For Christmas this year my mother said she wanted to make "something classic American." On Christmas Eve, we usually try to approximate the traditional Sicilian seven fish dinner. It's not just a clever name: it means you literally eat seven different fishes during the Christmas Eve meal, although sometimes people interpret it as to make seven different seafood dishes. We didn't really manage to do it, I think we only got up to 4 or 5 different fish; pasta with clams, a pasta with sardines, maybe some salmon somewhere, shrimp in the appetizer...don't really remember. My mom said it was OK that many of our fish were actually crustaceans but I think it means that we're all probably going to hell. Oh, in case you are wondering, the reason you eat seven fishes is because it represents the seven sacraments of the Church, or maybe to represent the seven sins or possibly the seven days it took Mary and Joe to get to Bethlehem...yeah, nobody really knows. But for Christmas Day dinner, my mom abandoned the mysticism and we did the real American thing with meat and potatoes. We went a little nutty at dessert though, with a saffron milk pudding with a citrus-pomegranate sauce. Can't abandon your roots.
My mother procured an 8 pound prime rib roast. It was pretty fatty on the outside but you don't want to trim it because it needs the fat to baste itself as it renders out in the oven. We put it on a v-shaped roasting rack that went inside a large roasting pan, let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, and stuck it in the oven at 400 degrees. Notice that we did not salt the meat at all. We poured about 1/2 cup of red wine over the top after about 45 minutes of cook time. NOTE: The better the wine the better the roast! Don't listen to my mother who believes in using wine for cooking that you wouldn't dream of drinking! If the alcohol burns away, all that is left is the flavor, right? So...why use the bad stuff? It doesn't really matter in a situation where you are just pouring a little bit over a roast but then you might as well just use whatever you are drinking while cooking (you are drinking while cooking, right?). Anyway. Don't be cheap. I turned the roast around in the oven every 30 minutes or so to keep it evenly cooking. After 1 1/2 hours at 400 degrees, we turned the temperature down to 350 and let it roast for another 1 hour and 45 minutes. Pull it out and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes, then carved it up. I took the roasting pan that had collected the drippings and red wine for basting, and stuck it over two burners on the stovetop. Added 1/3 cup of red wine, 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Brought it up to a boil, stirring rapidly, and let it reduce somewhat--about 3-5 minutes. This makes a easy, delicious sauce for the roast and whatever else.
While the roast was going, I sliced in half 1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts and tossed them on a baking sheet with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, salt, pepper, 2 teaspoons sugar and a teeny pinch of red pepper flakes. Put them cut side down on the baking sheet and put them in the oven at the same temperature as the roast. They went along merrily for about 20 minutes, then after the roast got taken out, I stirred the sprouts around, turned the temperature up to 425, and let them roast quickly for another 8-10 minutes. They are done when they are browned in spots on top and caramelized on the cut edges. We had roasted a ton of chestnuts and I made Francesca help me peel them. I then chopped about 1 cup worth of the chestnuts up into chunks and tossed them together with the roasted brussels spouts and about 2 teaspoons of white balsamic vinegar and a smidge more olive oil before serving. It was really delicious. We also made mashed potatoes. The only difference between these and my usual yukon gold mashed potatoes is that I mixed in about 2 tablespoons of horseradish condiment, which really makes it go well with a rich prime roast. My mother also made a salad with mixed greens, green apple slices, and olives.
The dessert was really interesting--we wanted to make something exciting but light so we settled on a beautiful citrus-saffron pudding. We doubled the recipe and took a few other liberties, but here is the basic idea. It will make just about enough for 10 people, but not in a big American dessert kind of way. Soak 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads in 3 tablespoons boiling water. Combine 3 cups milk, 2 cups heavy cream and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stir it until the sugar is all dissolved. Remove it from heat and stir in the saffron threads and water that it was soaking in. Stir 2 packets of unflavored gelatin into the hot milk mixture (we had some trouble with this, we originally used only 1 1/2 packets and it wasn't enough. Learn from our mistakes) and let it cool down to room temperature, then pour it into whatever serving dish you plan to use and refrigerate it for between 6-8 hours. I'm not sure how long it really needs to take--the original recipe calls for you to put the pudding into individual serving dishes or molds but we used a big communal dish so it took a bit longer to gel up than it would have in individual dishes. It would be so cute in little personal cups though so you should do that if you aren't as lazy as I am. While it is chilling, make the sauce. Combine the juice from 2 sweet oranges with 1/4 cup pomegranate juice, the juice from 2 lemons and 1/2 cup Vincotto (a dark, supersweet Italian vinegar) in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir in at least 2 teaspoons honey, let it boil hard for about 1 minute, then take it off the heat. I then stirred in 2 tablespoons sweet marsala; the recipe actually called for Grand Marnier but my mother refused to buy a big bottle of it for such a small amount. For some reason I couldn't find a smaller container at the liqour store and so cheapness reigned once more. I encourage you to use it though, it would certainly be a better choice--if you use it, double the amount to 4 tablespoons instead of 2. Let it cool to room temperature, then store it in the fridge until it's time to eat dessert. Seve the pudding with a spoonful of the sauce over the top. Here are some notes on the pudding--the recipe actually called for blood oranges (my mother calls them "bloody oranges" which is HILARIOUS and sort of gross if you think about it), so if you want to, use 4 of those instead of the regular oranges and omit the pomegranate juice. Also, we decided that an aromatic note of cardamom would be excellent in this--add in 1/2 teaspoon with the hot milk mixture if you think you'd like to try it that way. There's a lot of potential for experimentation with this recipe. Also, if you don't want to call it pudding, you can say you are making a "fior di latte," as that is the Italian name for this kind of dessert. Impress your friends!