In Italy, festivities, and food goes hand in hand. Whether the celebration is public or private, religious, or filled with folklore, it always includes a ritual dish or two. Christmas is a two-day feast. Most dishes are tied to local tradition but a few have become national symbols like Panettone from Milan and Capitone, eel, which is eaten on Christmas Even in the south, while capon is put to good use in the north where stuffed pasta is served in capon broth. In our three-day hands-on cookery course, we’ll prepare a holiday menu including antipasti, a first course, and dessert. While we cook, we’ll learn about typical Italian culinary traditions from North to South of wonderful Italy.
Led by food historian, sommelier, and home cook Gina Tringali, this interactive cooking series has been designed to deliver a taste of the holidays to your kitchen. In no time, participants will be making Italian food, from cannelloni to struffoli, like an expert.
Lecture 1: Antipasti (Zeppole with Anchovies and Insalata di Rinforzo)
There is no shortage of antipasti enjoyed for the Christmas extravaganza. From il baccalà mantecato (whipped salt cod) in Veneto and crostini di fegatelli (liver pate spread over crostini) in Tuscany and Crispelle Ricotta Fresca (fried dough filled with ricotta cheese) in Sicily, there are endless delicious appetizers to enjoy.
Today’s menu includes two appetizers, zeppole di acciughe and insalata di rinforzo, which hail from southern Italy. For participants who do not like anchovies, the dough can be made without them or algae/seaweed can be used as a substitute.
A staple of the holiday table in Naples, in the past, rinforzo (reinforced), a salad of cauliflower, olives, anchovies, caper, and pickled vegetables were served daily between Christmas and Epiphany. It was reinforced with the addition of ingredients each day. According to tradition in Naples, Christmas Eve dinner had to be light and rinforzo made the dinner more nutritious. Continuing with the southern tradition of serving an array of fish courses, zeppole di acciughe (fried dough balls with anchovies) are fried in the moment and served immediately. They are savory and are simply delicious.
Ingredients for Insalata di Rinforzo:
- 1 cauliflower, washed and cut into small florets
- 150 gr. black olives from Gaeta if possible
- 150 gr. green olives
- 200 gr. Papaccelle (vinegar peppers), chopped into wedges
- 80 gr. capers, rinsed
- 10 anchovies preserved in salt or oil
- Pepper, salt, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar
Optional: An assortment of sottaceti (pickled vegetables including carrots, peppers, pearl onions)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
Ingredients for Zeppole with anchovies:
- 500 g flour ‘0’ or AP
- 400 ml water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp EVOO
- 12 anchovy fillets in oil
- 15 g brewers yeast Peanut, canola, or vegetable oil for frying
Lecture 2: Cannelloni Filled with Meat and Cheese
On Christmas Eve Southern tables celebrate Christmas Eve with Il Cenone, a massive dinner of multiple fish courses which always include eel and usually baccala. Dishes served on Christmas Eve are meant to cleanse the body while dishes served on the actual holiday, Christmas Day are rich and often include meat.
Although traditional holiday recipes are changing with different tastes, ingredients, and busy daily life, stuffed pasta always has a place on the Christmas menu from North to South. On the menu today are fresh meat and cheese-filled cannelloni stuffed which are one of the pasta courses served in the South on Christmas Day.
Food historians argue that the first cannelloni pasta dates back to the early nineteenth century when a Neapolitan cook made pasta filled with ground meat and cooked it in tomato sauce. Others argue that the first cannelloni appeared in Amalfi. Regardless of its origin, it is an Italian favorite, luxurious, and reserved for special occasions.
In our hands-on cooking seminar, we’ll prepare cannelloni.
Ingredients for pasta:
- 12-18 cannelloni shells for stuffing*
For the sauce:
Approximately 28 oz of tomato sauce of your choice, cooked/prepared
Ingredients for the bechamel:
- 300ml full-fat milk
- 30 grams of butter
- 20 grams plain flour
- Salt and black pepper
For the filling:
- 500 g ground beef or a mix of ground beef and veal
- 250 g mozzarella cubed
- 200 g ricotta
- 2 or 3 slices of prosciutto cotto (ham), chopped
- 5 tbsp pecorino romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 1 onion, chopped
- Salt and pepper
*Note: during this lesson we will not be making the cannelloni shells from scratch, due to time constraints.
Lecture 3: Struffoli
The array of Italian Christmas desserts is astounding. While the panettone of Milan with raisins and candied citrus finds its place at every Italian table, regional sweets and recipes are coveted. In Siena, Tuscany cavallucci (little horses), hard white cookies filled with spices and walnuts are enjoyed while Romans delight in cassola, a cheesecake that finds its roots with the Jewish community, and mostaccioli, spiced nut pastries. In the region of Campania, the line up of dolci include mostaccioli napoletani, diamond-shaped soft spiced cookies covered in chocolate, and roccocò, wreath shaped cookies studded with almonds but the center stage is held by struffoli. The honey-glazed fried dough balls are piled in pyramids and decorated with colorful sugar decorations and candied fruit.
As with many Neapolitan dishes, struffoli has similarities with Greek and Spanish desserts like Greek Loukoumades - bite-sized fried honey balls that date back to Magna Grecia - and Spanish Piñonate - candied pine nuts with grated lemon rind, ground almonds, and honey.
In our hands-on cooking seminar, we’ll prepare struffoli: participants will come away with an understanding of how to make this beloved Neapolitan Christmas dessert.
Ingredients for the dough:
- 50 g sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder(optional)
- 400 g flour‘00’ or AP
- Zest from 1 orange
- 60 g unsalted butter
- 3 medium eggs, beaten
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Sunflower seed, peanut, or vegetable oil of your choice for frying
Ingredients for glacé and decorating:
- 175g honey (millefiori)
- 30 g candied orange peel, cubed
- Colored sugar sprinkles/strands to taste
- Candied cherries to taste
- 30 g candied lemon, citrus peel, or silver sugar balls
About Your Expert
Gina is a food historian, coffee connoisseur and cook. Born into an Italian-American family, Gina spent countless hours in the kitchens of her mom and her Neapolitan and Sicilian grandmothers – watching, cooking, tasting – dreaming of living in Italy. In 2007 she relocated to Rome where she earned a Master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, and became a certified sommelier and member of AIS. She also holds an MBA from NYU. Before relocating to Rome, she worked for Tom Colicchio's Craft family of restaurants in NYC in business development and marketing and she spent some time in the kitchen. Her writing appears on numerous food and travel publications.
How does it work?
This is a three-part hands-on cooking series held on consecutive days and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
Will I be given a recipe in advance?
Yes, you will receive this soon after course registration.
Will you provide me with the ingredients?
You will need to source the ingredients yourself. We will provide you with a detailed ingredient list and instructions after course registration.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $105 for three lectures.
Is a recording available?
If you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.
Gina really knows her stuff and was an excellence guide as we prepared several different Italian creations together. The "interactive" class formats are terrific and much better than watching a you tube video. I was able to ask questions and learn insider best practices to improve my overall cooking skills. While it would have been fun to take these classes in Rome where Gina teaches, learning in my own kitchen with my own tools and groceries was the next best thing, and might have even been better so that I know that I can do it in my home. If you want to expand your cooking skills, learn something new, and have fun....don't hesitate to sign up for a Context cooking class
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