Arese, Lombardy, Italy – Family Christmas
(Approximately 4 minute read)
I’m finally free from two-weeks of Covid prison and ready to tell you about the most delicious and varied holiday meal I’ve ever had. My Aunt Antoinette is an amazing cook and always impresses me, but this multi-course Christmas extravaganza really brought things to another level.
The holiday began with a BlaBlaCar from Bolzano to Milano. I piled into the back of a stranger’s car, just a few blocks from my apartment, squished with my backpack by my feet and a bag in the middle. I was joined by a woman to my right with a special guest faintly panting from a cloth sack: a greying old-doggo, content to rest in her lap.
BlaBlaCar is an interesting European ride sharing service that operates very differently from Uber. When going on a trip, normal every-day drivers can rent out available seats of their personal car to help supplement their costs. They post their departure point and destination and then the app matches passengers going either the entire distance or somewhere en route. It’s usually cheaper and more direct than public transit (when one isn’t traveling between two major city centers). I also love when simple ideas like this make sustainable options accessible for people.
After a quick journey, my uncle picked me up at a nearby roadside AutoGrill (Sidenote, Italian gas-station-shops have fresher bread and food than most grocery stores elsewhere). As soon I walked through the door I was hit with that warm feeling of being surrounded by family, the relief of feeling home… and the smell of fresh focaccia from my favorite bakery.
The next morning, Christmas Eve began with a slightly heated debated about covid protocols and testing. Something I’m sure was felt by many families this year. Once that was sorted, we hit the dog bath so Zero would be feeling fresh for the holiday. By mid-morning, we were in the kitchen and started on a full day of cooking. Christmas Eve is when the main celebrations typically happen in Italy, and family-friends, who I’ve known since childhood, were to be joining for dinner.
While most of the family ate fish, my vegetarian cousin and I got our own special menu. Giulia and I were spoiled with vegan dish after vegan dish (followed by vegan dessert).
The first course was a vegan pate. It was a colorful little bowl with layers of yellow, red, and green consisting of mango, beet, and avocado. Our second dish was, roasted potatoes, topped with bright pink beetroot hummus and contrasting black sesame seeds (I confess, I ate my share of these before they hit the table. The kitchen is a tough arena for self-discipline).
Next came homemade focaccia: one with cherry tomatoes and another with roasted onions; both incredible. Addicting and deliciously salty; soft and crunchy. But the main appetizer event was a buttery and flakey pastry shaped into a Christmas tree. The crust was stuffed with a delicious sun-dried tomato and tofu cream cheese. The twists of the branches pulled off easily for delightful snacking.
Of course, we weren’t done yet. These were accompanied by grilled zucchini, turnip fries, and babaganoush (a Mediterranean eggplant dip). And then, although the waistband of my jeans was protesting, we had bruschetta (bru-SKET-ah, said with italian finger pinch gesture), topped with multi-colored tomatoes, shaved artichoke, and a duck shaped polenta. We hadn’t even gotten to the main course yet.
When it was time for the main course, I contemplated throwing in the towel, but we had spent half of the day making a delicious polpetta, and who are we kidding, of course I was going to try it. Lentils and nuts blended together, formed the heart of the dish. The filling was artfully braided in flakey pastry dough which was served as a delicious loaf.
We’re we done? No, of course there had to be desert. But this time I really did throw in the towel. We had prepared beautiful cinnamon rolls to cap off the meal, but I was too stuffed to try them just yet.
The next day, my cousins, Matt and Giuli, and I traveled to Bolzano where the feast continued. I finally got to try the delicious cinnamon buns, but we weren’t only eating leftovers; my aunt would never allow that. We also had a special lasagna that Aunt Antoinette sent us away with. Homemade soy béchamel, pumpkin, and local chestnuts filled the layers of lasagna sheets and we topped it with homemade cashew ricotta for a little extra deliciousness.
And for the dessert I couldn’t manage on Christmas Eve? Homemade dough, topped with cinnamon sugar, rolled, cut, and baked. They were eaten so quickly, I didn’t even get a picture.
Most of the recipes came from Cucina Botanica. She is an Italian vegan chef named Carlotta, who’s calming voice is like an ASMR experience. Check out her “per natale” videos on YouTube.
I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.