A Traditional Italian Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in our house. Our tree has been up since December 8th, over the past few weeks we’ve gathered moss in the woods as the bed for our presepe where the kids set up the nativity scene (the three kings are still far away from Bethlehem, currently roasting a prosciutto on a spit in the middle of the desert!).

Since this year we have time on our hands, we’ve even made a wreath out of cypress and pine branches from our trees, and baked up a storm of sugar, gingerbread and rugelach cookies (the last two, however, are most definitely not Italian traditions). I hope I haven’t set the bar too high for future Christmases, as I doubt (and hope, really) that I won’t always have so much free time!


What’s really making me feel like it’s Christmas are the trays of tortellini we’ve been making, and because they keep well frozen, I like to make a little more than what we’ll be eating on Christmas day. Tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) are one of the Italian Christmas traditions I love most, and there’s really nothing like them when they’re homemade. Once you get the hang of them they’re really quite easy. Here are the recipes.

Pasta

  • 2 eggs (about 110 grams total)
  • 110 g. all-purpose flour
  • 110 g. Manitoba flour
  • Pinch of salt

Beat the eggs and them gradually add them to the flour and salt. Knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours before using, then knead again for a few minutes, divide the dough into pieces the size of golf balls, and run through your pasta machine one level at a time until you reach level 8 (my hand-cranked machine has 9 as the highest level). Make sure you always keep any dough you’re not working with covered with plastic wrap or a slightly damp dish cloth so it won’t dry out and become brittle.

Filling

  • 100 g. pork loin
  • 1 small sprig of rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic, cut in small chunks
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 100 g. Mortadella (Bologna)
  • 100 g. Prosciutto
  • 150 g. grated parmigiano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg

Rub the pork loin with salt and pepper and put the garlic and rosemary on top. Let sit for 30 minutes (or even overnight), but this isn’t essential. Cook the loin in butter for 2-3 minutes per side. Let cool. Remove the garlic and rosemary and cut into cubes.

In a food processor or meat grinder, grind up the Mortadella, prosciutto and pork loin. Mix with the beaten egg, nutmeg and Parmigiano cheese. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours before using.

Assembly

I like to roll out a ball or two of pasta at a time and make the tortellini so the pasta doesn’t dry out too much.  For each sheet of pasta you’ve rolled out, put it on a slightly floured surface, and cut it into 2-inch squares.  Take the filling and roll it into little balls the size of a small hazlenut, putting each ball on the center of a pasta square.

Dip your finger in water and moisten the edges of the pasta. Fold in half to make a triangle and press the edges of the pasta together to seal it, avoiding any air bubbles inside. With the point of the triangle resting on the inside or your index finger and the bottom of the triangle pressed gently under your thumb, use your other hand to wrap the other two angles of your triangle around the front of your thumb (nail side) and moisten them to seal them. You’ve now got a tortellini wrapped around your finger (well, thumb, technically!). Gently slide it off and put on a cutting board dusted with flour (semolina is best) which will keep it from sticking. After 30 minutes or so they should be dry enough to carefully store all together in the fridge, where they’ll keep for up to 3 days. If you want to freeze your tortellini lay them on a baking sheet or cutting board so they’re not touching and freeze for 30 minutes until the pasta is hard, then bag them and they’ll keep in the freezer for a good 6 months or more.

The Best Broth Ever

  • 12 c. water
  • 1 stalk celery (preferably with leaves)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cherry tomato
  • 1 potato
  • 2 springs parsley
  • a 2-inch piece of Parmigiano rind
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 2 tbs. salt
  • 1 lb capon*
  • 2 lbs  beef round

*The Christmas tradition in Italy is to eat and make broth with capon, which is a castrated rooster. The rest of the year I make broth with hen meat. If you can’t find that either regular chicken should work just fine!

Clean your vegetables and put everything together with the cold water in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 2-3 hours, until the chicken is very tender. Remove all of the solids from the broth and filter it through a seive. The meat and vegetables can be eaten immediately or cleaned and kept in the fridge for a few days. The meats are delicious accompanied  sauces such as horseradish & mayonnaise, salsa verde (a pureed mix of bread, anchovies, capers, olive oil, a touch of vinegar and a ton of parsley…and sometimes even a boiled egg), or any kind of sweet & savory compote, pickle or chutney.

5 comments

  1. Annie, this is a wonderful post, especially just before Christmas. Being limited on activity this year as my wife and I are focused on caring for her mother in her last phase of life, reading of your (new) life on a hilltop in Tuscany give us food for thought and a jog of sweet memories of those brief days we spent in Volterra in ’15 (with you) and again in ’16. I think I shall do a little archive diving and create a post myself… You have given Inspiration. Thank you for that Christmas Gift!! It’s our wish that you and yours have a blessed season and a healthy new year…!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howard, your generosity of spirit with these kind and thoughtful words is a gift. Thank you. Merry Christmas and heartfelt wishes for a peaceful and healthy New Year my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds wonderful, I would love to visit but things being what they are this not an option. Maybe next time I come to Italy to visit Lisa. Have a great Holiday and stay well.

    Like

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