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TIP OF THE DAY: Feast Of The Seven Fishes, Anchovies With Bread & Butter

Anchovies, Bread & Butter

White Anchovies

White Anchovies

Stirato, Italian Baguette

[1] Nonna Menna’s buttered bread with anchovies (photo courtesy Giulia Scarpaleggia). [2] We substitute pimiento for the capers (photo courtesy La Tienda). [3] You can use anchovy filets in olive oil or boquerones, marinated filets turned white by the vinegar (photo courtesy La Tienda). [4] Stirato is the closed Italian bread to the French baguette (photo courtesy Them Apples).

 

You don’t have to be of Italian descent to create the traditional Feast Of The Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

We do it every year as a co-op event: Seven of us prepare the seven fish/seafood dishes, and the eighth makes dessert. (Note: With seven courses, the portions are smaller.)

If you’re having a “regular” Christmas Eve party, set out the Feast Of The Seven Fishes as a buffet.

We live near a good Italian bakery and can pick up stirato, the Italian bread closest to a baguette; but you can bake it yourself.

Or buy baguettes!

It’s a splendid feast, with opera playing in the background (or Christmas carols or Il Volo, if you prefer).

For menu suggestions and a backgrounder on the holiday, check out our:

  • 2009 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2010 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2014 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2015 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
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    RECIPE #1: OUR 2016 APPETIZER

    As we sit around the sofa with bottles of wine, warming up for the main meal, we’re having a bread and butter with anchovies, inspired by the Tuscan grandmother of food writer Giulia Scarpaleggia. Nonna Menna added capers as well.

    “Just use quality ingredients,” says Giulia, “because there are no tricks nor deceits!” You can even…
     
    HAVE A TASTING, COMPARING THE DIFFERENT BRANDS

    Butter. Our go-to butters are from Cabot’s and Vermont Creamery, but we’ll add Kerrygold, Organic Valley and Plugrá. If we had more capacity, we’d test Breakstone and Land o’ Lakes as well.

    Anchovies. We are happy with Cento, an inexpensive brand available at supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and elsewhere. We can also find Ortiz and Roland in our neighborhood, and are ordering some fancy brands online. (There are no fresh anchovies in our markets now.)

    Capers. Instead of Nonna’s capers, we’re using pimiento, a wonderful pairing with anchovies, with a garnish of chopped parsley. If we have time, we’ll add some lemon zest and garlic, or gremolata.
     
    PUTTING IT TOGETHER

    The recipe is a no-brainer, but here’s how we’re serving it:

    Place all the ingredients on the table and let people butter and top their own.
     
    Ingredients & Preparation

  • A basket of sliced plain striate and a basket of toasted slices (substitute baguette for stirato).
  • Unsalted butter, softened in ramekins, served blind with butter spreaders. A number written on each ramekin with a china marker, and revealed at the end of the course.
  • Anchovies in oil, drained and piled into shallow bowls or small plates, with appetizer/cocktail forks for serving.
  • Pimiento (sweet red pepper) strips.
  • Fresh minced parsley, in a ramekin with an espresso spoon (because what’s a fish course without fresh herbs).
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    Variations

  • Replace the anchovies butter or sardine butter, a compound butter you can throw together.
  • Mash 1 cup of softened, unsalted butter with 1/2 cup mashed anchovies or sardines.
  • You can substitute anchovy paste, but it’s typically made with the cheapest anchovies, and very salty.
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    RECIPE #2: FRUTTI DI MARE FIRST COURSE

    Frutti di mare, “fruits of the sea” in Italian, is the name of a dish made of different seafood on the coasts of Italy.

    Frutti di mare literally means “fruits of the sea” and can include all types of seafood, including mussels, clams, prawns and other shellfish.

    It can be served in different ways: crudo (raw), fried and sautéed, for example.

    Sautéed, it is often used to top bucatini, linguine or spaghetti.

    For a first course, gather your favorite seafood and:

  • Serve it as a marinated seafood salad with good olive oil and lemon juice for at least part of the vinegar. You can serve it as is, but we prefer turning it into a green salad course.
  • You can mix the seafood with olives or capers. You can add onion. Place it atop Boston lettuce or mesclun mixed with fresh basil and baby arugula.
  • Pile it into a Martini or coupe glass, with a small romaine leaf for garnish.
  • You can serve frutti di mare as a pasta course, with good olive oil or garlic-infused oil as your sauce (don’t forget the fresh herbs). Or, use your favorite red sauce.
  • Like to make cannelloni or crêpes? Fill them with frutti de mare and top with mornay sauce.
  • Need a soup course? Cook the fish and seafood in some Swanson broth.
     
    HOW CUTTLEFISH ARE DIFFERENT FROM SQUID

    They’re different from calamari, too.

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    Frutti Di Mare

    Frutti di mare, mixed seafood, can be served in many ways. [1] Marinated, at All’ Onda | NYC). [2] With pasta; here’s the recipe from InPerugia.com.

     

      

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    RECIPE: Chocolate Chocolate Chip Gingerbread Cookies

    Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies

    Swedish Pearl Sugar

    Mini Chocolate Chips

    [1] Gingerbread cookies with two hits of chocolate: cocoa powder and chocolate chips. [2] Swedish pearl sugar, not to be confused with Belgian pearl sugar, which is much larger. [3] Don’t forget the mini chips! (Photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.)

     

    How can you improve gingerbread?

    Add chocolate chips, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder. Swedish pearl sugar adds a festive touch.

    The cookies are soft and chewy, and are a delight served warm from the oven. They’ll keep for several days in an airtight container.

    Prep time is 10 to 15 minutes, bake time is 10 to 12 minutes.

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP GINGERBREAD COOKIES

    Ingredients For 30-32 Cookies

  • 2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose baking cocoa, or Dutch-process cocoa
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup semisweet mini mini chips
  • 5 tablespoons Swedish pearl sugar*
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    ________________
    *The difference between Swedish pearl sugar and Belgian pearl sugar (they’re not interchangeable) and all types of sugar.
    ________________
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease the sheets lightly.

    2. COMBINE the flour, baking soda, spices, salt, and cocoa. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until light and creamy. Add the molasses and beat until combined.

    3. BEAT in the dry ingredients, then stir in the chips.

    4. SCOOP the dough a tablespoon at a time (a tablespoon cookie scoop works well here). Roll the top portion of each dough ball in the pearl sugar.

    5. PLACE the unbaked cookies 1-1/2″ apart, sugar side up, on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookie surface begins to crack.

    6. REMOVE from the oven, cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

     

     
      

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    FOOD FUN: Snowman Cake Or Cookies

    Snowman Cake

    Melted Snowman Cookies

    Snowman cake. This is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa, but we baked three cake layers instead. [2] Melting Snowman cookies (photo courtesy Pillsbury; here’s the recipe).

     

    If you don’t celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or other year-end holiday, you can still have a special seasonal cake.

    Make one with a nonsectarian snowman or snowflake motif. These work for New Year’s Eve, too (perhaps with a sparkler or two).

    Snowmen are easier; snowflakes require some serious piping chops.

    This photo is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa. We love the idea.

    But we needed a cake. So we baked and stacked three graduated cake layers.

    We made lemon pound cake* layers with coconut frosting (vanilla frosting topped with coconut).

    Of course, carrot cake, chocolate cake, red velvet or any flavor you prefer would be just as nice.

    MORE TASTY SNOWMEN

  • Snowman California Rolls (sushi)
  • Snowman Cheese Ball
  • Snowman Fruit Bowl
  • Melting Snowman Cookies
  • Snowman Cupcakes
  • Snowman Latte
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    ________________
    *We wanted a dense, easy-to-cut cake rather than an airy one with a delicate crumb.

     
      

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    GIFT OF THE DAY: GelPro, The Most Comfortable Kitchen Mat

    Along with tidings of comfort and joy, give real comfort and joy with a GelPro Mat.

    It’s a super-cushy and comfortable floor mat, so amazing that we not only have one front of our kitchen sink and stove; we also have one in the bathroom. We don’t know how we’d live without it.

    We almost always have aching legs, knees, feet and/or back and find that GelPro is the most cushy and comfortable mat we can stand on.

    A panacea for the aches, it’s shock-absorbing, non-skid and easy to clean. Almost everyone who has passed through THE NIBBLE kitchen has purchased one. Once you stand on one, you have to have one. At least one!

    Even people with no aches and pains get a lift from standing on them. It’s the difference between standing on hard flooring and standing on pillows. You just don’t get tired standing on these mats.

    The mats are available in a variety of sizes (from 20″ x 36″ to 9′ long!), colors and and designs, plain to fancy. They start at $99.95, depending on size and design.

    Whatever the price, trust us: We’d pay anything for the comfort our GelPro mats provide.

    They also make life more comfortable in the fitness room, garage, grill area, laundry room and workbench.

    Whomever you give one to will be thanking you for a long time.
     
    EXTRA SPECIAL COMFORT AND JOY FOR THE HOLIDAYS:
    20% OFF & FREE SHIPPING

    Head to GelPro.com.

     

    GelPro Kitchen Mat

    GelPro Kitchen Mat

    No matter how long you’ve been standing, a GelPro mat turns the floor into the cushiest pillow. Several sizes and numerous colors and designs are available (photos courtesy GelPro).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Struffoli, An Italian Christmas Tradition

    Struffoli Candied Fruit

    Struffoli Wreath

    Struffoli Cornucopia

    Frying Stuffoli

    Croque Em Bouche

    1000 Italian Recipes Book

    [1] A mound of struffoli, the traditional shape, from Linda’s Italian Table. It can be cut into slices, or for a party, put on the buffet so everyone can pick off what they like. [2] A loose wreath style from Il Cuori In Pentola. [3] A cornucopia shape, called Cornucopia di Sfoglia in Italian. It’s decorated with chocolate foil coins, by Oggi Cucino Cosi. [4] Frying the dough at My Spice Sage. If you can fry, you can make struffoli. [5] Croque em bouche, a special occasion treat in France, is often served instead of wedding cake. These smaller versions are decorated for the holidays by François Payard Bakery in New York City. [6] The recipes in this book include one for struffoli, reprinted below. You can see the recipes for any of these photos by clicking their links.

     

    How about a holiday baking project for family and friends?

    If you don’t have your own holiday baking tradition like Christmas cookies, gingerbread people or spritz cookies, how about struffoli?

    Struffoli (STROO-fo-lee) are puffy balls of eggy fried dough coated in honey. They are a traditional Christmas sweet in Naples and other parts of central and southern Italy.

    The fried dough is stacked into a cone-shape centerpiece or assembled into a wreath design. More ambitious cooks have the puffs spilling out a pastry horn of plenty. We like to present it with after-dinner coffee.

    It’s actually quite easy: If you can fry, you can make struffoli.

    Struffoli look like a smaller, flat croquembouche. Both have a crunchy outside and soft inside.

  • Croque Em Bouche is made from profiteroles—cream puffs—that are baked, filled and stacked into the shape of a large cone. The puffs are held together by caramelized (spun) sugar and finished with drizzled caramel. It is served for weddings and other celebrations.
  • Struffoli is made from deep-fried dough the size of marbles. There is no filling, but the balls are rolled in honey to stick together. They can be shaped into a cone or a wreath.
  • Stuffoli can be set on a cone base made from nougatine, a mixture of caramelized sugar and sliced almonds.
  • Croque em bouche is also traditionally served during baptisms and other special occasions. The name means “[it] cracks in the mouth,” which is what the caramelized sugar does!
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    DECORATING THE STRUFFOLI

    While struffoli can be served plain, you can express your creativity with decorations.

  • The Italian preference is for pastel sprinkle mixes. We suggest red, green and white sugar holiday confetti or sprinkles.
  • For an old-fashioned approach: candied red and green cherries or other candied fruits.
  • You may want to avoid Jordan almonds or candied nuts, another traditional decoration, if any guest may be allergic.
  • Like to roll fondant? Drape a red “ribbon” around the pastry and top with a “bow.” You can use real ribbon if you prefer.
  • Want elegance? Get gold and silver edible dragées and pearls.
  • Our favorite: strips of candied orange peel or an assortment of all the citrus peels you can collect. Dipping the peels in chocolate is our own personal touch. Here’s a recipe.
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    RECIPE: STRUFFOLI (NEAPOLITAN HONEY BALLS)

    This recipe, from 1,000 Italian Recipes by Michele Scicolone, can easily be doubled. It is © copyright Michele Scicolone.

    If you like the idea but not the labor, call the nearest Italian bakery and order one.

    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup honey (about 6 ounces)
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    TIP: Use quality honey instead of the generic supermarket variety for a more elegant flavor.
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the cup of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.

    2. TURN OUT the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Add a bit more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.

    3. CUT the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a teeny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)

    4. LINE a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan and heat to 370°F, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.

    5. PLACE just enough struffoli in the pan to fit without crowding, taking care not to splash the hot oil. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown (1 to 2 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough. When all of the struffoli are fried…

     

    6. GENTLY HEAT the honey to just a simmer in a large, shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the drained struffoli and toss well. Transfer the struffoli to a serving plate and shape into a mound or wreath. Decorate as desired.

    7. TO SERVE: For each person, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server. Or, pass the plate so people can take what they like.

    You can store struffoli at room temperature, covered with an overturned bowl, for up to 3 days.

    STRUFFOLI HISTORY

    The ancestor of struffoli dates back to ancient Greece. A similar dish is described by Archestratus, a Greek poet from Sicily.

    Called enkris, the dough balls were fried in olive oil (source).

    The name derives from the Greek word strongoulos, meaning “rounded in shape.”

    Fast forward to the early 17th century. The nuns of Naples were famous for their sweets, which they sold to the public. Each convent had a specialty. According to tradition, struffoli are considered good luck because the balls are a symbol of abundance.

    At Christmas, the nuns made struffoli as gifts for their aristocratic patrons, to thank them for their charity throughout the year. The tradition was copied by home cooks and became a Christmas tradition (source).

     
      

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