Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu, and Holiday Wine Guide

It’s snowing today, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas is white in our corner of the Earth, so the rare lack of snow leading up to the holidays has been welcomed, but is also just slightly disconcerting.  Winter simply never skips Minnesota, though; sooner or later it will come.  So, as far as we are concerned it might as well snow now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, before we are all out on the roads traveling to the homes of family and friends.  A layer of pretty white snow will brighten the landscape and bring holiday cheer.

Plus, we’ve finished wrapping our gifts, bought the groceries for Christmas Eve dinner, and selected enough wine to carry us through the New Year.  Today we will start a fire, read a book or watch a movie and wait for Christmas to come.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
We smiled today as we read the many articles about the classic Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fish on Christmas Eve.  This tradition, sacred to many Italian Americans, is unheard of in Italy.  Seafood, however, is commonly the focus of the Christmas Eve meal in Italy, in accordance with the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and on certain holy days.

We are preparing the following seafood-based Christmas Eve meal for our family:

Antipasto
Insalata di polpo
Octopus Salad
Crostini con salmone e arugula
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Crostini
(Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco)

Primo Piatto
Spaghetti del pescatore
Spaghetti with Seafood
(Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, 2010 Luchetti)

Secondo Piatto
Pesce al cartoccio
Red Snapper, baked ‘al cartoccio’
(Fiano di  Avellino, 2008 Jovis)

Contorno
Insalata di arance
Orange and Fennel Salad
Patate al forno

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Dessert
Parfait di panettone e zabaglione
Panettone and Zabaglione Parfait
(Moscato, Bartenura 2010)

Due Spaghetti’s Holiday Wine Guide
If you are wondering about wines to pair with your own Christmas Eve and Christmas meal, if you’d like to gift a nice bottle or two, or if you simply want to have some good wine on hand over the holidays, here are a few of Due Spaghetti’s favorites:

Sparkling Wines

Pass on the Champagne and toast to happiness and good health with an Italian Prosecco.  Produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, Prosecco is light, crisp, aromatic and dry – a more uplifting sparkling wine than its French cousin.  One favorite is Col Vetoraz Prosecco.  

Another Italian sparkling wine we enjoy is Moscato d’Asti. Sweet and light, it is a traditional Christmas dessert wine.

Finally, for a sparkling sweet red also light with overtures of strawberry, try a Brachetto or Brachetto d’Acqui.

Whites

Sure, there are plenty of good bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio.  But there are even more exciting whites, many from from central and southern Italy.  A few of our favorites are:

Verdicchio – A wine from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast; its name is derived from the wine’s slightly green hue.

Falanghina – Produced from grapes that grow in the hills surrounding Mount Vesuvius, this wine was unheard of until recently, but is quickly becoming a hit.

Fiano di Avellino – This is another favorite wine that originates, like Falanghina, from the Campania region of southern Italy.  The Fiano grape also grows in volcanic soils, and Fiano di Avellino has a very slight sparkling quality.

Insolia – This Sicilian white is also lightly sparkling, and has a fresh citrus scent.

Arneis – This white is a stand-out from the Piedmont region, where reds rule.  It’s a full-bodied but refreshing and unique Italian white wine.

Reds

Distinguished Italian Reds recognized for their elegance and quality are Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  They will make a powerful impression on any table or as any gift.

Super Tuscans are also guaranteed to impress.  Super Tuscans are wines that are created when producers intentionally deviate from the standard blending requirements for DOC. and DOCG wines.  Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Ornellaia are excellent Super Tuscan wines.

Other lesser known Italian reds that we like are:

AglianicoAglianico is the name of a black grape from the south of Italy that produces a deeply hued and intensely flavored red wine.  Two to look for are Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi. These wines have yet to attract widespread attention, but it is only a matter of time.

Primitivo – The Primitivo is a parent grape to Zinfandel, and comparisons between Primitivo and Zinfandel abound.  This is an economical, pleasant and out-of-the-ordinary Italian red.

Lagrein – Made from grapes grown at the foot of the Swiss Alps, this powerful red from Italy’s Alto Adige region is making a come back.

Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and good drink to give them!

Insalata di arance

It’s time to lighten up a bit!

The Thanksgiving meal is now behind us, but December being the season of winter parties and holiday baking, more hearty, rich food awaits us.

We’re not complaining, of course.  We love this time of year and can’t wait to blog about some of our favorite seasonal foods – polenta con funghi e salsiccia, tozzetti, and panettone are a few of the recipes on deck at Due Spaghetti for the coming weeks.  We just think it’s a good idea to celebrate a few light and refreshing winter recipes, too.

Our inspiration for insalata di arance came from Luigi Vitali, baker-in-residence for Cossetta’s in St. Paul, recent recipient  of the Best Focaccia award in Minnesota Monthly.  Luigi, who comes from the village of Acquaviva delle Fonti in the Apulia region of Italy, was our guest for Thanksgiving dinner.

Serving such a traditional American meal to international guests inevitably leads to conversations about typical foods from their part of the world, and about half-way into our third wine, while musing over the presence of blueberries in our salad, Luigi told us how salt, pepper and olive oil are added to oranges in Southern Italy for a refreshing salad.

Oranges are a common winter food in many parts of Italy.  Each December, the citrusy smell of oranges and orange peel reminds us of Christmas time at Stefano’s mom’s house.  Two days following Thanksgiving, we still could not stop thinking about that orange salad! Ignoring the left-over mashed potatoes, wild rice, turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin and pecan pie in the fridge, we set about researching insalata di arance. 

Like so many recipes, there are variations on this one.  The one we settled on calls for oranges, fennel, anchovies, fresh oregano, black pepper, salt, and olive oil.  It is spectacular – the freshest, most aromatic salad you will ever enjoy, and the perfect break from the heartier foods of the winter season.

Ingredients for 2-4 servings
2 oranges*
Fennel, 1 small bulb or 1/2 of a medium bulb
2 anchovies
1 sprig fresh oregano
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil

*Dark red Sicilian blood oranges would be spectacular, if you can find them.  If not, any orange will work fine.  We couldn’t find blood oranges, so we used one naval orange and one large, firm tangerine in order to have some variety in color and flavor.

Directions
Use a paring knife to cut away the peel of the orange.  Slice past the white of the peel just into the flesh of the orange to remove all of the the bitter pith.  Slice the orange lengthwise into round discs, and then cut each disc into halves and then quarters, removing any white pith from the center.  Place the orange pieces into a bowl.

Cut the stems and fronds off of the top of the fennel bulb.  Remove any damaged outer layers from the bulb of the fennel.  Remove a thin slice off of the base of the fennel and discard.  Turn the fennel on its side and cut the bulb into thin slices.  Chop the slices into smaller parts, and add it to your salad.

Cut the anchovies into small pieces, and add them to the oranges and fennel.  Chop the oregano and add it, as well.  Salt and pepper liberally, and drizzle with 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir, and serve.

Download the recipe Insalata di arance.

Wine Pairing
Cusumano Insolia 2010

We wanted a wine that would not interfere with the zesty citrus of the oranges and the variety of flavors in the salad, but that instead would emphasize and highlight them.  Cusumano Insolia, a bright and lightly sparkling white, is produced in the same land where oranges grow under the warm Sicilian sun.  It was the perfect compliment to our insalata di arance.