Welcome to our crazy COVID 2020 Christmas! It wasn't a normal Christmas family celebration but instead one with a small group of friends celebrating the holidays. On the table was a three course feast starting with the Italian tradition of the Feast of Seven Fishes with a spread of wonderful Italian Christmas seafood. Then segueing onto pasta, meat and four desserts! Come and take a peek at the dishes we ate!
Tuna tartare with caviar and potato chips
I'm sure for many of us, this year's Christmas will go down in infamy. It isn't the way most people would want to celebrate it. A couple of weeks ago when my Italian food twin Monica and I were discussing Christmas away from families we decided to collaborate on a friends Christmas feast.
Italians, particularly in Southern Italy have a tradition on Christmas Eve called the Feast of Seven Fishes. That's because they eat seafood on Christmas Eve and save meat for Christmas Day. For those of us having a hot summer the feast of seven fishes suits our Australian love of seafood at Christmas.
There are some key foods as part of the Italian Feast of Seven Fishes. Monica made baccalà mantecato which is a creamed salt cod. The process for this emblematic Venetian dish is wrapped up in Venice's history as a port and trading city. Making baccalà mantecato takes two to three days and the soaked codfish is cooked in milk, peppercorns and bay leaves and then is blended with a mild extra virgin olive oil. The baccalà ends up being so deliciously creamy (you must try it!) and it is served with grilled polenta.
Another dish Sarde in Saor or sweet and sour marinated sardines. This is also a Venetian dish, which is where Monica's partner Marco is from. The sardines are deep fried and then marinated in a sweet and sour vinegar solution with onions and raisins.
Monica also brought over some tuna tartare served with potato chips and caviar (this dish sums up Monica and I perfectly) and and kingfish sashimi dressed with soy sauce, red yuzu kosho, sesame oil and lemon juice as Crudo di Pesce is usually served at the Feast of Seven Fishes. She also brought freshly live Pambula shucked oysters with mignonette dressing. Along with my prawn cocktail and Scallops Venetian style, our feast of seven fishes was complete.
Venetian style scallops
I took care of most of the hot dishes as Christmas dinner was at our house. I made grilled Scallops Venetian style which are topped with parsley, garlic, olive oil and breadcrumbs and grilled.
Pasta alla vodka with Burrata
I also made a prawn cocktail, pasta alla vodka with individual burratas, apricot chicken roulade and gravy, hasselback potatoes roasted with prosciutto, a tomato and peach caprese salad.
Ice Cream Stuffed Pandoro
Then there were four desserts: an ice cream stuffed pandoro, pistachio panettone and a macaron Christmas tree. Christmas isn't complete without a plate of Dear Reader Matilda's wonderful Italian biscuits! She bakes these every year and if we are lucky we get a box of these. My memory of the period between Boxing Day and New Year's Day is always nibbling on her biscottini and ciambellette.
We also invited over our friends Ahana and Sagaar for Christmas dinner. They're originally from India and it was also their first time celebrating Christmas. When I asked them about dietaries Ahana said, "We don't really eat seafood apart from prawns," which was a slight cause for alarm. "We'll try everything," she reassured me.
Just in case, I made the apricot chicken roulade and potatoes for them. It came to Christmas Eve and we were very excited at our first friends only Christmas. With the strains of everyone's favourite Christmas song "All I want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey, Monica and Marco arrived with their bags of food and tools. She shucked the oysters and we set out the food on the Christmas table. Monica also loaned me her beautiful hand stamped tablecloth from Stamperia Bertozzi in Rimini, Italy.
Ahana and Sagaar arrived and after some Spiced Rum cocktails we sat down to eat. The first course was all the seafood and a green salad with palm sugar dressing. I was so happy to see that both Ahana and Sagaar dug into the seafood with gusto. It was their first time eating scallops and baccala and it was so nice to see them enjoying everything. Ahana loved the baccala and polenta and Sagaar loved the grilled scallops. The rest of us are seafood lovers and we devoured the seafood spread. It was hard to pick a favourite as it was all so delicious. If I could, I'd do the Feast of Seven Fishes every year!
Then we served up the second course. I think by this stage we were getting too full to eat much (that's what happens with an Italian and Chinese come together to make dinner haha) but out came all the hot dishes.
Teddy was actually much better behaved than last year where he was a bit of a handful. He only really pestered us when it came to prosciutto. I swear he can hear the sound of prosciutto. When I accidentally dropped a tiny square of it he was in the kitchen like a flash. We joked that Teddy's biography will be called, "The Sound of Prosciutto."
We had to have a break then before dessert so we played some games. Then it came to dessert and I served up slices of the pistachio panettone that Carm had gifted me. This luxe panettone was literally the best panettone I've ever eaten. It came with some pistachio paste and a knife and the texture was just so incredibly and fluffy. Even Teddy was a massive fan and ran away with the plastic bag that it came in. We also served up a pandoro stuffed with pistachio gelato and raspberries and the macaron Christmas tree.
Just before he ran away with the panettone bag
And the icing on the cake? Monica's gift to me left me speechless and teary. It was a happy cry but it also felt like the whole burden of 2020 and everything just lifted off my shoulders after I shed some tears.
Matilda's delicious Italian Christmas Cookies!
Monica opened her iPad and asked me to turn off the music and then started to play a video for me. It was the actor Melora Hardin who played my favourite character from the office (Jan Levinson-Gould) with a personalised Christmas message just for me! I am a massive fan of The Office and my favourite episode is Dinner Party for its exquisite cringe and relatability. I also think that Jan is a misunderstood and villainised character.
Melora sang me a few lines from the song in the episode and basically crafted the most perfect video message ending in the tag line, "That's what she said." I've put it on my Instagram stories in case you want to see the video. I could not believe that Monica had thought of such an amazing gift-I didn't ever dare to dream that big!
And do you know what? This topsy turvy year ended in a big bang! And that's what she said.
So tell me Dear Reader, tell me ALLL about your Christmas! What did you eat? What did you do? Did you get any cool presents?
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Spiced Rum Orange Sparkling Cocktail
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 4 readers
All Original Recipes by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 5 minutes plus 4 hours steeping time
Cooking time: 0 minutes
- 1/2 cup raisins or sultanas
- 1 cup spiced rum
- 3 cups soda water
- 1 orange, sliced thinly and then sliced in half moons
- Rosemary to garnish
Step 1 - Soak sultanas in rum for 4 hours or overnight. Drain the rum which should be nice and sweet and spiced. Mix with soda water and serve with a glass with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary.
The rum soaked sultanas are great for fruit bread or served atop vanilla ice cream.
Scallops Venetian Style (Capesante Gratinate)
- 12 scallops on the shell
- 1/2 cup toasted fine breadcrumbs
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- Small handful of parsley leaves
Step 1 - Finely chop the garlic and parsley together and mix with the breadcrumbs and oil. Take the scallops and with a sharp knife slice underneath them to remove them from the shell. Top with the breadcrumb mixture dividing it evenly among the scallops.
Step 2 - Place the scallops on a baking tray and preheat the grill to medium high. Grill for 5 minutes or bake at 180C/350 for 8 minutes and serve with lemon.
Peach Tomato Caprese Salad
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 0 minutes
- 3 medium good quality tomatoes, sliced
- 2x100g Mozzarella balls, sliced as thick as the tomatoes.
- 2 peaches, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
Step 1 - Layer sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and peaches in a circular wreath pattern. Whisk the balsamic vinegar with the oil and drizzle on top. Season with salt and pepper and add basil leaves.
Individual Burrata With Pasta Alla Vodka
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
- 500g/1.1lbs dried pasta (penne is most often used)
- 1250ml/44flozs. your favourite tomato pasta sauce (I used this homemade tomato sauce)
- 1/4 cup/60ml/2flozs vodka
- 1/2 cup/125ml/4flozs. tomato paste
- 1 cup/250ml/8.8flozs. cream
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 8 mini burrata cheeses (one per person) 100g each
- Lulu's Remedy chilli oil (or your favourite chilli oil)
Please note: the pasta sauce above that I used has buter, onion and garlic therefore omitting the need to add these as it is already delicious and seasoned on its own.
Step 1 - Cook the pasta in a large pot in plenty of salted water. While it is cooking make the sauce. Heat the pasta sauce up in a saucepan and add vodka and tomato paste to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
Step 2 - Stir in cream and cheese and taste for seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste add the drained, cooked pasta. Spoon into bowls and top each bowl with a mini burrata and drizzle Lulu's Remedy chilli oil on top.
Prosciutto Hasselback Potatoes
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1.5 hours
- 2kgs/4.4lbs potatoes (waxy like Dutch cream are ideal. mine were large potatoes around 110g/3.8ozs.)
- 150g/5ozs. prosciutto, cut into pieces
- 150ml/5flozs. duck fat, melted
- Salt and pepper to season
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F and a line a tray with parchment. Wash and peel potatoes. Take a large spoon and a sharp knife and cut slices in the potato-the spoon will prevent you from cutting all the way through.
Step 2 - Place the potatoes on the tray and drizzle with 3/4 of the duck fat and roast for 30-60 minutes (depending on how big the potatoes are). You want the potatoes to start pulling apart. Then remove from the oven and slide slices of prosciutto between some of the cuts using a knife to prise the potato apart (it will be hot). Drizzle with a little more duck fat and return to the oven to 30 minutes until prosciutto is crisp.
Ice Cream Stuffed Pandoro
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 0 minutes
- 1x 700g/25oz. Pandoro
- 600ml/21 flozs. pistachio gelato
- a dozen raspberries
Step 1 - First make sure there is room in your freezer for the pandoro as it is quite large. Cut out the centre of the pandoro bread trying to leave an inch or so of cake on each side. You can use the filling in a trifle.
Step 2 - Fill with the gelato and raspberries and press down gently to ensure that there are no air pockets. Freeze completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into slices and serve.