This year, I wasn’t as overcome by the Christmas Spirit as I have been in the past. My roommates and I are hardly ever home, so we didn’t bother to decorate. My head has been spinning due to the stress that accompanied leaving my last job to advance into a new position. I’ve had a roller-coaster of a month with many ups and downs, and Boston didn’t even get any snow until December 20. I wasn’t exactly bouncing around in my Santa hat singing jolly carols. Thankfully, I was able to look past the harsh realities of adulthood because I got to spend the holiday with my mom in her decorated living room while the familiar smells of her cooking drifted in from the kitchen. We watched Christmas Vacation and drove around in the snow to admire (ok, make fun of) people’s decorations. Those things helped my mind decompress, and I was able to muster up some Christmas spirit. Thankfully, while I do enjoy the trappings of the season, my interpretation of the true meaning of Christmas is centered around what’s on the dining room table and who occupies the chairs.
Obviously we had several meals while I was home, but I’ll focus on our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. Following Italian tradition, we've always served seafood on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, my mom developed an allergy to fish and shellfish (she usually makes meat-free pasta fagioli), but she is always more than happy to supply me with some sort of freshly plucked ocean creature to throw into a pan with some garlic and olive oil. This year, I chose calamari and oysters. We stopped in at Seaport Fish, where I purchased a half-pound of fresh calamari with the heads still attached and the cuttlebones remaining in the tubes. This calamari was incredible, and it worked fabulously quick-cooked in a spicy tomato and wine broth, served over angel hair pasta (recipe below). I plumped some golden raisins in the wine broth, threw in a few capers, and I added a generous amount of thinly sliced garlic as well, which is typical of Sicilian cooking. Finally, a sprinkling of minced flat-leaf parsley adds a fresh foil to the sweet and spicy flavors.
|5-inches of oyster!|
Finally, on to the dinner! My mom brought out the absolute best flavor I’ve ever had from a small beef tenderloin roast - perfectly pink in the center, with an unsurpassable natural flavor. Seasoned only with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, it required nothing else. It was juicy, tender enough to cut with a butter knife, and bursting with flavor. She served this with horseradish whipped cream - only a little bit is necessary to complement the flavor of the roast, more than a small dab can be overwhelming.
Somehow, I saved room for dessert - chocolate & whiskey mousse with chopped hazelnuts. Three of my favorite things, whipped and chilled in one small ramekin packed with delicious dessert flavor! Not too sweet, this was the perfect end to another fabulous Christmas dinner.
Every year, my mom manages to put together a dinner that raises the bar just a little bit higher. Someday, if I am ever in charge of Christmas, my only hope will be that I am able to execute a meal that‘s even half as good as my mom‘s. I’ve got some big shoes to fill.
Calamari in Spicy Tomato-Wine Broth
8 oz. dried angel hair pasta
generous splash olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 T. golden raisins
2 T. capers
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 T. tomato paste
1 roma tomato, diced
1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. calamari, cleaned, tubes sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste
minced parsley, plus sprigs for garnish
Cook the pasta. In the meantime, heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and raisins. Saute for 1-2 minutes, or until the garlic becomes fragrant but does not turn golden.
Next, add the capers, white wine, tomato paste, roma tomato, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir vigorously so that the tomato paste breaks up and blends with the wine. Cook until the liquid begins to bubble gently, about 5 minutes.
Now, add the calamari. Cook for only about one minute. The calamari should start to firm up. Drain the pasta, and add the hot pasta to the pan with the calamari and tomato broth. Stir so that each strand is coated with the sauce. By this time, the calamari should be cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and divide among two serving dishes. Sprinkle with minced parsley and garnish with a sprig or two of fresh parsley.