Food in Italy is fabulous all year ‘round. But there is definitely extra love put into all dishes enjoyed around Christmas time.
As with the Slow Food* ideals developed in line with traditional cooking methods in Italy, recipes evolve throughout the year in-line with the freshest of in-season produce.
At Christmas time, in the north of Italy, the traditional dish that is so good it has spread down throughout the country is ‘Bollito’ ? it a mixed of various boiled meats. The water in which it is cooked in also makes a delicious stock, which tortellini are often served in, sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Served with the meats are a variety of sauces ? ‘salsa verde’ (green sauce made with parsley), home-made Italian-style mayonnaise and spicy candied fruits are typically found to combine with the meats.
This week, in preparation for Christmas, we gathered around a large table, the nearby window a perfect portrait of the stunning Tuscany countryside beyond. After whetting our appetites on some delicious ‘crostini’ breads, local hams and Italian cheese varieties, we dined on tortellini in brodo (tortellini pasta parcels in broth) for a starter, and Bollito misto for the main.
For dessert, we opted firstly for the most simple of Italian sweets ? fresh fruit. Just-picked mandarins, melograno and pomegranate delivered straight from the ‘orto’ (fruit and vegetable garden) to the fruit bowl, bursting with flavour and goodness.
Our second dessert was a ‘Budino’ (pudding). These can be made in a variety of ways depending on nonna’s handed-down recipe, but we opted for ‘Budino di semolino’ ? semolina pudding (recipe below).
Finally, we had a few ‘biscotti’ too ? freshly made by the local baker who gives us a generous paper bag full of these delights whenever we see him. Filled with whole hazelnuts, almonds and occasionally chocolate chips, they are delicious dipped into Vin Santo liqueur ? or on their own. The original recipe for these Italian sweets came from the Tuscan area of Prato, and were known as ‘Biscotti di Prato’. However, any variation on the traditional recipe is known as either ‘cantucci’ or ‘cantuccini’ depending on the way the recipe is altered.
Sipping our bitter espresso coffee to conclude the meal, we realized that it had taken some 3 hours to work our way through these traditional, delicious Tuscan recipes, and the light over the Tuscan hillside beyond had already set in to relaxed afternoon mode.
Throughout the meal, the conversation concerned Italy’s favourite topics of the moment ? the recent snowfall in Italy, the Christmas recipes we’re in the midst of preparing, the wonderful Christmas festivals and things to do in December throughout Italy, and the occasional local gossip just to mix things up a bit!
Here is the Tessa Kiros recipe for Budino di semolino’ from her ‘Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook’. It’s from the ‘January’ section, but it’s so good we couldn’t wait!
BUDINO DI SEMOLINO
Recipe by Tessa Kiros
100 g (3.5 oz) sultanas
4 tablespoons Marsala or port
1 litre (4 cups) milk
250 ml (1 cup) water
150 g (5.5 oz) fine semolina
150 g (5.5 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
50 g (1.75 oz) butter, plus a little extra for greasing
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
4 eggs, separated
Fine breadcrumbs for lining the cake tin
200 g (7 oz) good quality, unsweetened dark chocolate
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream
This is a very homely, satisfying winter dessert, which you can make even simpler by leaving out the sultanas and liqueur. Also, you can serve plain without the chocolate, slightly warm and cut into squares or diamond shapes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Soak the sultanas in the Marsala in a small bowl.
Put the milk with the water into a saucepan to boil. Just as it comes to the boil, add the semolina in a thin steady stream, mixing continuously with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps forming. Add the sugar, the butter and lemon zest, and cook on a medium heat, stirring regularly.
When the semolina has absorbed most of the liquid and has the consistency of not-too-stiff porridge, remove it from the heat. This should take less than 10 minutes. Mix in a pinch of salt and add the sultanas and the Marsala. Leave it to cool slightly.
Whip the egg yolks lightly and add to the semolina, mixing in quickly to avoid scrambling them. Whisk the whites to soft peaks and fold through thoroughly into the semolina.
Butter a 28 x 5 cm (11 x 2in) round or square cake tin. I always use a square tin, as I like mine cut into squares when cooked.
Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs to line the tin, shaking away any excess.
Pour in the semolina mix. Bake in a bain-marie for 30 – 40 minutes, until the top is lightly crusty and golden. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before turning out and flipping over again onto a plate.
If you’re feeling saucy, here is the Tessa Kiros recipe for Chocolate Sauce that is perfect drizzled on the Budino, or many other dessert recipes:
Recipe by Tessa Kiros
200g good quality dark chocolate
Cut chocolate into slivers and add to the cream in a small saucepan set over a larger saucepan of simmering water, mixing with a wooden spoon to melt. Working quickly, spoon the melted chocolate over the surface of the cooled cake, spreading it evenly over the top and slightly down the sides.
* Artviva is a proud supporter and member of Slow Food, and specialises in small-group, quality (and fun) tours in Florence/Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre and beyond.
There are many great Slow Food events on in Italy in December.
Visit www.italy.artviva.com for more information on walking tours in Florence, our Uffizi Gallery tours, a guided tour to the Accademia museum, Artviva’s small-group tours in Tuscany, guided tours of Rome and skip-the-line Vatican tours, as well as our Venice activities. We also have hands-on Tuscan cooking classes available too. We’re also contactable by email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tessa Kiros, a good friend of Artviva, is a participant in the Artviva Festival giving visitors to Tuscany a chance to meet local authors, artists and aristocrats, including wine tasting and insights into Italian culture.