The Newsmagazine of Long Beach Island and Southern Ocean County
Gina G. Scala
When our discussion of the holiday guide came up a few months ago, I knew immediately I wanted to do something about food. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, but I finally decided on sharing some favorite holiday recipes.
It was a great idea until I realized I don’t have recipes for my favorite dishes. I have a whole lot of “to taste” and “eyeball it.” Cooking with anyone in my Italian American family as a child and as an adult, that is all I ever heard – unless we were baking. Then, there are recipes.
As a result, I delayed sitting down and writing this piece for as long as possible, but the deadline is looming and soon my sister will send me an email about Christmas Eve. So, I know the time has come to pick a holiday recipe to share.
My family celebrates the Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian American Christmas Eve celebration with origins in southern Italy. There it is simply known as La Vigilia, or the Eve. We observe abstinence from meat until Christmas Day, a tradition that dates back to the Roman Catholic observance of abstaining from meat on the eve of a feast day.
While there is no set menu for the Feast of Seven Fishes, a traditional menu reflects seasonal availability of fish, such as smelts and calamari. And so, I bequeath a baked stuffed calamari with more “to taste” and “eyeball it” reminders than actual measurements.
Stuffed calamari ingredients: Buttermilk, calamari, day-old bread, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, Pecorino Romano cheese, parsley, peeled plum tomatoes.
Sauce ingredients: Basil, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, canned peeled plum tomatoes with the juice, salt. (Optional: red wine. I like to use red wine to get whatever is left in the tomato can for added depth of flavor. Make sure to use a wine that you want to drink. Don’t use something you’ve never tried before).
Note: My dad was a big fan of soaking calamari overnight in buttermilk to tenderize it. So, every year on Dec. 23, we put a huge container of calamari soaking in buttermilk in the refrigerator. We’d also make bread crumbs from the day-old bread and the sauce to top the baked stuffed calamari.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. (Author’s note: Your oven should be waiting for you, not the other way around).
Rinse the calamari tubes and set aside. Rinse the tentacles and chop finely.
To make the stuffing, beat the eggs and slowly add the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and tentacles, then mix. The mixture should have a soft consistency.
Now the fun begins! Stuff the calamari tubes with the filling. Depending on the size of the tubes, you should be able to get a fair amount in, but less is more since the mixture will expand. You can close the tubes with a toothpick. FULL DISCLOSURE: This can be messy, so wear an apron or your grungiest clothes. And definitely make sure there’s time after for a shower.
Line a baking dish (9 by 13 inches) with a single layer of stuffed calamari. In my family, we drizzle the stuffed calamari with olive oil, fresh lemon and white wine when we make them without sauce (my mom’s preference). Cover with foil and cook until tender. The timing of this is a lot like measurements, meaning I don’t know. I watch them closely so they don’t overcook. For some ovens, it’s 45 minutes. For other ovens, it’s less time.
Since my dad always liked sauce on his baked stuffed calamari, we would baste a second batch with sauce, which is also the foundation for the seafood sauce we make to serve with pasta.
Sauce directions: Combine olive oil, garlic (“to taste”). If using smashed garlic, press it into the pan to release its juices and remove (if you want). Add peeled plum tomatoes and crush them with the side of a wooden spoon. Add fresh basil at the end.
This dish reheats well. To do so, cover with foil and place in a preheated 350-degree oven until the calamari is warmed through but not steaming hot. Again, ovens vary, so if 350 degrees is too hot on your oven, lower it. If it isn’t hot enough, push it up a little.
A few things to remember: This dish, like many Italian dishes really, has a plethora of variations. In Naples, raisins and pignoli (pine nuts) might be added. Shrimp is often used in the stuffing, too. Capers and Gaeta olives are also used, as are hot red pepper flakes. My dad would sometimes slip anchovies (instead of capers) and pignoli into the stuffing when my sisters weren’t looking. I like both, so that never bothered me. The calamari can stew in the sauce instead of baking in the oven. While we prefer baked stuffed calamari on its own as an appetizer, it can easily become il secondo (main dish) if serving over pasta.
The best advice I can give is this: Your nose will know when it’s done or nearly done; trust it. Also, don’t open the oven door so much that you’re letting heat out. Let it go, and when your nose tells you, check it. Buon Natale!
It’s understandable if you’re freaked out a little over a recipe with no measurements, but luckily we have those, too, thanks to staff writers David Biggy and Monique M. Demopoulos, who each shared a holiday favorite. First up is a recipe for German Green Beans, courtesy of Biggy.
GERMAN GREEN BEANS
1 package of regular bacon (or you can get a large-sized package and add more bacon)
1 container of sour cream, 16 oz. (regular, reduced fat or light, doesn’t matter)
6 cans French style green beans, drained
1/3 cup white vinegar to start
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Be sure to use a large pan or skillet.
Cook bacon until well done. You can use a standard frying pan or a microwavable bacon pan. Once the entire package of bacon is cooked, set aside the bacon on paper towels to cool. Once the bacon is cooled, crumble the bacon with your hands into a bowl.
Save some of the liquid bacon fat, about a ½ cup’s worth, in a measuring cup. Set it aside for later use.
If you used a pan to cook the bacon, don’t clean it. Instead, dump the entire container of sour cream into it and begin cooking it on a low setting. If you used a microwave to cook the bacon, fetch a large pan and dump the sour cream in it and begin cooking it on a low setting.
To your pan with the sour cream, add the vinegar and the bacon, and mix it well as it cooks, for about a minute or so, then add the flour and continue to stir for another minute or two.
Taste the sauce. If it’s too vinegary, add some of the liquid bacon fat to the mixture and retaste until you’re satisfied with the taste. If you want a more vinegary taste, add a little more vinegar until it’s satisfactory. If the sauce is still too light or loose, add another tablespoon of flour until the sauce is creamy.
Add the drained green beans to the sauce, a can at a time, and stir well each time a can of green beans is added, until you’ve added all the beans.
Continue to cook on a low-medium setting for five to 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.
Once finished, pour the green bean mixture into a serving dish (Corningware, stoneware or aluminum pan, whatever you desire) and serve warm. Also, you can store in a dish overnight and heat it the next day at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Enjoy!
And last, but certainly not least, a sweet treat recipe from Demopoulos. (Author’s note: Lining up all your ingredients so they are easily accessible to you and you’re not running to the pantry is a great idea for any recipe – but especially for this one because there are so many).
Melomakarona are popular treats among Greek people for many occasions, but especially during the holidays. Melomakarona is derived from the root “meli,” meaning “honey,” and “makarona,” from the ancient “makaria,” meaning “blessed.” Because these cookies do not contain egg or dairy, they were once served as a Lenten treat to be enjoyed while fasting in anticipation for Christmas. Intense flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves are sprinkled with toasted walnuts and enveloped in the soft, inviting sweetness of honey to rival the pumpkin spice obsession in America. Their intensely warm aroma of nostalgia conjures a sense of home in every bite.
These honey-drenched cookies are soft and moist, like cake, on the inside with a delightfully crispy outer coating. These treats pair well with a robust cup of Greek coffee.
Honey Syrup: Prepare first and set to cool.
1¼ cups water
2¾ cups sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 orange, halved
Melomakarona: Prepare while the honey syrup cools.
½ cup ﬁne semolina (cannot be substituted)
4 cups soft ﬂour
½ tbsp. baking powder
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tbsp. cognac
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tbsp. powdered cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tbsp baking soda
1/3 cup water
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sunﬂower or coconut oil
3 tbsp. honey
Zest of two oranges
Garnish (Optional): crushed walnuts, powdered cinnamon
This recipe should yield about 50 cookies, depending on size, and will take about 30 minutes to prep and 20 minutes to bake. Utilize a timer and place the next batch in the oven while finishing the preceding batch with the honey syrup and garnishes.
First, add all syrup ingredients except for honey to a medium-size pot and bring to a boil. Let boil about three to four minutes, until sugar has dissolved and remove from heat. Stir in honey and set aside to cool completely.
Next, add semolina, white ﬂour and baking powder to a bowl and hand mix with a whisk to combine. It is imperative not to over-mix the dough.
In a separate large bowl, add orange juice, cognac, sugar and nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and vanilla and mix. Add baking soda and quickly whisk for ﬁve to 10 seconds, until baking soda dissolves and begins foaming. Pour water, oil, orange zest and honey into the bowl and whisk to combine.
Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and knead with hands until the ingredients are just combined. The dough should feel smooth and subtly sticky to the touch. Do not over-knead, as overworked dough will result in a tough texture.
Preheat the oven to 365 degrees Fahrenheit and layer the bottom of four large baking trays with parchment. Pinch off about a 2-inch portion of dough and mold into an ovular, egg-like shape. Place on baking sheet, press down lightly on the top, and prick the dough with a fork (about halfway through) three times down the length of the cookie.
Melomakarona keeps fresh for about two to three weeks if stored properly (in an airtight container at room temperature).
Kalá Christoúgenna! (καλά Χριστούγεννα!) Merry Christmas!
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