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  • How to Host an Old World Feast
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Halloween is just around the corner, which means the department stores and advertisers are already starting to hock Thanksgiving and the holiday season. It seems to creep up on us faster every year. But this time around I'm going to be prepared to whip up a traditional southern Italian holiday meal in no time - and you're invited.

    Nonna's sheets from the Old country will cover the long candle-lit table that includes a bouquet of herbs and loaves of Italian bread for centerpieces. Everyone from your parents to your third cousin twice removed will be invited.

    The printed menu on your plate will be burned at the edges and will bring out the best of southern Italy's Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Epiphany meals. Americans might consider some of these dishes as an alternative or addition to Thanksgiving turkey.

    Think of the food as part of the décor because it will be a feast for the eyes and the stomach. It will consist of the following:

    --Fried calamari (with flour, not breadcrumbs)
    --Baccala? (an Italian cod fish)
    --cold cuts (from dry sausage to provolone)

    Antipasto is my favorite part of the meal and it sets the tone for the rest of your feast. The key to making sure your calamari is not rubbery is frying it quickly. That means making sure the oil is very hot. Then just drop it into the vat or pot and take it out as soon as it is crisp and brown at the edges. Baccala? is not for everyone. It is a cod fish that can be served fried or in sauce - and not everyone has a taste for it. But it's a staple of Christmas Eve, when southern Italians refrain from eating meat. Many of them serve seven types of fish including baccala? and eel. Cold cuts are often part of antipasto but the meats are left out of the vigile dinner. The wine should be flowing from the very beginning.

    --Linguine con le vongole (with clam sauce)

    Clam sauce is the perfect starter for a traditional holiday meal and often makes an appearance on the famous Christmas Eve dinner in southern Italy. For this dish, I thought I would share my mamma's recipe. Here goes:

    ¼ to ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
    2 dozen fresh little neck clams
    6 cloves of garlic chopped
    Bunch of flat leaf parsley chopped
    2 lemons
    1 cup chicken broth

    Soak clams in cold water with vinegar to get dirt of shells. Scrub, rinse and dry clams.

    In a large pan, heat olive oil. Put clams, garlic, parsley and lemon juice in a pan. Put a cover on the pan. Let cook about 10 minutes until clams open. Put broth in and let simmer five minutes.

    Serve over boiled linguine.

    After the pasta, you move to secondi - remember, Italians linger over their food and savor it. You should do the same.

    --Grilled sausage with lemon, olive oil, and rosemary

    My family picked up this recipe from my cousin in Ischia who made it at a barbecue for us. It was delicious and we've been making it here in the States every since. The best part? It's simple. Just grill the sausage and then mix up lemon, olive oil and rosemary and let the sausage soak in it for a few minutes. Mmmmhmmm. I'm making myself hungry now. Thankfully, the meal continues.

    --Clementines and roasted chestnuts

    The clementines will clean your palette. I know what you're thinking the roasted chestnuts will give Nonno Rocco bad gas - but the scent from roasting will mask the foul odors emanating from your guests. Italians believe that fennel is a great way to end a meal because its licorice taste and composition aid in digestion. It could clear up any other intestinal problems you're having - especially if you're not used to eating such a large meal.

    --Italian pastries

    The best way to "make" authentic pastries is to find your favorite shop - run by authentic Italians - and purchase everything from cookies to cannoli. Put them on a good tray and no one has to be the wiser.

    Around December, most of these pastry shops will start displaying struffoli or honey balls. It's a favorite in Naples - and offers a sweet ending to any meal. Of course, an Italian meal would not be complete without espresso, which can be served with or without Sambuca. As hostess, however, you must have the Sambuca on hand in case anybody wants it. Consider it a main rule of Italian etiquette. I have just one thing left to say: Buon appetito!


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