We are going to Venice for Christmas this year, the first Christmas with my family in three years. I am excited and happy beyond words. We are flying on Christmas Eve and landing just in time for dinner. The plan is to get a gin tonic as we fly high up in the sky while watching an episode or two of Boardwalk Empire, just to kick off the holiday season with the right foot.
I am ready to be covered in hugs and fed well and copiously. There will be bigoli in salsa for dinner on the 24th, I am sure, and lots of panettone. There might be cantucci too – now an official threat to my first ever tooth filling as of this week (not proud of that). We’ll take small day trips here and there – perhaps Venice and Padova, or who knows Bologna, or even Milan, or just some small villages in the beautiful Veneto hills. I’ll make sure to report back about any of these, but more about them in a few weeks. Speaking of Christmas, Jesse’s mum has sent lots of presents from the States in a huge box to make us feel cuddled and a bit closer to that part of the family. Wrapped boxes of all sizes are now populating the floor underneath our cute little Christmas tree we decided to purchase regardless of the fact we are leaving before Christmas Day. We thought we’ll open our presents on 23rd – the night before our departure as well as our wedding anniversary – right after feasting on wine and sourdough pizza. It sounds like a plan to me, especially since we already decided our present for each other is to go and see this. We got tickets for the dance floor, and I can’t wait to consume my shoes in a crazy dance like no one is watching.
Meanwhile, Christmas shopping and gift hunting have somehow tragically slipped down my list of priorities, leaving me with one weekend to do it all. In case you are like me and have arrived at this point totally bewildered about where time has gone, how late it is to buy presents or even think of something mildly original, below is a short list of favourites, from edible to livable, that I have been treasuring for the whole year and count on to speed things up. Hope you find something you like. There’s also a recipe bonus for the holidays at the end of this post – a family’s favourite.
The Food Of Italy – Claudia Roden
Green Kitchen Travels
A Work in Progress – René Redzepi
Persiana – Sabrina Ghayour
A Change of Appetite – Diana Henry
A Modern Way to Eat – Anna Jones
A subscription to The New Yorker is always a good idea
or to Monocle or to the always fantastic The Art of Eating
Finally, I wanted to share a recipe for cod brandade that I developed as part of a holiday spread for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It is a beloved appetizer in my house, similar to Venetian baccalà mantecato but with the addition of potato. We love eating it on Christmas eve as part of a seafood feast – it is great also in the following days as it keeps for about a week in the fridge.
Soak the cod in plenty of cold water for at least 48 hours, changing the water four or five times during the soaking period.
Drain the fish and rinse well under cold running water, then place in a large pot covered with fresh cold water, bay leaves, the onion and garlic clove. Cover and bring to the boil, and keep cooking for five minutes from when the water starts boiling intensely. Remove from the heat and allow the cod to cool to room temperature inside its cooking liquid. Reserve the garlic clove.
Meanwhile, you would have boiled the potato, whole and skin on. When done, drain and allow to cool, and when the temperature becomes manageable, peel it and transfer it to a large bowl. Mash it together with the cooked garlic. Set aside.
Heat half the oil over low heat. Remove the skin and bones from the cod and pull apart the flesh, then add it to a pot with the hot oil. Using a wooden spoon, work the fish with the oil energetically until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Transfer it to the bowl with the potato.
In another small pot, heat the rest of the oil and the cream until just warm. Pour slowly in a steady drizzle over the cod and potato mixture and incorporate as you keep working the cod brandade with a wooded spoon to obtain a more smooth texture. You are aiming at a spreadable texture here. Once ready, season with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Serve with toasted bread as an appetizer. Great with bubbly or dry white wine.
Have some wonderful holidays – let’s talk in 2015!