I decided to ask 2 very good friends, both award winning chefs, to send me their Christmas traditions and a recipe. Chef Jasper Mirabile from here in Kansas City and Judy Witts Francini of Tuscany, have both responded with generosity and kindness, more than willing to share.
When I asked Jasper Mirabile if he would be willing to send his family’s Christmas menu so I could post it on my blog, he jumped right in with both feet! Wow, the Mirabiles know how to eat!
Here, in Jasper’s own words, is the menu they have every year at Christmas
“Christmas Eve morning, all the granddaughters go to Nana's (that is Jasper’s Mom) and make the traditional Sicilian pizza with Nana...a family tradition. Later on, we always do a version of the feast of the seven fishes...Pasta with Lobster; shrimp splashed with sherry and caramelized onions; fresh crab meat cocktail; fried sole; seared scallops, sometimes baccala (dried salted cod) but the younger generation won't eat this. Next, a big beautiful baked ham. Then we have my homemade Italian sausage and the pizza...cannoli and Mama's Cream Puffs and the family's Italian cookies.” Then, a few minutes later, a second email came with a few things he had forgotten. "4 more dishes for Christmas Eve: Tuscan Bean Soup; Lemon and Romano Cheese coated Fried Oysters, Calamari Salad and of course Pannetone from Farm To market Bread Co...DELICIOUS!"
It is tradition that the Sicilians (and Italians) have a Feast of 7 Fishes on Christmas Eve. Some think that it is perhaps one representing each day of the week, but most traditions come from the observance of the Cena della Vigilia, the wait for the miraculous birth of Christ in which early Christians Catholics fasted on Christmas Eve until after receiving communion at Midnight Mass. In later years it became a penitential day, meaning that all foods except meat were allowed. Other theories include are that there would be served three fish dishes representing the three Wise Men or the Holy Trinity while in some there may have been as many as thirteen, one for each of the apostles plus one for Jesus. Each family and each sect of the Italian culture is different, (the fish they say is from a tradition those from Naples brought over), it also depends on what was available in various parts of Italy. In most of the southern coastal regions in Italy and Sicily, seafood was abundant and so the perfect opportunity to work fish into the menu for this festive day. If you measure the shoreline of Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia and numerous other costal islands, there are almost 3000 miles of shoreline! Needless to say, fish were, and still are, readily available.
Jasper’s Grandmother always made Papa Mirabile’s Scampi for their Christmas Eve Feast. The caramelized onion and sherry make this dish a wonderful holiday tradition.
1 stick Butter
1 medium Onion, cut into ¼” slices
2 teaspoons minced Garlic
1 pound medium-size Shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon crushed Red Pepper flakes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Basil
2 tablespoons chopped Italian Parsley
¼ teaspoon Salt
½ cup Cream Sherry
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often so it does not burn, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, red pepper flakes, basil and parsley and season with salt.
Add sherry and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until the shrimp is tender. Serve at once. Serves 3 to 4
Thanks for sharing, Jasper! For more exciting recipes from Kansas City's premier chef, pick up Jasper's new cookbook, Jasper's Kitchen Cookbook at his restaurant or at Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery. His original cookbook, The Jasper's Cookbook, is still available at the restaurant. They make great Christmas presents! Between his two cookbooks, you will find all of Jasper's menu for Christmas.