Christmas is the season of family and feasting. It’s also the time of year for adding sparkles and glitz to everyday life. And for me, that extends to the food I serve.
But when it comes to Christmas parties, I like to really push the boat out, while still keeping it fairly easy in the kitchen. (After all, no one likes a stressy host!)
Effortless elegance is what I aim for around the festive season, and when it comes to feeding your guests in style, I think no one does it better than the Italians.
Italy traditional celebrates Christmas with a Cenone di Natale feast on the 24th of December. It’s a time for friends and family to come together and enjoy a delicious feast of classic Italian food and wine.
The menu is usually focused around fish and seafood dishes, as a lot of Italians avoid meat on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). And even though the traditional idea is to eat lean and save yourself for Christmas Day, most people enjoy a proper feast of up to seven courses!
I didn’t quite go that far (lol could you imagine?!), and I also cheated a bit with the meat on my antipasti platter, but I’m still really happy with the feast I prepared for the girls last week.
We started with cocktails: a festive spiced orange spritzer, made with delicious Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut.
It’s a delicious prosecco, with a base flavour of Golden Delicious apple, and aromatic notes of honey, golden apple, white peach and acacia blossom. At £11 a bottle, it’s also really reasonably priced, and you can find it in loads of different stores across the country: Tesco, NISA, Budgens, Bargain Booze, CostCutter and Londis.
You could drink the Mionetto Prosecco straight, with just some pretty edible flowers as a garnish, but I decided to make it extra special for Christmas, and served it in a cocktail with a home-made spiced orange syrup.
Mionetto’s recipe for the syrup is SUPER simple (scroll down to read), and it’s so delicious that I’ve already made another batch to keep in the fridge for myself!
I served our delicious cocktails with a mixed antipasti board (skip this if you want your Cenone to be super traditional!), slices of fresh ciabatta bread, and some battered calamari with an easy home-made aioli (mayo, lemon juice, olive oil and crushed garlic).
The antipasti is a little departure from tradition on my part, because of the meat, but I just couldn’t resist! It works perfectly as a party starter, as you can have it already laid out and waiting when your guests arrive.
We don’t have a dining table at the moment, so instead of a classic sit-down dinner, I made up two big batches of risotto and pasta, plonked them down on my beautifully decorated desk, and let everyone serve themselves. Effortless, informal, and still really beautiful!
The risotto is a classic Venetian clam risotto recipe created by Mionetto (scroll down to read/print it for yourself). I swapped the clams for mussels as I couldn’t find any of the former in my local supermarket, but I followed everything else to the letter, and it went down a storm with my guests.
I also made up a pot of prawn, spinach and ricotta linguine, spiked with lots of lemon and garlic. This was a last-minute addition to the menu (I suddenly panicked we wouldn’t have enough food!) but I’m so happy with how it turned out. It was incredibly quick and easy to make, and I’m definitely going to be cooking it again for Gary and I soon.
Then we finished with slices of classic Italian pannetone, some sweet almond biscuits, and another Mionetto prosecco cocktail.
Simple, delicious home-cooked food, with a touch of of sparkle. The perfect menu for an Italian Cenone di Natale celebration!
Packed full of festive spice, the Mionetto Christmas Spritz delivers a warming twist on the traditional spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire.
Bring the orange juice and sugar to a medium heat in a saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add the spices, orange peel and sprig of rosemary. Reduce over a medium heat, stirring continuously for about 30 minutes.
Pour the syrup through a fine sieve and decant into a bottle while hot.
Once cooled, pour 30ml orange syrup into the glass, fill with ice cubes.
Add the Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut and sparkling soda water.
Garnish with orange zest, cinnamon stick and sprig of rosemary. Enjoy ice cold!
On Christmas Eve the venetian tradition is to eat Risotto de Pevarasse (Venetian Clams risotto).
Wash the clams to remove any dirt or sand. Peel and crush the garlic. Peel and finely chop the onion.
In a large pan, heat the clams with the oil, crushed garlic, 100g of the white wine and some pepper.
Cover and steam until the clams start to open. Discard any that do not open. Remove the cooked clams from their shells, and put to one side.
Next, start the risotto by frying the garlic and the onion with butter and oil (the oil stops the butter from burning!). Add the rice and cook until the grains become shiny and transparent, then add the remaining 100g white wine.
Next, add the chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock one ladle at a time. Only add more liquid when the previous ladle has been absorbed.
When the rice is half cooked, add the clams, a generous pinch of salt, and a splash of lemon juice.
Finally, once the rice is cooked, stir through extra virgin olive oil and garnish with parsley. Stir, check the seasoning, and serve immediately!
A quick and simple pasta dish of prawns and spinach, flavoured with ricotta and plenty of lemon.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil, and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Once it’s tender, carefully dip a mug in the cooking water and save that for later. Drain the pasta.
Put the pan back on a low heat, add the oil, and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the spinach and prawns, and cook until the spinach has wilted and the prawns are heated through.
Add the ricotta to the pan, along with the zest and juice of the lemon. Stir it all in, then slowly add the reserved pasta water until everything has mixed together and the sauce becomes smooth and glossy.
Serve immediately, with a sprinkling of parmesan, some cracked black pepper and a little extra lemon zest.
This post is sponsored by Mionetto Prosecco.