An Italian Christmas in the Lowcountry
December 2022 Issue
By Leslie Rohland
Photography by Lucy Rosen
The holidays are known for their abundance of festive foods—from cookies and pies baking in the oven, to perfectly prepared honey glazed ham and roasted turkey, to a variety of classic vegetable and potato side dishes. And while holiday dinners are always special and meaningful no matter what is on the table, an Italian Christmas—whether celebrated in Italy or right here in the Lowcountry—is truly something spectacular in every way.
Italians are known for their love of delicious food and festive meals with family and friends, and the Christmas holidays truly bring this to life. Most Italian families gather on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas, which is a national holiday in Italy, known as Saint Stephen’s Day. Celebrated as Natale, the three-day feast begins with the Christmas Eve tradition known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Friends and family will gather enjoy seven different seafood dishes, or one or two types of fish prepared seven different ways. This tradition’s roots can be traced back to Italy and has long been a part of many holiday culinary celebrations.
In honor of the foods and traditions of an Italian Christmas, and if you’re looking for something a little different to serve this year, I’ve collected some of my favorite recipes for a Buon Natale, which means Merry Christmas in Italian. Starting with a refreshing Melon with Prosciutto and Lime, your guests will then delight in a traditional, hearty but light, Italian Antipasto Salad, which combines unique textures, tastes and seasonings turning any gathering into a celebration. A savory Italian Meatloaf, the centerpiece of the meal, mixes ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, along with a unique combination of spices, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, Italian country bread and bacon. And for dessert, a Pistachio Cannoli bursting with the sweetness of powdered sugar, ground cinnamon, fresh ricotta and an extra pistachio crunch!
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season…and a Buon Natale, trying some of these new dishes for a special Italian Christmas! For more Italian delicacies and fresh Italian pastas, make sure to stop by the Village Pasta Shoppe in Bluffton, where as the new owner, I’m thrilled to bring a taste of Italy to the Lowcountry during the holidays and all year long!
ITALIAN CHRISTMAS MEATLOAF
1 lb. Ground beef
1 cup Milk
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, finely grated
1 lb. Ground pork
1 Onion, diced
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
1 lb. Ground veal
2 Tbsps Basil, dried or fresh, diced
2 Tbsps Minced garlic
8 slices Bacon, raw
1/2 cup Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Olive oil, for greasing
2 Tbsps Dried oregano
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp Tomato paste
1 medium Carrot, diced
12 oz canned plum Tomatoes, crushed
½ cup Water
1 stalk Celery, diced
Grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
1 cup Bread cubes (3 or 4 slices Italian country bread, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the beef, veal, and pork into a bowl and kneed them together. Pour the milk into a bowl and soak the bread in it, squeezing it into a paste. Add the soaked bread to the bowl with the meat, and work them together as though you were kneading dough. Add the cheese, garlic, onion, eggs, Worcestershire, oregano, basil and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper and knead again until well incorporated.
Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil. Form the loaf and place in the baking dish. Lay the bacon slices over the top of the meatloaf.
In a bowl, add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and water and mix well, then pour the mixture evenly over the meatloaf. Scatter the carrots and celery in the pan around the loaf. Put the pan in the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out warm, about 11/2 hours. If the loaf begins to look dry while cooking, tent it with aluminum foil. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool slightly. Slice when slightly cooled, garnish with pecorino cheese.
Serves 8 | Pictured top left
For the Salad:
1/2 cup Green olives, halved
1/4 cup jarred Roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup Pepperoni, diced
13 oz Artichoke hearts, quartered
8 oz Genoa salami, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup Mozzarella balls
1/2 cup Cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup Black olives, halved
8 oz Provolone cheese, cut into bite size pieces
For the Dressing:
¼ cup Olive oil
½ cup Lemon juice
2 tsps Italian seasoning
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing then drizzle over the salad. Toss until well-coated. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
MELON WITH PROSCIUTTO AND LIME
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Balsamic glaze
4 to 5 oz Prosciutto di Parma, thin sliced
1 Cantaloupe, seeded, sliced into wedges, skin off
Prepare the cantaloupe and cut it into wedges. Wrap the prosciutto around the cantaloupe wedges and arrange them on a serving platter. Drizzle the balsamic glaze and honey over the prosciutto wrapped melon. Arrange the lime wedges around the platter and garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately, or chill for a few hours until ready to serve.
1½ cup Powdered sugar
Cannoli shells, purchased at store or online
¼ tsp Ground cinnamon
4 cups Ricotta cheese, strained
1 tsp Vanilla
2 Tbsps Pistachio paste
Chopped Pistachios for dipping
Add the ricotta, powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla into a bowl and beat until it is smooth. Add the pistachio paste, mix thoroughly, then taste. If a stronger pistachio flavor is desired, just keep adding the paste until satisfied. Put the pistachio filling in a piping bag and snip off the end. Pipe into the cannoli shells right before serving. For extra crunch, dip the ends of the cannoli in some chopped pistachios or chocolate chips. Serve immediately. If the cannoli are for later use, store the shells and filling separately, then fill right before serving.
Leslie Rohland, owner of the Cottage Cafe, Bakery and Tea Room in Old Town Bluffton, is an award-winning recipe creator who is known for her delicious and ever-changing menu at her extraordinary restaurant. She is also the owner of the popular healthy eatery The Juice Hive and the micro-roastery May River Coffee Roasters. For more information about The Cottage Cafe, visit www.thecottagebluffton.com or call 843-757-0508.