Yule Bri­talia

Like fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions col­lected over time, Christ­mas dishes in the Roddy house­hold are a pick-and-mix se­lec­tion of tra­di­tional Bri­tish and ac­quired Ital­ian favourites ...

The Guardian - Cook - - A Kitchen in Rome Christmas Special - Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome, the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard) and win­ner of the An­dré Si­mon food book award Rachel Roddy

The Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions sum things up. There are things I have brought back from Bri­tain, Vin­cenzo from Si­cily, and then bits from Rome – some sa­cred, one rude. A few are old and sig­nif­i­cant, but most twin­kling and cheap, and one – my favourite – a huge pom-pom, I found. Most years a new dec­o­ra­tion is added, and at least one lost or bro­ken. This col­lec­tion is put up dif­fer­ently ev­ery year: on a tree, on shelves, or dan­gled from the in­her­ited can­de­labra-style light fit­ting (in which case they may stay up for the rest of the year, the pom-pom bonk­ing tall peo­ple on the head).

Our Christ­mas food and tra­di­tions are much the same as the dec­o­ra­tions: lots of things, from three places, that we ar­range dif­fer­ently each year, hope­fully with­out get­ting too pre­cious. In the past I have made a tra­di­tional English Christ­mas lunch in Rome: faith­ful recipes, mostly from Jane Grig­son’s English Food, adding fresh bread sauce smudges to page 237 an­nu­ally. But these English meals have al­ways had Ro­man and Si­cil­ian trim­mings, and vice-versa.

Last Fri­day morn­ing, as a neigh­bour ham­mered a Babbo Natale (Fa­ther Christ­mas) fig­ure to her front door as if he had of­fended her, Vin­cenzo’s par­ents dropped by to talk about this year’s ar­range­ments. I’d planned to open the last jar of 2014 mince­meat – now so sea­soned it is boozy – and make mince pies. In­stead we worked through a bot­tle of prosecco and a fam­ily-sized bag of crisps while we made plans.

This year for Vig­ilia – Christ­mas Eve – as is tra­di­tional in Si­cily, we will have bac­calà (salt cod), but also Ro­man-style fritti – ar­ti­chokes and an­chovies. Then on Christ­mas Day, af­ter mush­room paté on hot but­tered toast, we’ll have an­other Si­cil­ian fam­ily tra­di­tion: a big baked pasta. In essence, this pasta will be rather like Cinzia’s recipe pub­lished ear­lier this year, only en­riched for a cel­e­bra­tion with more sauce, tiny meat­balls, peas and hard- boiled eggs, their yolks glow­ing richly.

There will be Christ­mas cake and its Ro­man coun­ter­part pan­giallo (yel­low bread), a dense mass of dried and can­died fruit, nuts and spices, painted with saf­fron glaze and baked. It looks odd, but is de­li­cious – an ode to dried, wrinkly fruit, and ex­cel­lent with sharp cheese.

At some point in the hol­i­days I am go­ing to put on Ra­dio 6, pour my­self a large sherry (cheers Grandma Roddy) and make my friend Carla’s pump­kin ravi­oli, a pasta case around a soft, blaz­ing pil­low of roasted pump­kin, ri­cotta, parme­san and crushed amaretti – so it is both savoury and sweet – served in a pool of sage but­ter.

We are also go­ing to make porchetta: a piece of pork belly sea­soned vig­or­ously with salt, rose­mary and fen­nel seeds, then rolled, tied and roasted un­til the meat, pro­tected by swirls of fat, is in­cred­i­bly ten­der and the skin rup­tured into crack­ling that could cut your lip. Porchetta isn’t tra­di­tional in Italy at Christ­mas, but it’s straight­for­ward to make, cel­e­bra­tory and gen­er­ous, ei­ther feed­ing a crowd or last­ing for days. Braised lentils are a happy side­kick, mel­low and earthy. Lentils are tra­di­tion­ally eaten on New Year’s Eve in Italy, their shape rem­i­nis­cent of coins, the idea be­ing the more you eat, the more pros­per­ous a year you’ll have. Si­cil­ian-style spinach (with raisins and pine nuts), and Ro­man sweet and sour onions, like shiny baubles, make good com­pan­ions.

Like dec­o­ra­tions, the recipes in­cluded here are hung all over Christ­mas, but you could string them to­gether into a sin­gle feast – in which case I would like an in­vite.

Of course, in all these plans some­thing will get lost or bro­ken. As a wise friend of my fa­ther’s used to say: “Keep ex­pec­ta­tions flex­i­ble.” It is sound ad­vice – es­pe­cially in times of joy and sor­row. How­ever you hang your dec­o­ra­tions and what­ever you eat, I hope your Christ­mas is as happy as can be.

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