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Christmas cuisine

Christmas is a time for giving, family reunion, laughs and playtime. The religious significance of being born again with Christ brings a need for togetherness, for sharing gifts and eating the food of friendship. That's why maybe there are such strong traditions for sharing and appreciating old recipes, which need time and patience and love to achieve their full beauty and savour.
Below are some traditional recipes typical of mountain areas, where Christmas was traditionally celebrated in family gatherings, around the glow of a fire, with children opening presents and playing games. Traditional food was an important element in that festive atmosphere, and for once the recreation of an old recipe might help us in escaping our mass-produced food.

The Italian Christmas cuisine tradition requires that while fishfood should be consumed on Christmas Eve, the new year should be celebrated with Lentils and Cotechino, in order to wish prosperities to all the participants to the "cenone".

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Lenticchie and cotechino

(this is one of the many recipes) The Italian Christmas cuisine tradition requires that while fishfood should be consumed on Chrismas Eve, the new year should be celebrated with Lenticchie and Cotechino, in order to wish financial prosperity to all the participants of the "cenone". If you use dried lentils (those from Santo Stefano di Sessanio are extremely tasty), place them in cold water some hours before, after removing impurities and broken lentils. Then wash thoroughly and put to boil but do not cook completely, then drain. While the lentils were boiling, you should have prepared a tomato sauce with small pieces of carrots, celery, onion (either frying these before in olive oil or putting everything together "a crudo") and tomato sauce - use salt very sparingly, or nothing at all.

The cotechino or zampone is usually nowadays bought ready made, but you can have your butcher prepare it (both preparations are typical from Romagna, the region of prosciutto dolce, parmesan and tortellini). The cotechino is made with the least expensive parts of pork meat - most Italians prefer the "zampone" which is a pork leg filled with lean pork meat. In case neither can be found, pork sausages will serve as well. The cotechino, zampone or sausages are boiled separately in water, piercing here and there with a fork to let the fat out. The sausages, after a few minutes in hot water, should be taken out, let cool and deprived of their peel. The cotechino or zampone too are to be unpeeled after cooking and cut into slices. The slices, or the peeled sausages, are then put into the tomato sauce with the lentils, to finish cooking - The final touch is some laurel leaves in the pot. If necessary add some salt. The preparation should not be to watery, but if the sauce is too thick some broth can be added.

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Christmas Cake

Ingredients: 100 gr candied cherries, 150 gr mixed candied fruit, 150 gr peeled almonds, 150 gr walnuts, 150 gr hazelnuts, 100 gr chocolate, 3 eggs, 150 gr sugar, 1 glass rum, flour as needed.

Mix thoroughly the eggs and sugar, add the flour until the compound is smooth, add the nuts, chocolate, candies all roughly cut in pieces and lastly the rum. Mix until all the ingredients are well distributed and put in a rectangular oven pot. Bake at 180°C (moderate fire) until the surface is a beautiful light brown. Take out of the oven and let the cake rest for at least a couple of days. It should be cut in very thin slices just before serving.
Accompany with a good Marsala or red sweet wine.

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Cardoon Soup

Ingredients:1.5 kg tender cardoons, 300 gr minced pork meat, 5 eggs, olive oil, grated sheep cheese, salt, pepper, red pepper, a little celery, a half onion, grated parmesan cheese, turkey broth

Clean, wash and dry the cardoons, cut them into small pieces (about 5 cm long) and boil in water with a little vinegar. Drain well and keep warm. Mix the meat with one egg yolk, a little oil, sheep cheese, salt and red pepper. Make from the compound tiny round balls which you will boil in water with the onion and celery. Beat 4 eggs with two spoonfuls parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and mix with the cardoons. Put everything into a big pot, add the broth, taste for salt and pepper, boil for a few minutes, adding the meat balls in the last moments, and serve as Christmas Day first course.

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Rice and Chestnut Soup

Ingredients:400gr rice, 300gr cleaned and peeled chestnuts, 80gr butter, a small onion, a small piece of celery, 1lt broth, salt and pepper.

Boil and peel the chestnuts. In an earthenware pot (but a steel one will do) put the butter, onion and celery and cook slowly. After 5 minutes add the chestnuts in crumbles, cook for five more minutes, then add the hot broth. Meanwhile cook the rice in water without reaching the prescribed cooking time, drain and add it to the soup. Leave on the fire for some more minutes. It should be cut in very thin slices just before serving.
Accompany with a good red sweet wine.

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Chitarra Spaghetti

Ingredients: 500gr hard-wheat flour, 4 eggs, water, oil, salt
Tools: a matterello (wooden cylindrical tool), a spianatora (a wooden or marble table), a chitarra (a wooden rectangular box with steel wires tightly drawn through the long side).

Make a fountain with half the flour on the kitchen table, put all the ingredients into it and mix thoroughly, add a little water and slowly add the remaining flour. Work the ball for some minutes, then let rest for an hour. Spread the compound with a matterello (wooden cylindrical tool) in 2-mm thick pieces to a size which should exceed the size of your guitar tool. Then put the pasta slice on the guitar wires and press with a matterello.
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