Saturday, December 5, 2009

Judy Witts Francini at the outdoor market in Palermo, Sicily.October, 2008

As promised, here is how Judy and Andrea Francini celebrate Christmas in Tuscany, in Judy’s own words.

“Celebrate Christmas by feeding someone!My husband Andrea is the happiest when I make bollito misto for the holidays--the dish that keeps on giving. I like to make it the day before the meal. We begin our meal with chicken liver crostini, serve tortellini in brood (broth) as the first course, and the boiled meats for the main course, along with the vegetables that were cooked in the broth. The best parts of bollito misto are the sauces on the side! Traditionally, olive oil and salt are the base, then salsa verde, mostarda di Cremona (candied mustard fruits), and perhaps mayonnaise or mustard. A side of giardiniera (pickled Italian vegetables) is good too. My favorite dishes are with the leftover bollito misto. I love lesso rifatto, where the beef is cooked with twice the amount of red onions stewed with the beef and red wine. True comfort food! If you are really eating, this is the extravaganza! Try a double first course, such as the pasta served in sugo (sauce). The sugo is from cooking the second main course, stracotto, served with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. Andrea always wants a tray of mixed roast meats--veal, pork, rabbit, beef, and perhaps a special pig's liver wrapped in caulfat, roasted with bay leaves, and basted with Vin Santo. Usually these meals are for a minimum of 10 to 15 close family members. Families either do the bollito misto, or roast meats, or game, if you have a hunter in the house! Some families prefer fish. However, excess is the key! The main meal is at lunchtime. After the main course, the dried fruits (dates, figs, and nuts) are brought out. Panettone, panforte, ricciarelli, and other sweets follow this. After all this a digestivo--an after-dinner drink that helps you digest the feast! After a couple of rounds of cards or bingo game called tombola, it all starts again! My best wishes for a fabulous and peaceful new year. "Peace on Earth" never meant as much as it does this year.

Bollito Misto
2-1/2 pounds beef (muscle, tongue, etc. for boiling)
2 beef bones
1 onion, peeled and left whole
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
1 celery stalk
1 tomato
Sea salt to taste, about 2 tablespoons
One-half capon or boiling chicken, optional
Place all the ingredients in a large soup pot, and cover with water. Bring to a slow boil, covered for 1 hour. Skim the surface. Add the chicken and cook for another hour. Control the beef to see if it is cooked. It should be very tender; the skin will easily come off the tongue.(I like to make this the night before so I can remove any excess fat from the broth.) Remove the beef and vegetables from the broth. Throw away the tomato, parsley, and beef bones. Strain the broth and replace the beef in the broth. Refrigerate overnight. Remove the solidified fat from the broth the next day. Reheat all together. To serve, remove enough broth for the soup. Heat the tortellini in broth and serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve the beef already cut and arranged on a serving plate.
Salsa Verde
1 cup Italian parsley, leaves only
2 tablespoons capers
1 garlic clove
1 anchovy filet
Red wine vinegar, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 slice white bread
Finely chop the parsley, capers, garlic, and anchovy, using a sharp knife. Put the mixture into a serving bowl and add olive oil and red wine vinegar. Adjust seasonings. Remove the crust from the slice of bread, and soak the bread in red wine vinegar. Then crumble the bread into sauce. (This is the poor man's technique; the bread looks like pine nuts in the sauce! Instead you can add some chopped pine nuts!) I love salsa verde on hot green beans and boiled potatoes. I also make an appetizer by removing the yolks from hardboiled eggs and blending them with the sauce. Refill the eggs and refrigerate before serving.

Lesso Rifatto
1 pound leftover boiled meat, chopped into small cubes
1-1/2 pounds red onions, finely sliced
2 cups stewed tomatoes, or red wine
Olive oil
Sauté the onions in olive oil; when golden, add tomatoes or red wine. Season to taste with salt. Bring to a boil and let cook for 10 minutes. Add the leftover beef and cook covered for an additional 20 minutes. To make this even richer, add some cubed raw potatoes to the pan with the onions.

One of the desserts Judy suggested are

Ricciarelli (Sienese Almond Cookies)
These delicate Christmas cookies are said to be shaped like the almond eyes of Madonna by Renaissance painters. Like all Italian almond sweets, they were called "marzipan" for centuries. They are a popular dessert treat in Italian homes. Here's the recipe!

2 cups blanched ground almonds

2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups powdered sugar

3 drops almond extract

Extra powdered sugar for rolling in

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepared almond "flour" or "meal" is available online from Bob's Red Mill and Whole Food Market. If you grind your own almonds, I recommend a Swiss nut grinder, and there is one by Zylos that's fabulous.

Combine the almond "flour" with the baking powder, powdered sugar, and flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff and mix into the almond mixture. Add the almond extract and blend until you have a soft paste. Place some powdered sugar on a clean, dry surface. Form one tablespoon of dough into a small ball, roll in the sugar, and then form the traditional diamond shape, flattening the cookie with the palm of your hand. Place the cookies on a baking sheet covered with baking paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Ricciarelli are fabulous with tiny cubes of candied orange peel rolled into them and then dipped in chocolate.
Makes about 16 cookies.

Read more about Ricciarelli and cookies on the Divina Cucina blog.
while you are there, check out her new cookbook. It is wonderful!
You can order one from Judy on her blog.

There you have it….Christmas feasting in Tuscany! Hope you give Judy’s recipes a try, she is a world renowned chef and author. And if you ever get to go to Italy, Judy is a wonderful guide! She was our guide through Sicily for 13 days; it was absolutely a perfect experience!

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