Christmas Eve Feast or Shabbat Dinner Italian Style

What do Italians eat on Christmas?  I have no idea, but we had a feast with a big hunk of beef cooked in Italian red wine, a creamy cabbage risotto, and a simple salad with a new twist — fresh, sliced fennel bulb.  We weren’t actually celebrating Christmas, either, because we’re Jewish by religion, but we were eating our weekly celebratory meal of Friday  Shabbat.

One thing I realized too late is that although this recipe for beef was simple and delicious, it is too much like the recipe I cooked earlier for Bolognese Meat Sauce, and I like to try new things.  The next Italian cooking that I post (which may be late next month) I promise will provide new and interesting cooking experiences and novel taste sensations.

Beef Braised in Barolo Wine/ Manzo al Barolo

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 to 3 and 1/2 lbs. beef bottom round or chuck
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • Pinch of dried leaf  thyme
  • 4 to 5 cups Barolo wine or any full-bodied red wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb. small white mushrooms

1)  Rub garlic into meat and season meat with salt and pepper. Place in a large bowl or container. Add bay leaves, thyme, and enough wine to cover meat. Cover container and refrigerate over night. (I marinated 7 and 1/2 hours, putting it refrigerator in the morning for the evening meal and it did fine)

2) Drain meat, reserving marinade.  Dry meat with paper towels.  Melt 2 Tbs. butter with oil in a large heavy casserole or pot.  When butter foams, add meat.  Brown meat on all sides over medium heat.  Remove meat from pot.  Add onion, carrot, and celery to pot and saute until onion is translucent.

3) Return meat to the pot and pour reserved marinade through a strainer over the meat.  Cover the pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 to 2 and 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Turn and baste meat often as it cooks.

4) Dust mushrooms thoroughly and slice thin.  Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a medium skillet Saute mushrooms over high heat until golden.  Add mushrooms to meat and cook 5 minutes longer.

5)  Place meat on a cutting board and cool 5 minutes.  If sauce is too thin, cook uncovered over high heat 5 to 10 minutes.  Slice meat and arrange on a warm platter.  Taste and adjust sauce for seasoning, then spoon over meat.  Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.  (At my house, with 3 adult appetites plus Lucas the Human Eating Machine, it was all gone in 10 minutes.)

(This recipe, with slight modifications, is from HP Books’ Northern Italian Cooking, by Biba Caggiano, as is the following recipe.)

Mixed Salad/ Insalata Mista

  • 1 large fennel
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large green or red sweet pepper
  • 1 small head of lettuce (butter lettuce looks and tastes great here)
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • Salt to taste
  • 3-4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar      (Frankly, I put more vinegar and less oil)

1)  Cut off long stalks and bruised leaves from fennel.  Slice end off bulbous base.  Wash and dry fennel, cut into quarters, then horizontally into thin slices.

2)  Cut carrots into thin rounds.  Cut pepper in half, remove pith and seeds, and cut into very thin strips.   Tear clean lettuce into medium pieces.  Cut the tomatoes into slices.

3) Place all the pieces into a salad bowl.   When ready to serve, add oil and vinegar, salt to taste, toss gently, and serve slightly chilled.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Risotto with Cabbage and Beans/ Risotto Alla Valtellinese from Lombardy

  • 1 cup lima beans, fresh or frozen or 1 can navy or other white bean
  • 1 medium cabbage, shredded
  • 1 and 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • few sage leaves, chopped
  • (optional: instead of butter and sage, I used vegetarian bouillon cubes in the cooking water, to cut down on dairy and fat).
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper

1) If using fresh lima beans, parboil for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.

2) Put the shredded cabbage, rice, and a little salt in a large heavy pan and cover with water (or broth)  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  Keep a small pan of broth or water on the side, keeping it warm, to add bit by bit when the risotto has absorbed all the liquid. Stir occasionally to keep it from sticking and burning. Add the beans and whatever liquid is needed and cook for another 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Watch for overcooking — you don’t want mush instead of creamy risotto.

3) Drain rice and vegetables if necessary and spoon into a warmed serving dish.  Melt the butter in a small pan with the sage and pour over the rice (if not using broth)   Add the Parmesan and a little pepper and fold gently to mix.  Serve immediately.   Serves 4 to 6.

(I adapted this recipe from one in The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking, ed. Jeni Wright)

About tamisrenteria

Tamis Renteria, author and anthropologist, writes novels and short stories about people struggling with different religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. She lives with her husband and youngest son in Tucson, Arizona where she types on a Mac, cooks ethnic food, and gardens among the sahuaros.
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2 Responses to Christmas Eve Feast or Shabbat Dinner Italian Style

  1. wordnerd32 says:

    ah! a recipe with fennel! i can’t wait to try this, I have been wanting to try fennel but it seems like everyone uses it is soups… a new dish!

  2. Go for it! And Happy New Year!

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