According to the retail sector Christmas starts just as the barbecue season ends.
We’re bombarded with adverts urging us to stock pile food, buy expensive presents and generally get into debt. This week sees the start of Advent, the season observed by Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus. In my opinion this is when the festive period begins, not at the end of August.
The shops are only closed on Christmas Day itself so there’s no need to opt into siege mode and buy enough food to do a month. It will end up in the bin and food is too expensive to do that.
A couple of years ago I spent Christmas in Italy. The shops were no busier than normal in the run up and there was none of the daft stock piling. On the day itself they prepare a simple yet delicious lasagne proving the point you don’t always need a variety of meats, vegetables and potatoes!
The American drinks company invention of Santa doesn’t really impact Italian children in the way it does here – they get gifts on Epiphany instead. The whole essence of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Christ is what it’s all about.
Supermarkets contribute to the pressure people feel to have canapes, a huge amount of food for the Christmas lunch, sweets galore and then the same again for days afterwards. The irony is it’s the same companies in January that bombard us with the whole new year, new you, diet hard sell.
On Boxing Day in Italy homemade sweets are served with coffee or sparkling wine. My recipes this week are for a few sweet treats to make at home. Crisp, spiced biscuits are perfect at this time of year and I’ve added a clementine icing to drizzle over them. As someone who remembers these small oranges being an integral part of the contents of a festive stocking, the icing couldn’t be more seasonal.
My other two recipes also take inspiration from Italy. Tiramisu is the quintessential dessert from the north of the country and features mascarpone, sponge and coffee. My recipe uses the mascarpone and coffee combined with white chocolate to make a truffle that’s rolled in milk chocolate.
I’ve included the ingredients and method for a chocolate salami – melted chocolate and butter combined with a sweet sabayon, nuts, soaked fruit and amaretti biscuits. The whole mixture is rolled in parchment paper until set, unwrapped and then dusted with icing sugar making it look like a Christmas sausage. This can be frozen a month in advance if you want to get ahead. Slice it and serve on a platter with fresh fruits and my spiced caramel sauce for dipping.
When you look at the price of some of the traybakes in supermarkets, as I did this week, it makes infinite sense to make your own. Not just for the economics but for the taste and for the fact you’re actually making something that honours age old traditions of baking at this most wonderful time of the year.