Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Hungry Italian has written his letter to Santa. Read it at

It's Simply Christmas

Fig.1. Bresaola, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and fresh figs, sprinkled with oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Plates like these will make entertaining easy. This time of the year, use clementines or melon instead of figs.

Fig.2. Eastern European specialty shops such as Slovenia and Ron Mish can turn your Christmas party into an event to remember--and talk about.

This time of the year I often get asked for Christmas dinner ideas. What to serve at Christmas parties weighs heavy on people’s minds, and yet, rather than being a pleasure, entertaining becomes a burden and just another chore during an already busy and stressful time of year. As with everything conducive to healthy living, my advice is always to keep it simple. I know you’ve probably heard this before, so maybe it’s about time you listen.
There are plenty of obsessive food producers who labor feverishly in their creations: use their complex, multifarious products to make your life simple; in the end, you’ll come out looking like the hero, when, in reality, all you’ve really done is some cutting and plate arranging.
It is possible to entertain for a crowd without turning on your stove. Cured meats are the way to go. Salumi of any variety and ethnicity will work. Imagine platters of assorted salami, prosciutto, coppa, lonza, capicollo, and pancetta. Or some cured meat from the Eastern Block, such as Kovbasa, liverwurst, saltison (head cheese) and karnatzel; apart from tasting good, a variety of artisan and local cured meats will give you and your guests something to talk about, who knows, you could end up converting some archaic baloney eaters. Now that the meat is done, imagine plates of vegetables, in oil or vinegar, such as jardinière, eggplants and mushrooms. Plates of fresh vegetables, such as sliced fennel, radicchio and radishes, drizzled with a good olive oil, and salt and pepper. Plates of cheese (there are too many to name—you figure it out.) Bowls of olives and nuts, spreads such as, rillette, pâté, hummus, baba ganoush and taramosalata. Let’s not forget fish: smoked salmon, pickled herring, or a nice variety of sushi. And bread, don’t forget plenty of bread. Feeling guilty for not doing anything yet—then make a green salad. For dessert: fruit. Again, serve something different, persimmons, pomegranates, cactus pears and blood oranges. If you must have a sweet, just make sure it doesn’t live in a cardboard box before you unleash it on your guests. From cakes, cannolis to cupcakes, there are plenty of places in Montreal who can help you finish the evening with plenty of culinary integrity.
Some of you are thinking: this isn’t enough food. Believe me it is. Just make sure you set out enough for seconds. Any guests who still feel “unsatisfied” after a spread like this are in all likelihood problem eaters who never know when they are satiated. In this case, you’ve done more than simply entertain; you have awakened them to proper food and helped them on their way toward a new and better outlook on food.
It’s the end of the evening; your guests are happy, educated, boozed up (except for the one’s driving of course.) it’s time for them to leave. “Thanks for coming, see you next year, and say hi to your mother for me.”

Fig.3. Pickled vegetables, or "giardiniera" as it's referred to by Italians, combined with some cold cuts and cheese, make for a perfect panini.

-Look for variety, something different—think outside the box.

-Make the food flow. When you’re planning your menu, plan with a theme or region in mind: Italian, French, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian—you get the idea.

-Don’t look for ideas in big, box stores, where frozen, prepared foods are hailed as the answer to all of life’s problems; instead go to smaller, ethnic markets, and specialty food shops, such as Adonis, Inter-marche, Milano, and Charcuterie Noel.

-Don’t be afraid to talk to the people who make the food. You won’t be bothering them, people who take pride in their products are happy to respond to questions.

Fig.4. Fruit for dessert? Why not. In some parts of Sicily, oranges are sliced and drizzled with olive oil.

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