Traditional ethnic buffets
for entertaining family and friends
By Danielle Pitanello
Italian – One of the most celebrated Christmas Eve traditions is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Everyone does their Italian Seven Fishes Christmas Eve differently. As a child I would have flipped over backwards if my traditional Neapolitan family ever served stuffed clams or shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve but some of my Italian friends’ families did just that. Now years later and a few generations from my original American relatives arriving from Italy, I serve shrimp and leave out the eel entrée as well as fried smelts and Baccalà, dry salted cod fish. My calamari now is in a seafood salad served cold instead of sitting in a pot of Sunday sauce as we enjoyed years ago.
While that may have been sacrilege then, it is survival now to continue any version of the seven fishes, which I think is important. The generations certainly have changed their likes and dislikes at the Christmas Eve celebration. We have adopted some modern ideas to keep the tradition of the seven fishes alive: shrimp cocktail, salad with tuna, a cold seafood salad containing several types of fish as well as stuffed clams, seafood risotto or a grand bowl of seafood pasta. We often start our meals with some homemade thin crust pizza with small baby shrimp and garlic and olive oil! There are no hard-and-fast rules about the preparation of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and the buffet table remains lively and still traditional. Recipe below.
How the Italian tradition started is as blurry as the types of foods to put on the table. I heard while traveling in Sicily that the tradition began there as the tonnarotti (tuna fishing crews) would come home to their seaside villages to celebrate Vigilia di Natale. This celebration commemorates the wait of Vigilia di Natale, the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. I believe it is reasonable to think the tradition had something to do with a no-meat fast as well.
French – You can host longer dinners known as Réveillon, which is hosted on Christmas Eve in France. The buffets/dinners go on for hours. Wine flows to commemorate the coming birth. The French table would hold foie gras and escargot and other French delicacies. Nothing is spared in costs or efforts on this classic buffet table. Bu che de Noe l is a perfect and challenging traditional dessert to serve at meals end.
Polish – Seafood is a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland, as well, and many of the traditions have traveled to the USA with an enormous banquet called Wigilia. Many Polish families abstained from eating meats. Carp is a popular traditional Christmas Eve fish. Matjas herring, poppy seed cakes (makowiec), dried fruit compote and other delicacies can grace a traditional buffet table. Perogi is filled and cabbage is stuffed for hearty entrées centering the buffet table. Great recipes can be found in archives of September of 2015; www.crlmag.com.
Mexican – In Mexico at midnight on “Noche Buena (Christmas Eve),” the birth of Christ is proclaimed with fireworks, the ringing of church bells and the blowing of whistles. After the final Posada procession, the people surge into the churches to attend the Mass of the Rooster or “Misa de Gallo.” The families then head home for an exotic Christmas feast of dishes like chiles rellenos, menudo or roast pig or turkey, along with hot fruit or cider punches and other spirits. On Christmas Eve, Mexicans also nosh on traditional stews and fish dishes, with spicy tamales (corn dough pastries) and sweet fritters called buñuelos.
Germany -Roast goose and red cabbage are the kings of the Christmas Eve and Christmas table. Legend has it that those who do not dine well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons–so there’s no excuse not to squeeze in that extra slice of stollen. Recipe below.
Christmas Eve seafood salad
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh marjoram leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces sea scallops
12 ounces squid, bodies only
3 ounces arugula leaves (about 6 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, cut into thin strips
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 (15-ounce) can white beans (cannellini), drained, rinsed
• Heat the oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then add the herbs and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Cool to room temperature. Whisk in the lemon juice. Salt and pepper, to taste.
• Wash and dry scallops and squid blotting with paper, grill on BBQ or stove, the scallops and squid until just cooked through, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Cut the squid crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide rings if not using packaged rings.
• Combine the arugula, carrots, bell peppers, and cannellini beans in a large bowl. Toss with 1/2 cup of the dressing to coat. Top with cooled seafood and toss again. Serve on platter or in bowl.
Stollen with candied fruit
1 cup mixed candied fruit
1 cup raisins
3 tbls dark rum or orange juice
For the Sponge:
1 scant tbls or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 F)
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tbls finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 cup chopped almonds, toasted
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl
For the Filling:
2 tsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbls granulated sugar
For the Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
• Prepare the fruit first by combining the mixed fruit, raisins, and rum. Cover and set aside.
• In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes.
• Add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
• In the mixer bowl, add the fruit mixture, honey, egg, butter, zest, salt, mace, almonds, and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.
• Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
• About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 F.
• Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. For 1 large loaf, roll the dough into a 9 by 13-inch oval. For 2 loaves, divided the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Brush the melted butter over the top of the oval(s). Combine the cinnamon and granulated sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the oval(s). Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the bread(s) onto a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet. Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.
• Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
• Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 F. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool. Sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar.
Make your buffet stand out
By Danielle Pitanello • Recipes By Food Editor – Michele Kristensen
Ham and cheese sliders
minutes. Serve immediately!