Celebrating Christmas Eve Italian Style – Christmas Cocktail for Cenone:
How are your Christmas preparations going? It’s the start of the second week in December and here in London, I’m just getting the decorations out. That said, I’m happily menu planning – and wine tasting – and Christmas cocktail making, all in some effort to get things organised before my family arrive here.
Now, we Brits don’t have a great tradition for Christmas Eve, but all across Europe the night before Christmas is every bit as important as the day itself. Especially in Catholic countries where Christmas Eve involves abstinence from eating meat, a vigil before Christmas day. That vigil then turned into a fish based feast which is sometimes referred to as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. And, while it originated from abstinence, it has now become something of a celebratory feast – Cenone della Vigilia di Natale – the feast of waiting for the birth!
I’d love to see more people in the UK hosting a Christmas Eve feast, Italian style and I’ve been trying out some of the recipes and Christmas cocktails here with a view to having my own feast here. What better starting point than with a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso and a seasonal Christmas spritz cocktail? The best bit about this cocktail from my point of view is that although it sounds quite complicated and involves a special Christmassy spiced orange syrup, that part of the cocktail can be made up in advance and stored in the fridge for a week or so. Then, it’s just a question of adding Mionetto Prosecco and ice and water to taste and garnishing with cinnamon, rosemary and orange peel. The spicing in the orange syrup includes cinnamon and cloves together with delicate cardamon and star anise – a deliciously fragrant mixture that encapsulates the spirit of Christmas.
Here’s how to make the Mionetto Prosecco Christmas Cocktail Spritz.
Packed full of festive spice, the Mionetto ChristmasCocktail Spritz delivers a warming twist on the traditional spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire.
- 750 ml orange juice
- 300 g sugar
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom capsules
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2- star anise
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 piece of orange peel
- 30 ml orange syrup
- 200 ml Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut
- 50 ml sparkling water
- A couple of ice cubes
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 soda water.
Garnish with orange zest, cinnamon stick and sprig of rosemary. Enjoy ice cold.
As you can see, we’ve already been practising here – in fact, we made these Christmas cocktails for an Advent lunch and enjoyed a bit of a feast last week. We ended up deciding that we rather liked the Christmas spritz without any extra soda water or ice, but that is obviously down to personal taste.
Since I wasn’t cooking for that event, I’m menu planning for my own Cenone. The Cenone della Vigilia di Natale menu traditionally involves a whole selection of fish based dishes.
You might consider making some Italian style Christmas canapes – though traditionally you wouldn’t serve any meat throughout this meal. But, I could happily adapt the canapes I made last year and serve the Grana Padano cheese puffs by themselves, top the bruschetta with olives and sun-dried tomatoes or perhaps with fresh pear and melted gorgonzola and fill the little Grana Padano baskets with rocket and fresh anchovies.
Things like Insalata Frutti di Mare should be on the antipasti table, along with traditional Italian breads, olives, anchovies and cheeses.
Then there should be hot antipasti dishes – whitebait, calamari and more.
Next Primi – the course where you’d traditionally eat something with plenty of carbohydrates to fill you up – pasta, rice or polenta dishes depending on the region of Italy you were from. I tried my hand at making a Clam Risotto, not sadly using the Pevarasse clams you’d find in Venice (even Borough Market couldn’t help there) where this dish originates, but I still loved the dish.
And, having never made a fish risotto I was genuinely delighted at how well it turned out.
I’d never have considered using the liquid I steamed the clam in as a stock for the risotto, but it worked remarkably well. Change this dish up by adding some king prawns and calamari if you want.
- 500 g carnaroli rice
- 80 g butter
- 100 g olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic chopped finely
- 1 kg pavarazze these are Venetian clams - if you can't find them, substitute any fresh clams in their shells
- 200 g dry white wine
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 300 g fresh chopped tomato Skin vine tomatoes and remove the seeds, before chopping the flesh
- 500 g hot vegetable stock You can use a low salt stock cube or Marigold stock powder
- Salt and pepper
Wash the clams to remove any dirt or sand.
In a large pan, heat the clams with half the oil, half of the minced garlic, 100g of white wine and pepper.
Cover and steam until the clams start to open. Discard any that do not open.
Remove the clams from the shells and separate the stock, filtering with a cloth to remove any grains of sand. keep the stock hot.
Next, start the risotto by gently frying the garlic and the onion with butter and half remaining oil.
Add the rice and cook until the grains become shiny and transparent.
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. Make sure the vegetable stock is piping hot.
When all the vegetable stock has been absorbed and the rice is half cooked add the fish stock. Then, stir through the clams
Finally, once the rice is cooked, stir through extra virgin olive oil and check the seasoning. Leave to stand for 5 minutes then stir and garnish with parsley.
Stir again, check and season well and serve!
Then, there might even be a dish of pasta before moving on to the main courses
For Secondi, the most traditional dish would probably be something made with Baccala, salt cod, but, I suspect in my case I will probably end up making another Italian favourite of baked sea-bass with fennel. Or should I be making more than one fish-based main course?
And, then the part of the menu I always look forward to. Dessert.
One of the best things about Italian desserts is that you don’t always make them yourself. It’s perfectly acceptable to buy a delicious Pannetonne, some Ricciarelli and perhaps make your own Italian Tiramisu. And, enjoy everything with another of those delicious Christmas spritz cocktails.
Whatever you are planning make sure you have plenty of Mionetto Prosecco in stock – it’s perfect for those celebratory moments and will help bring a sparkle to your Christmas.
You’ll find Mionetto Prosecco for sale in leading supermarkets and wine merchants throughout the UK including Sainsbury, Tesco and Majestic. And for more information check out the Mionetto website or Mionetto facebook page
Disclosure: This post has been written in conjunction with Mionetto Prosecco.