slices of chocolate salami.

Christmas Dinner

Jett

Dinner was incredibly fun and I think the smaller number meant that people could easily negotiate our small apartment without feeling too over crowded. It was a night full of funny family stories from all sides and went into the wee hours of the night.

Christmas Dinner

Laporello

1 year old Jett, the son of Mr NQN's sister Amaya and Laporello was a delight amusing with his eager eating habits. He is a hungry eater and an adventurous one apparently picking up and happily biting into an onion! Plenty of games were played, presents were opened and not a single person went home hungry!

Christmas Dinner

Looking back on old family photos

Before I get onto the recipes first I want to send you all a heartfelt thank you for reading this little blog of mine. It has been over seven years and some of you have been there from the beginning while others are new readers. I think of every story as a letter written to each of you, I write them as though I am writing to a friend. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, full of warmth and happiness!

Lots of love,

Lorraine and Mr NQN xxx

So I'm so eager to know Dear Reader, what have you got planned for Christmas dinner or lunch and what are your plans for the holidays?

Christmas Dinner

Queen Viv

Christmas Dinner

Amaya and Tuulikki called the chocolate salami the vegetarian salami!

Christmas Dinner

Turkey "Porchetta" & Gravy

Christmas Dinner

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1.5 hours

One of the best things about travelling is seeing and eating new things that give you an idea to make at home. When I read that many Italians eat turkey at Christmas I knew that this would be the right size to feed our group and mercifully, it could be made ahead of time. Little did I count on a free range turkey shortage (it's a thing apparently!) and a wonderful butcher saved the day and I had my deboned turkey breasts ready to roll and carve. It's one of those things that is so embarrassingly easy that you think that you may have gotten away scot free without any drama! Well apart from the turkey shortage that is...

  • 2x attached turkey breasts, deboned, skin on (your butcher can do this for you)
  • 200g/7ozs. prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup rosemary and sage
  • 2 tablespoons salt flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Christmas Dinner

Step 1 - Heat the salt, rosemary and fennel seeds in a saucepan until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool. Grind in a mortar and pestle with the sage leaves. Lay out the turkey breast. Spread this mixture in all of the crevices and then lay prosciutto on top. Roll up and wrap in more prosciutto and then secure with kitchen string. You can do this a day ahead if you need to.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

Step 2 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Roast the turkey for 45 minutes per kilo. Allow to cool completely before carving so that it carves well.

Christmas Dinner

Step 3 - Reserve the juices in the pan and skim off the fat (I put it in the fridge as I baked it that morning to allow it to cool). Combine with a cup of chicken stock in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer. While it is heating, mix 3 tablespoons cornflour with 5 tablespoons of cold water to make a slurry. Turn the heat of the stock down to low and add the cornflour mixture and stir constantly while it thickens. If you want it thicker you can make a bit more cornflour mixture to thicken it further, it just depends on personal preference.

Spiced Cherries

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

I know, how spoilt are we for fruit during Christmas? I know that spiced cherries aren't a traditional accompaniment to a turkey but cranberries are difficult to come by in Australia. Given that they're down to $6 a kilo I just had to buy a kilo of them cherries. We ate some and poached the rest in red wine and cinnamon. It's also very easy to do this taking about 15 minutes from beginning to end. The reward is a bowl of heavenly spiced cherries that can go either sweet or savoury. It goes brilliantly on a cheese plate, over ice cream with the sauce or we served this with the turkey where it was the perfect accompaniment.

  • 750g/1.65lbs. cherries
  • 1 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or 3/4 cup if you want it sweeter, I suggest going with less and seeing what you think first)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Step 1 - Place the red wine, sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a medium sized saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved. Add the cherries and simmer for about 8 minutes or so, the cherries turn a slightly lighter colour once cooked. Be sure to move the cherries around so that the ones on the top get cooked too.

Step 2 - Using a slotted spoon, remove the cherries from the saucepan and set aside in a bowl. Increase the heat and rapidly simmer the red wine sauce until reduced slightly. Store the cherries in this sauce.

Crab and Leek Lasagna

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Do you know the bit where I said that there was some turkey drama? Well the morning of Christmas Eve I realised that I wouldn't be able to make the pasta dish that I wanted because I need to take photos and by the time that a dish has been photographed, the sauce often disappears back into the pasta making it one giant clump of pasta. Call it the usual problem of a food blogger. But then I remembered that there is a pasta dish that actually benefits from being made ahead of time and that is a lasagna. If you allow it to cool and then cut it up, then it comes out in beautiful pieces. On Christmas Eve morning I dodged traffic and people to buy some lasagna sheets and made this simple but luxurious crab lasagna. It's full of creamy, rich and mild flavours. You know that bit at Christmas where you just hope that you don't end up with too many leftovers? This entire lasagna disappeared and was an absolute hit with everyone that tried it. And yes you know what this means-I definitely urge you to make it!

  • 2 large leeks, white part
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • Oil for frying
  • 150g/5ozs. butter
  • 2/3 cup plain flour
  • 3.5 cups milk, heated up
  • 3 brown anchovies, finely minced
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 12 sheets lasagne (or enough to make four layers)
  • 225g/8ozs. crab meat
  • 150g/5ozs. mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

Christmas Dinner

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Trim the leeks and cut down lengthways. Wash out any dirt from the leeks if there is any and cut into half moon shapes. Heat a frypan onto medium heat and add oil and saute the leeks and onion until soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.

Christmas Dinner

Step 2 - Make the bechamel sauce. Heat the butter on medium heat in a saucepan until melted and add the flour. Whisk to create a smooth mixture. Pour a little of the milk in at a time, it is much easier to avoid lumps if the milk is hot - I find that you don't get any lumps as long as you don't tip the whole lot in there at once. Add the anchovies and nutmeg and whisk to create a smooth sauce. Set aside.

Step 3 - Ladle some bechamel on the base of a lasagna tray. I dip the lasagna sheets in water just in case otherwise they can soak up a bit too much of the sauce. Layer the sheets, some leeks and then a single layer of the crab and repeat until you end up with a layer of bechamel. Top with mozzarella and parmesan or pecorino cheese. Bake in oven for 30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for an hour or so and cut into portions.

Wreath Caprese Salad

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 0 minutes (don't you just love that?)

Every year I tend to make something in a wreath form, not consciously, but when I thought about it I realised that I always must have a wreath. This year's wreath item came from my friend Rebecca from Intolerant Chef who created a Christmas Caprese wreath. It would suit in that it would creatively present a simple salad but adorned in a way that it would fit both themes of Italian and Christmas. And you know how much I love a theme...

  • 200g/7ozs. mixed leaf salad
  • 200g/7ozs. punnet cherry tomatoes
  • 200g/7ozs. baby bocconcini cheese
  • 100ml/3.5 fl ozs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 75ml/2.65 fl ozs. aged balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh basil to decorate

Step 1 - Arrange the mixed leaves in a circular leaf pattern. Add cherry tomatoes and bocconcini on top. Chiffonade (finely slice) some basil and then decorate with some of the prettier leaves. Whisk the olive oil and vinegar together and dress the salad.

Roasted Onions, Potatoes and Carrots

Christmas Dinner

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

  • 1kg/2lbs. kipfler potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthways
  • 250g/8.83ozs. eschallots
  • 1 bunch Dutch carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic, still in skins
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 needle of rosemary, chopped

Christmas Dinner

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Place all vegetables and garlic cloves on a baking tray and toss in 3 tablespoons of oil and rosemary. Bake for 20 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss again and bake for another 15 minutes.

Christmas Dinner

Chestnut Cream Dessert

Christmas Dinner

An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott/Not Quite Nigella

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 2 hours 15 minutes

I have somewhat of an obsession with chestnuts. They're such a delicate but distinctly flavoured nut and I always associate them with happy occasions. Usually because when I eat them they're in a cake form and that qualifies as a happy occasion for me (cake eating). This is roughly inspired by a cake that I had in Italy but it's really quite different. The cake sits on a chestnut shortbread (so delicious!) and is topped with a layer of meringue and then whipped cream studded with marron glaces, sweetened chestnut cream and a whole marron glace with gold leaf.

Chestnut shortbread:

  • 100g butter
  • 1/2 cup caster or superfine sugar
  • 1/3 cup chestnut flour
  • 1/3 cup rice flour
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup caster or superfine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 350g jar sweetened chestnut puree
  • 4 marron glaces, 3 of them chopped up, 1 left whole
  • 300ml/10.6flozs. cream
  • Gold leaf to decorate

Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Beta the butter and sugar together until pale on medium high speed using a beater attachment. On low speed add the chestnut, rice and plain flour and salt. Shape into a ball and roll out to a 20cm/8 inch round. You can make a pattern around the edge if you like. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Prick holes with a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Christmas Dinner

Step 2 - Preheat oven to 100C/212F. Line a baking tray with parchment and trace a large circle around 20cms/8inches in diameter. On medium to high speed, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and pour sugar in a steady stream. Whip until stiff peaks form and you can tip the meringue upside down without it moving.

Christmas Dinner

Step 3 - Place the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a 1M large star tip. Pipe in a circular pattern. Bake for 2 hours and then turn off the oven and allow to cool completely in oven.

Step 4 - Spread some of the chestnut puree on the chestnut shortbread and gently place the cooled meringue disc on top.

Christmas Dinner

Step 5 - Whip the cream until you get a pipeable texture. Place half of this in a piping bag fitted with a 1M star tip. Place a third of the chestnut puree in a piping bag fitted with a small star tip.

Step 6 - Mix the chopped marron glaces with the remaining half of the whipped cream and dollop this in the centre on top of the meringue. Pipe the whipped cream in patterns as well as the sweetened chestnut puree. Place the whole marron glace on top with the gold leaf on top. This can be made a couple of hours ahead of time but it is not recommended for transportation.