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A Christmas Eve Like No Other
Obviously for us, this Christmas Eve is going to have fewer creatures stirring, except of course, for the mice, which this year seem to have the run of the place. But even if it’s just the two of us and a few rodents, we will decorate, have a wee tree, and spread some gifts underneath. I think we all want to keep the Pandemic from erasing this holiday completely. I have even put up my Quacktivity in our center window box on the second floor of our building. It restores my sense of tradition and ridiculousness. This year, we ordered our Christmas Dinner from Open Hand which gave me more time to start some new traditions, like making Christmas cookies to hand out as gifts to our new mailman, who has been vigilant about where he leaves packages, and the delivery guys from UPS and FedEx, who have been equally careful and thoughtful. There is a rumor floating that Open Hand will be offering a New Year’s Dinner too, so check their offer at the end of this post. To top off this Christmas Eve, and as a reminder of the type of luck that has characterized so much of 2020, this seems the most appropriate video for the Night Before Christmas.
Just A Light Repast
I want to share our Christmas Eve menu, as it is always just a couple of dishes and a fruit compote — a dessert that represents my effort to not load up on cake or cookies, because I know what the week will bring. However, a few carbs are necessary to sustain oneself….
I recently purchased a cookbook Piatti by Stacy Adimando, an American food writer who has Italian roots. The focus of her book is to create a series of dishes that can be used with drinks, be part of a larger buffet, or in some cases, serve as a main course Don’t look in the back for desserts, because there aren’t any. But so far, I have tried several of her recipes, and this one borders on smashing. The Mortadella Slab Pie is so much better and more elegant than it sounds. It is a major hit with both parties here. You can wrap the remains, if there are any, in foil and freeze (just reheat in same foil in medium oven). I have also made this with thinly sliced celery and leeks instead of fennel. Also yum.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 6-8 oz (170-230gr) mortadella with pistachios, if possible, in any case, best quality you can get
- 1 17 oz (400gr) sheet of DuFour Puff Pastry
- 7 oz (200gr) fennel, trimmed, halved and sliced in half moons
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large egg
- All purpose flour for dusting puff pastry sheet if necessary
- 4 oz (115gr)grated Fontina Cheese or Comte Cheese
- 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Add the sliced fennel and season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until softened slightly, 5-6 minutes
- Stir in mustard, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and beat the egg with 1 teaspoon water and set aside.
- Roll out your puff pastry on a Silpat or parchment so that it is approximately 14x15 inches (355x38cm)).
- Transfer the sheet on the parchment or Silpat onto a metal baking sheet.
- With the short side facing you, lay the number of mortadella slices in an overlapping layer, leaving a1 inch 2(2.5cm) border -you may not want to use all of them.
- Add half the cheese, then the fennel mixture, and then the remaining cheese.
- Brush the edges of the dough surrounding the filling and flip the top half over to enclose the pastry case.
- With a fork, crimp the edges thoroughly and brush the egg wash over the top.
- Score lightly and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Slide the sheet onto a rack and bake for 25-35 minutes.
- Allow to cool a bit but serve warm
- 200gr (70z) orzo
- 400ml (1 2/3 cups)vegetable or chicken stock
- 400gr (14oz) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 red onion finely sliced into half moons
- 2 bay leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2-3 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- A handful of basil leaves, torn, or roughly chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 180C. (375F)
- Mix the orzo with the stock in a low-sided casserole or roasting pan about 9x12 inches (24x30cm)
- Scatter the tomato halves over the orzo and stock and then the onion slices.
- Insert a bay leaf at each end - about an inch or two from each short side.
- Sprinkle with sea salt and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.
- Transfer to oven and bake from 25 to 35 minutes.
- As soon as the pasta is cooked (it should be al dente and absorbed most of the liquid), drizzle across the top your olive oil.(the author suggests stirring the olive oil through lightly, but I prefer it just drizzled across.)
- Remove the bay leaves.
- Taste and season accordingly and sprinkle across your basil leaves or parsley.
- If you have tomatoes on the vine, the author suggests laying them across the tomatoes and orzo and it will add flavor. I have also used the basil stalks for the same purpose - just remove them along with the bay leaves before adding the basil or parsley.
Knowing that I am going to have a big Christmas Day meal, replete with fruitcake, plum pudding or Bûche de Noël, this compote is a lovely way to have something sweet with a kick on Christmas Eve, without blowing the calorie bank before the 25th. I have gotten so many fabulous recipes from this book published by the editors of Gourmet Magazine in 1997, that it has literally fallen apart and has pages stained from introduction to index. I make enough compote to have some for breakfast the next day. Note: I don’t know how Driscoll does it, but they have managed to create strawberries in name only. They have a blush of red color on the outside and are white as cucumber on the inside, with less flavor. Your only defense is a dash of the wild strawberry essence from Grasse or switch to the suggested raspberries (also by Driscoll), which are less flavor challenged
- 1/3(80ml0cup honey
- 1/3 cup (80ml)grappa
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 pink grapefruits
- 2 navel or caracara oranges
- 1 pint (473ml) strawberries hulled and sliced
- 1 cup (227ml) halved seedless green grapes
- In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, grappa and lemon juice.
- With a sharp paring knife, cut away the skin and pith of both the grapefruits and oranges.
- Working over the bowl, separate out the segments along the membranes of the fruit. I squeeze the juice from the remains right into the bowl.
- Add strawberries and grape halves and toss gently.
- Cover and keep refrigerated for at least an hour.
- If the strawberries are truly Driscoll's worst winter's example, you can switch to raspberries.- you just won't halve them.
Late-Breaking News for Christmas Eve
Open Hand loves Kitchen Detail readers and offers a New Year’s Eve dinner delivered on December 31, 2020 to residents in the DMV area with a 10% discount. Each celebration dinner is priced at $100.00 for a generous serving for two (you can order multiples if you have more people in your bubble with you). Fill in this reservation form before December 28th to insure your place. Get out your flutes and wine glasses for this menu:
A Must Have Italian New Year’s Eve Tradition of Cotechino with Lentils (it sends the bad spirits of 2020 away)
Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter and Osetra Caviar
Choice of Norwegian Salmon with Dill Potatoes, Baby Carrots, Spinach and a Horseradish Buttermilk Sauce
Tiramisu with Vin Santo Syrup
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.