It is October and I’m dreaming of Christmas Eve and wine pairings. I long to sit with family and friends around multiple tables with copious amounts of delicious simple food and wine. I’m homesick and I yearn for some sort of normality. Aren’t we all yearning for it? I envision the month leading up to Christmas Eve when Dad blasts Christmas tunes on repeat and Mom bakes too many cookies. Nostalgia washes over me. In October, I make travel plans and start the countdown for when I land in Boston, my first home. This year I won’t travel to Boston. I’ll celebrate Christmas Eve in Rome.
I grew up with traditions that arrived on the shores of Boston with my grandparents from Campania and Sicily in the 1930’s and remained somewhat frozen in time. Like many immigrants to the U.S., they adapted plates using available ingredients and so Italian-American recipes were born.
For many Italian-Americans La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) dinner is THE MEAL of the year – the feast of seven fishes. Why this feast? Oddly the so-called feast is considered a partial fast as no meat is served. Eating fish is eating light to reserve stomach space for a hearty meal on Christmas Day.
In our home in addition to no meat, no red sauce or red seafood (i.e. lobsters, crab, tuna) are served. In Italian style this partial-fast is a banquet-like feast. While some families serve 10, 12 or 13 courses, we serve seven to represent the seven sacraments. Red wine was exclusively poured until I started wine pairings 8 years ago.
Continuing with my nostalgia, my maternal grandparents from the region of Campania – the Pompeo-Aliberti family – hosted the affair. At its height we numbered 70+ (aunts, uncles, cousins and the plumber). As early as 2:00 pm, family and friends trickle in and out of the Aliberti kitchen for an aperitivo to kick of the evening and toast to the holiday and another year gone by. Caramel-hued brandy is poured into snifters. The smell of battered shrimp sizzling in oil intermingle with the pitter patter of children’s feet, laughter and clinking glasses. Wine is at the ready, always red in a jug by Papa’s feet and one bottle of Pinot Grigio exclusively for Aunt Joyce – my Scottish great-aunt-and white wine lover. My family drinks what they love.
As December 24th approaches prep starts at Casa Tringali in Boston and in Rome. I search for new wine pairings for the seafood marathon. Lucky for us Italy boasts more than 1,700 grape varieties. Although I won’t select wine pairings in Boston this year, Casa Mia is hosting a Christmas Eve wine and cheese online tasting in December. We pair 3 cheeses with 3 wines and suggest wine pairings for the dishes listed below. To learn more about the event look here!
Appetizers – Battered and fried shrimp and smelts.
First Course – Pasta con aglio, olio e alici (pasta with garlic, olive oil and anchovies).
Intermezzo – Broiled and marinated capitone (eel)
First side dish – Baccalà salad with olives and vinegar peppers
Second Course – Seared Scallops
Third Course – Oven Roasted Sea Bass
Second side dish: Escarole stuffed with anchovies and olives
What’s your holiday menu like? Let us know in the comments below!