Italian Christmas Eve dinners are a bounty of fish, vegetables, pasta, good bread, wine and lots of cookies. Each family have their own "traditional" favorites. It is the adherence to tradition and passing it along that makes the evening so special in my opinion.
Pizza from Tony D’s Pizza, Caldwell, NJ. Square in style like a Sicilian Pizza, but thinner crusted, it is made with a savory tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano cheese and then finished with fresh basil leaves. It is crispy and delicious and a great way to begin the evening while people wish each other Merry Christmas.
Antipasto of fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, fresh fennel, tomatoes and olives. My daughter Gina made fresh oven roasted tomatoes with oil and garlic that was a great addition to the antipasto.
Crab Cakes with caper mustard sauce were a new addition to the table this year and they were magnificent…and why not as they were prepared for me by “Top Chef” Ariane Duarte of Culin Ariane Restaurant, Montclair. They will be back next year for sure. Sorry no photo.
After taking a break to digest a bit and open gifts we returned to the table for the salad course and final three dishes. Gino made a delicious Romaine Lettuce Salad that was the perfect intermezzo before the pastas. Our pasta tradition ever since I can remember is Fedillini (thin pasta between Cappellini and Spaghettini) with Aglio, Olio e Accigua (oil, garlic and anchovy). For me, this is the highlight of the meal. I make this dish very wet so that the sauce can be soaked up with good Italian bread. It just does not get better than this.
There is also a delicious penne ala vodka that my daughter Gina makes for the kids and landlubbers who do not eat the Agili e Olio. The truth is most have some of both pastas.
Eggplant Rollatini, prepared for us by Mario from Divina, is served with the pasta. As always the ricotta filling was moist and silky. I am way to full by this time to eat this, but those that do love it.
Last, but not least there was dessert. My wife Carol is a terrific baker and her Biscotti & homemade cookies are always the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
1961 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo. What a shame as this bottle was completely gone. Cloudy ugly rosé like color. No bouquet and no taste at all. A very bad bottle. Something happened to this bottle during storage over the years would be my guess.
1961 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Cannubi. This was, in a word, magnificent. What a difference between bottles (both purchased from the same reliable shop). Amazing translucent red color. Virtually no browning for a 52 year old wine. Fruit was vibrant and in tact. Earthy bouquet, round and pure on the palate. A lengthy and elegant finish. Many years ahead for this wine. "Beppe" Rinaldi is in my opinion one of the top 3 producers of traditionally made Barolo in all of Piedmont. If you are a Barolo fan, I encourage you to purchase his wines. The 2008 and 2009 vintages are currently available at around $120. Chambers Street Wines, and The Manhattan Wine Company.
1979 Giovannini Moresco Barbaresco Podere del Pajore. I opened this to replace the F. Rinaldi and it may have been the wine of the night. 1979 was the last year Giovannini Moresco made wine before Angelo Gaja took over the vineyard. This was the last of 6 bottles I purchased a number of years ago from The Rare Wine Company. One bottle was flawed, 4 were superb, but this, the last one was phenomenal. It possessed a seductive earthy bouquet, with gorgeous pure and balanced fruit and a monster finish. This was as elegant a Barbaresco as I have ever had and was in the class of the Giacosa red labels. I wish I had more of this.
1990 Aldo Conterno Granbussia. Gino brought this along from his cellar. It was a very, very good wine, full-bodied with wonderful balance but quite a few steps behind the Rinaldi and the Moresco and far behind the legendary 1989 Granbussia.
1997 Dal Forno Romano Recioto della Valpolicella (375ml) and 1997 Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella (375ml). A terrific way to end an evening. While the Dal Forno was a nice expression of this style of wine, it was completely blown away by the Quintarelli, which displayed glorious fruit and magnificent balance between sweet and dry on the palate with a 60+ second finish. A wine with soul! I think these two bottles clearly show the difference between modern (Dal Forno) and traditionally made wines.
It was a terrific evening and Carol and I are able to enjoy it thanks to Mario and Wendy. Both work for Divinia Ristorante as waiter and waitress respectively. I have been fortunate to hire them to help out with final preparations, serving and clean up of the meal for the past 5 or 6 years. We do not know what we would do without them. They do a spectacular job. Thank you both!!!
As has become our new tradition the past few years, after a good night’s sleep, Carol and I have a delightful Christmas breakfast of Mimosas, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits with our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren at Gina & Nick’s house. After breakfast we get to watch in delight as Mia, Isabella, Nicholas and AJ enthusiastically tear open their gifts. Watching the joy they get from this is one of the highlights of the holiday.
Christmas dinner is across the driveway at our other daughter Lisa and Andy’s house (it is truly a blessing to have both your daughters and grandchildren next to each other and just a few miles away from us). Since we eat so much the night before, we keep it simple on Christmas Day. The highlight of the antipasto, as it its every year, is Andy’s homemade Pepperoni Bread. For pasta this year I made my grandmother DeRosa’s Lasagna. This is meatless Neopolitan Lasagna in which the ricotta filling and gravy (red sauce) are the stars. It is served with meatballs, braciole and hot and sweet sausage. I posted grandma’s recipe for the dish a couple of years ago. You can find it here.