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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

5 things to make your Holidays more Italian

The Holidays are always the moment when I miss my family and my hometown, my beautiful Venice the most. Just like the song says “I’ll be home for Christmas”,  that’s where I love to be and I always try to work my calendar and my Concerts in a way so I can be back home. But when I cannot make it, I always try to bring “Italy to me” no matter where I am in the world.

Here are five things you can do too to make your Holidays more Italian:

1. Have the traditional Panettone or Pandoro.
The “Panettone”, is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year. There are many legends about the origin of the name. My grandfather Ruggero, a baker himself, loved the 15th-century legend from Milan that tells that the invention of the cake belong to  the nobleman falconer Ughetto Atellani, who loved Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. 

To help her, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich cake to which he added flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, candied lemon and orange peel. The duke of Milan at that time, Ludovico Il Moro Sforza agreed to the marriage, which was held, as the legend says, in the presence of Leonardo Da Vinci and encouraged the launch of the new bread-like cake: Pan de Toni (or Toni's cake). There are many Italian brands that you can also find  in the USA, like Melegatti, Bauli, Motta, Moina and Paluani.

The “Pandoro”, is a traditional Italian sweet yeast bread. Most typically a product of Verona,  the “Pandoro” is traditionally shaped like a frustum with an 8 pointed-star section.
It is served dusted with vanilla powder sugar (zucchero a velo) to resemble the snowy peaks of the Italian Alps during Christmas.
The first acknowledgment of a dessert identified as “Pandoro” dates  back to the 18th century. The “Pandoro” is the product of the ancient art of bread making,  as the name Pan d'oro literally "Golden Bread", suggests.
Throughout the Middle Ages, white bread was consumed solely by the rich, while the common people could only afford black bread and, often, not even that. Sweet breads were reserved for nobility. The dessert was for sure served in the cuisine of the Venetian aristocracy. Venice was the principal market for spices as well as for sugar that by18th century had replaced honey in European pastries and breads made from leavened dough. It was in Verona, in the Venetian territory, that the recipe for making “Pandoro” was developed and perfected. The modern history of this dessert bread began on October 30, 1894, when Domenico Melegatti obtained a patent for a procedure to be applied in producing “Pandoro” industrially. You can find the Panettone and Pandoro in many supermarkets or gourmet food stores these days, or you can find them online.

 2. Cheers the holidays with a Bellini.
It is a cocktail mixture of Prosecco (sparkling Italian wine) and peach puree or nectar. This cocktail originated in my Venice too.
The Bellini was invented sometimes between 1934 and 1948  by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of the Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy. He named the drink the Bellini because its unique pink color reminded him of the vestments of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. The drink started as a seasonal specialty at Harry's Bar, a favorite hang-out place of Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Orson Welles. Later, it became popular at the bar's New York counterpart,  after an entrepreneurial Frenchman set up a business to ship fresh white peach purée to both locations.

3. Have a delicious piece of Torrone Natalizio
Torrone is a traditional winter and Christmas confection in Italy and many varieties exist. The traditional versions comes from Cremona, Lombardy region in Italy and ranges widely in texture (morbido, soft and chewy, to duro, hard and brittle) and in flavors (with various citrus flavorings, vanilla, etc., added to the nougat) and may contain whole hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or only nut meal added to the nougat. Some  versions are dipped in chocolate. The popular recipes have changed with time and differ from one region to the next. You can find several Italian brands in the United States these days. Mfavorite is Sperlari.

4. Make a Green White and Red Christmas Tree
Red, white and Green are the Christmas colors but also the colors of the Italian flag and looks so pretty on a Christmas tree and for  the Christmas decorations.
I love my green tree with snow like sparkles and I decorate it with beautiful red, green, white, silver and gold decorations.

5. Make some delicious Venetian cicchetti and tramezzini to welcome your guests and some cake pops as favors when they leave.
The cicchetti are little snacks, easy, heathy and super delicious and you can make them with basically everything. Here some of my favorites for Christmas.

Cut some bread in stars shapes and toast it to light brown. Make also some polenta (polenta is a typical venetian ground cornmeal. You need to make it in advance and refrigerate it so it will have a  a solid consistence). Cut the solid polenta in star shapes or any desired shapes.  Grill it with some olive oil. Now you are ready to make the cicchetti with meat, fish or vegetables, or your favorite topping.
Here some of my favorites :
-  Cicchetti with salmon mousse:
Ingredients:
-       8 ounces of smoked salmon - 8 ounces of ricotta cheese- 3.5 ounces fresh heavy cream – 1 sprigs of chives
Preparation:
Mix 6 ounces of the smoked salmon, the ricotta cheese and the chives. Add the fresh whipping cream Add a bit of salt if needed it. Put the mousse on the star shaped bread. Decorate with the rest of the smoked salmon and little sprigs of chives.

Cicchetto with prosciutto and mascarpone cheese (or Philadelphia cream cheese)
Ingredients:
- Half pound prosciutto 
- 1 quarter pound Mascarpone cheese or Philadelphia cheese 
-  parsley   
Preparation:
Spread the mascarpone or Philadelphia  cream cheese on the toasted star shaped bread, put a slice of prosciutto and same parsley to decorate.

-  Cicchetto with Polenta, mushrooms and cheese
Ingredients:
- 1 package  of ready Polenta (1 lb) 
- 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
- 2 package of mushrooms 
- 1 garlic clove 
- 1 cube vegetable bouillon 
- olive oil
- chilly pepper.
       
Preparation:
Prepare the mushrooms. Wash them and cut them in small pieces. Place in a frying pan a clove of garlic and some olive of oil until golden brown. Add the mushroom and chilly pepper. Add some water and the vegetable bouillon cube. Cook till ready. Spread the mushrooms in the grilled polenta and add some grated parmiggiano reggiano. Brown them in the oven till golden. Serve it cold or warm.

If you make polenta from scratch, when ready add some parmesan cheese and the cooked mushroom. You can also add some dry tomatoes and thyme. Mix all together and flatten the polenta on large surface until cool.  When cold give the polenta mixture a star shape and grilled it till golden. Serve cold or warm.
Tramezzini are delicious white bread little sandwiches and you can make them with egg salad, tuna salad or with atchoches pasta and mayonnaise. You can stock them one on top the other to form a little Christmas tree. 
Delicious and sparking.

-  Tortini of beats and goat cheese
Stack beats and goat cheese, decorate with parsley. You can cut them round or star shaped. You can also serve them in a little cocktail glass over a rucola salad dressed mayonnaise.


-    Palline di Torta - Cake Pops
This is something I used to make as a child with my grandmother and mother all the time to decorate the table, as children we loved eating them before dinner, even though they were were designed to be given as favors for our departing guests.
The cake pops are delicious little balls of cake covered with chocolate, or Nutella and decorated with colored sugar on a stick, which recall, by its shape, lollipops.  The cake pops are so much fun: you start by getting a prepared cake mixed with some jam (but you can also use Nutella or mascarpone). Then you form little balls that will be covered with dark or white  chocolate or Nutella. Put them on a skewers. Last step: use your imagination and creativity to decorate the cake pops in the way  you like them with sprinkles of sugar red,  green and white with grated coconut. The cake pops are a perfect recipe to prepare for a party,  for your kids or as a gift package to give to your guests before they leave.
Ingredients:
- 1 lb of sponge cake 
– 5 spoon of Nutella, or mascarpone or jam of choice 
- plastic lollipop sticks or wooden sticks
- grated coconut and colored sugar sprinkles 
- styrofoam base.
Preparation :
Break the cake with your fingers, possibly eliminating the crust if it becomes too dry and place the crumbs in a bowl. Now add about 4 tablespoons of your favorite jam (one at a time) or Nutella or Mascarpone, kneading with your hands until you get a fairly firm dough to form "balls". Formed with the mixture a ball little smaller than a walnut ball.  
Pose them on a baking sheet and let them harden in the freezer for about half an hour. Melt in a double boiler or microwave the chocolate and the white (in two separate containers) or some Nutella at room temperature. Get the sticks and insert  the cake balls . Immediately after dip the balls in chocolate (dark or white) or Nutella covering them completely.
Then cover them with grated coconut and colored sugar sprinkles ) red and green and let them dry stick them on a styrofoam base. You can make them as creative as you want when it come to decoration and presentation. You can even make a Christmas tree sticking them on a pyramid styrofoam form to resemble a Christmas tree or place the on Christmas mugs. Or decorate them with ribbons.
To get a more crunchy chocolate coating I recommend you keep the cake pops in the refrigerator. You can put them in little Christmas mug and also prepare some wrapped in clear plastic paper to offer to your guests as favors when they leave.

And of course play your favorite Christmas songs and sing along with me with some of my favorite tunes, such as "Astro del Ciel", "Tu Scendi dalle Stelle", "Mary Did You Know" and all the traditional American Christmas songs over and over...

I'm ready for Natale. Sono pronta per Christmas.

From Venice with Love,
Giada