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!

Tozzetti

It’s December, and weekends are dedicated to holiday baking.  We keep things simple – just the 3 or 4 special Italian holiday treats from Stefano’s childhood that now have become part of our family traditions.  There are precisely the right number of weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything in: salame di cioccolatopanpepato, mostaccioli, and tozzetti.  This year, before Luigi returns to Italy for good, we may try to add panettone to our repertoire.

Tozzetti

This weekend it’s tozzetti, which are sometimes called cantucci in Italy, and are incorrectly called biscotti here in the States.  As recipients of the Cannolo Award for Authentic Italian Food, we have the responsibility to educate our audience and correct misconceptions, so let’s take a moment to talk about biscotti.

This discussion is very similar to a previous post about bruschette and crostini.  The word biscotto (singular) can be broken into two parts: bis, the Latin suffix indicating two; and cotto, which means cooked.  Biscotto, therefore, means “twice cooked.”  This is actually an accurate description of tozzetti, which we are writing about today, because they are baked twice.  However, in Italian biscotto is a broad term, corresponding to “cookie” in American English or “biscuit” in British English.  There are lots of different types of biscotti (plural), just like there are many types of cookies.

The biscotti sold in coffee shops in America would not be called biscotti in Italy.  They’d be called tozzetti or cantucci.  However, in Italy they are smaller and more delicately flavored.  Like so many things in America, our biscotti have become over-sized and over-elaborated.  There is no-such thing as “chocolate-dipped biscotti” or “caramel macchiato biscotti” in Italy; those are Starbucks inventions.  And, that “o” in the second syllable is pronounced “oh” not “ah,” like this.The difference between tozzetti and cantucci is a bit more elusive, and like so many Italian recipes it is mostly a regional difference.  Cantucci, also called cantuccini or biscotti del Prato, are typical of Tuscany.  They are usually made with almonds, and are often paired with Vin Santo, an amber-colored Tuscan dessert wine.  Tozzetti are more common to the Umbria and Lazio regions of central Italy.  They are sometimes made with almonds, but more commonly contain hazelnuts, pine nuts or bits of chocolate.

Tozzetti

Stefano’s mom, Maria, makes tozzetti with hazelnuts in very traditional fashion.  Over the years, we’ve experimented with different flavors and ingredients, but we eventually returned to a recipe much like Maria’s, typical of the Castelli Romani, the hilltowns outside of Rome.  We call them tozzetti. Another may call them differently. Regardless of what they are called, they are delicious.

Ingredients
for 4-5 dozen tozzetti

3 eggs
225 grams (1 cup) sugar
500 grams (4 cups) flour
50 grams (3 & 1/2 Tbsp) butter
300 grams (approx. 3 cups) crushed hazelnuts or sliced almonds
1 pouch of lievito Pane degli Angeli
1 shot glass of amaretto or brandy

Directions
Spread the nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Toast them in an oven preheated to 350°F (180°C) for around 10 minutes or until they have taken a golden brown color and a nutty smell, and set them aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and the liqueur.  Add the flour and lievito Pane degli Angeli, and mix gently until the dry ingredients are absorbed.  Mix in the nuts.

Using your hands, divide the dough in quarters.  Work work each section of dough into a long, uniform log and place two logs onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F (180°C).  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Leave the oven on.

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Carefully transfer the baked logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 1/2 inch wide tozzetti.  They will be crumbly, so take care to not break them.  Return the tozzetti to the baking sheet, lay them on their sides, and place them back into the oven for 10 more minutes without turning them.  Let them cool completely (if you can resist).

Tozzetti

Tozzetti

Enjoy your tozzetti with coffee, milk or tea at breakfast, or with a dessert wine such as Vin Santo or Passito after dinner.

Readers, did you grow up eating tozzetti or cantucci during the Christmas holidays?  What is your understanding of the difference between the two?