Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brooklyn Italian Christmas Eve

I grew up in a Brooklyn family.  My mom is an Irish New Yorker and my other mom is an Italian New Yorker.  Holidays were split (Irish, Gowanus, Easter/ Italian, Coney Island, Christmas Eve).  My family is loud, obsessed with food, loud, curly haired, loud.  My uncle always likes to comment on his dismay when he first entered the family. 
"You plan the menu, talk about the ingredients, talk about the prep, then finally sit down to the meal and all you do is talk about how it was made." 

In keeping with this tradition, I would like to share with you how to make a proper Brooklyn Italian Christmas Eve dinner.
For the first time since my grandfather died and my family moved to Florida, most of us are back together in the city to make the meal that my Grandpa used to make.

Christmas Dinner is the dinner of 7 fishes.  So count with me as I go along.

First you all have to get together, a week in advance, and prepare the menu.
My aunt, cousin, uncle, grandma, and mom (on speaker phone) and 3 bottles of red wine.

"Who's writing this down? Chel, get the pad. Alright, you're the note taker."
"Are you going to hurry up, I have to get all the way back to Staten Island before traffic on the Belt becomes a nightmare."
"Alright, so are we going to do the fish salad?"
"OF COURSE we're going to do the fish salad."
"Can we get it from MET food?"
"What are you sick?  I'll make the fish salad."
"Who do you think is paying?"
"You are ma."
"Ok but we're not doing the fried Bakala."
(Mom from phone perks up)
"OF COURSE we're doing the bakala, that's my favorite part!  Also it's another fish and we gotta make 7"
"Elio (my grandma's boyfriend) made an amazing crab sauce.  We have to put that on the menu."
"AND the scungilli sauce?"
"Whatever.  We have to put the crab sauce on there."
"Ok what about greens.  Broccoli Rabe?"
"Broccoli Rabe on Christmas?  Is there something wrong with you?"
"Salad.  We have salad."
"Ok I gotta go.  Don't go too crazy.  You have a $300 limit.  Go to MET food."
"Ok ma."

Next day at Fairway.

"BILLY!  We got your fish!  It's looking beautiful."
We grab handfuls of slippery calamari and put them into bags.  I picked out one medium size octopus and fluffed it up a bit to see if it would do.  
My uncle takes a look at the chopped scungilli in the case and turns to the lady with a bouffant next to him
"Do you think this will do?"
"For the fish salad?"
"Nah, you gotta go for the wholes."

We pile whole scungilli  in the bag along with shrimp, one long piece of salted bakala, pastas, olives, big bag of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Pile the groceries into the car, and told I had to be at Grandma's at 9 am to start cooking so that she doesn't freak out.

The Menu

Fish Salad
Stuffed Clams 
Fried Calamari
Antipast Salad
Twisted Italian Bread with Seeds

Long Fussiili with Scungilli sauce
Linguini with Clam Sauce

Fried Bakala
Stuffed Calamari
Shrimp Scampi

Stuffed Artichokes

Fruit Salad

Marzipan rainbow cookies


Fish Salad

The Fish Salad is easily the most time consuming item on the menu.  Everything is done from scratch.  First you gotta:

Crack the olives.  I'm using the bottom of a cup here.  
  • Cut and clean the celery.  Cut and clean the parsley.  
  • Clean the shrimp and saute, low heat with a little butter
  • Clean and boil the calamari  Set aside a few tubes for stuffing later.

  • Cut tubes into ringlets for the salad
  • Take the scungilli and clean it well.  Rinse under water, Use your fingers to remove the "pee pee" and cut into small pieces for salad and sauce.
  • Now is the fun part: Octopus (Polpo).  It's already probably been cleaned by the store, but you have to rinse it a bit more.  Then take the Octopus, put it on a butcher board, and beat the hell out of it to make it tender.  A process my grandfather used to call "Beating the polpo" and would beat it against the ground outside next to the schoolyard.

  • Then, holding the octopus by the head, dip the legs quickly up and down into the pot of boiling water until the legs curl up.  Then put the whole octopus in for 5 minutes.  Remove the polpo, cut the tentacles up for the salad, and cut the head off for the kids to play with as a ball.
  • Put in a large martini glass and drizzle olive oil and lemon juice

Stuffed Clams
Buy from Rocco's in Dyker Heights and serve with lemon wedges.

Fried Calamari
Buy from Rocco's.  Make sure to bring over right away and serve so don't get soggy.

Antipast Salad
Purchase: Stuffed peppers, provolone, olives (mixed), red peppers, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, balls, brined mushrooms

Twisted, Italian Bread with seeds from Cuccio's on Avenue X


Fussili with Scungilli Sauce

  • Saute some garlic on low heat with top shelf olive oil until lightly browned
  • Add scungilli pieces and red wine, reduce
  • Add a few large cans of expensive crushed tomatoes
  • Salt, Pepper more red wine
  • Simmer to death, add more water when needed
  • Served with Fussili, al dente

Linguini with Clam Sauce
Get Elio to make it


Fried Bakala

  • Cut salted bakala into little pieces
  • Dredge in flour
  • Deep Fry

Stuffed Calamari

  • Stuff the breadcrumb mix (Italian Progresso Crumbs, tons of parmesan cheese, chopped garlic) into the calamari tubes that you pulled out earlier
  • Roll between hands to stuff as much as possible
  • Secure with a toothpick, drizzle with olive oil, bake
  • Serve covered with tomato sauce

Shrimp Scampi
  • Clean and saute the shrimp olive oil over medium heat
  • Cover with tomato sauce, bake in oven
  • It's a salad
Stuffed Artichokes
  • Pick nice big green artichokes.  For your produce, go to Three Guys from Brooklyn in Dyker Heights.  It's open 24/7 and they have beautiful vegetables
  • Spread the leaves on the chokes and stuff with your breadcrump mix extremely liberally
  • Stand all artichokes up in a pot.  Pack 'em in so that they don't fall down
  • Add water, olive oil, and white wine to the bottom of the pot, cover the pot and simmer for hours
  • Using a baster, pick up the liquid from the bottom of the pot and pour over artichokes. Add more liquid when the bottom runs out

Fruit Salad
  • Strawberries, pomegranate seeds, mint, blueberries, watermelon, lemon juice

Cannolis and rainbow cookies
Can also pick up from Cuccio's with the bread

Make sure you serve dinner with many (many) bottles of red wine, and about an hour break between each course!

My family documents the prices, menu, and reviews of the food every year in this book.  My grandpa started out writing it and now we all take turns.

Buon Appetito!

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