It's been a very long time (over 10-15 years) since I celebrated Christmas in Rhode Island. Now that I live less than an hour away, I was able to be there for the grand Christmas feast...
In my family, Christmas has never been celebrated with a ham or turkey. Ham is for Easter and turkey is for Thanksgiving. If given either meal for Christmas, we'll get confused. Also, the "feast" is a two-day ordeal. That's right. The secret is out. Christmas is not about gifts, it's about FOOD.
The feast starts on Christmas eve. It begins with an antipasto. Everything begins with an antipasto. It's not until the main meal that you know which holiday you're celebrating. My mother's antipasto could be considered a meal in itself. There's always tuna, olives (black, spanish and greek), pickled peppers, chunks of mozzarella, pepperocini, marinated mushroom caps and artichoke hearts. This is served with snail salad and codfish salad.
The next round of platters contains fish and seafood. The smelts have a thin batter. The codfish squares have a thick batter. Then there's codfish soup with the plums and tomato broth. Shrimp cocktail was followed by baked, stuffed shrimp. The scrod was in a lemon and butter sauce. The angel-hair pasta in olive oil (usually with anchovies) was topped with sliced spanish olives and walnuts (not enough anchovy eaters this year). There were also "stuffies" - which are stuffed quahogs (hard shell clams).
The desserts ranged from fruit to nuts. We had a fruit basket and bowls of mixed nuts (in the shell). Cheesecake and platters of Christmas cookies were nibbled on while drinking cups of expresso (spiked with Sambuca). We also had a platter of figs and dates (stuffed with almonds and rolled in confectioners' sugar). Another platter held an ensemble of biscotti, pepper biscuits and wine biscuits. Three boxes of various kinds of Italian chocolates were also among the dessert items.
And this was just Christmas eve... We had enough left over for a meal the next day...but Christmas day has other food associated with it.
Christmas dinner lasted for over 5 hours. Yes, 5 HOURS. Not 5 hours of being there, but 5 hours of EATING. It starts with an antipasto (again). This is not just what's left over from Christmas eve, but a new antipasto with more pickled items than you can shake a fork at... Although everything looks deliciously tempting, you need to exercise great control. This meal is not for amateurs and it's a meal of endurance. You must pace yourself or you'll never get through it.
The next course is the soup. This is a special soup called a "wedding soup." It's a chicken soup with little tiny meatballs, chunks of chicken, escarole, carrot slices and rice-shaped pasta. No matter how much you love this soup, you'll never get it unless it's Christmas or you're at a wedding. I've tried many times and failed. You get something close... everything but the meatballs...or the meatballs will be there and the escarole will be missing... It's almost like a superstition that you can't have it unless it's a "special" day. Then it comes with everything. You should only have one bowl of this soup. After all, you have to pace yourself. A second bowl and you'll have to run around the house a few times to make room for the next course.
The next course is always the best. It's homemade pasta. As long as I can remember, it isn't Christmas unless you have cavatelli on Christmas day. And of course you can't just have cavatelli by itself. It comes with a pan of homemade manicotti and bowls of meat from the gravy (also known as tomato sauce -- we call it "gravy" because of the meat drippings that flavor the sauce). The meat bowls on Christmas carry every meat you see all year long. There's meatballs, pepperoni slices, sausage, braccioli, pork, beef and pigs' feet.
This is where the sissies say they're full. Only the brave can make it to the next course. The last main course consists of rock cornish hens. They're stuffed with white and wild rice and come with potato wedges and onion slices. Anyone who had a second bowl of soup can't make it here. Anyone who had two scoops of cavatelli and one (or more) manicotti can't make it here either. This is for the brave and the pacers. This meal is for those who know to "save room" for these delicious little birds.
Then there's dessert. Oh, that should really be plural -- desserts. Two cheesecakes, pecan pie, christmas cookies, biscotti, fruits and figs covered the table. It's no wonder that expresso coffee is served in little demi-tasse cups. There's not enough room on the table for regular cups and saucers with all the desserts.
And that is what Christmas is really about. Food. More food than you can imagine in your wildest dreams. All more delicious than you can fit in your stomach. And there's always plenty of it. Everyone goes home with little leftover containers.
I won't have to cook for at least two weeks...
I hope everyone's holiday was just as delicious as mine. Happy Holidays everyone!
Posted by BlueWolf on December 29, 2002 09:24 PM