Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas in Sicily 25/12/09

We closed on Christmas Eve as that is when families get together for the big dinner here in Italy and exchange gifts. The nonni (grandparents), zii (aunts and uncles) and some cugini, along with the sisters-in-law and the kids packed into my in-laws’ kitchen. The big tree tastefully decorated in the corner, and a fabulous crib mio suocero made out of driftwood found on the beach and volcanic stones collected over the years sat on the dresser adorned with the usual nativity scene figures, plus little animals, and villagers cobbling shoes, carrying milk pails, forging horseshoes.

The starters were laid out on the table. Everything was based around fish. Tasty marinated anchovies, smoked salmon and rocket, whitebait fritters, olives from the garden. This was followed by a fresh prawn and asparagus risotto, and then some grilled and oven-baked fish – San Pietro, one of my favourite (similar to John Dory), bought from the fishermen just in off the boats in the morning. Wonderful big chunks of aniseedy fennel to digest and then some card playing until midnight, in keeping with tradition. The game was sette i mezza, the aim being to get the equivalent of 7 and a half points with the cards you were dealt, against the dealer. The stakes were low, everyone threw in a couple of euro to the pool. Great merriment ensued, with limoncello in the centre to aid concentration. Mio suocero and mio marito bluffed their best, the nonna played her good hand, the younger sister-in-law implored her father to remember she was his daughter and to go easy on her when he was dealer and it was her turn, the young cousin picked up tips on how to play from his grandparents and an older and very quiet cousin raked in all the winnings, sharing a big smile with me. At midnight the young cousin and nephew sprang into action lifting gifts from under the tree and presenting them to their designated owners. ‘Auguri’ and ‘grazie’ were called across the room while the mamma got down to business with the pandoro, the ‘golden bread’ of Christmas, sprinkling a good dollop of icing sugar over it and handing out hefty slices. Mio marito whipped out the prosecco bottles and filled the glasses and more shouts of auguri and clinking of glasses followed.

As if that wasn’t enough eating for one week, the next day at lunch time, we were all invited to the nonni for Pranzo di Natale. This time it was all about meat, but my suocera had thoughtfully made a spinach lasagna for me, which myself, the nonna and mio marito enjoyed while everyone else had a meaty one. The main dish was spaghetti with ventre – stomach of some animal, I was too afraid to ask which – and potato and carrot. Kind of like a stew except it was with spaghetti. Then there was pesce stocco – the regional speciality, stock fish, in a tomato stew, which was passed around the table. There were huge slices of ham too, looking not dissimilar to ours but no sign of cloves for spicy Christmas flavour. Again mia suocera had kindly thought of me and placed some small calamari (squid) in front of me, stuffed with capers and breadcrumbs and tomato. Soft and very tasty and piping hot. The nonno (granddad) treated me as special guest and kept checking I was getting enough to eat; he was most concerned I wasn’t having any of the local wine he was having, and then offered me some of the sliced pear he had after the main courses. Mio marito played draughts with his little cousin on the new set he had just received, the latter getting advice on all sides, but keeping a cool head nevertheless for his first game. One of the aunts had made two huge tiramisu welcomed by everyone, and washed down with prosecco. Card games and board games followed – the granny and granddad with mio marito and a sister-in-law, and the uncles and aunts with other cousins at another table with a new board game.

We then left to digest and prepare for the hectic night ahead…

The restaurant wasn’t too busy, as expected, though some people came for panini and piadini and desserts. The bar was busy with requests for bottles of prosecco and toasts all over the place. Once the band started playing the place packed out. All the returned ‘migrants’ from Milano, Torino, Roma and other northern towns were out socialising and we were busy ourselves meeting and greeting in between serving tables, making cocktails and holding fort at the till. There were hardly enough wine glasses to do; in fact there were often delays while we had to wait for the dishwasher to produce some clean ones. They break so easily, though the barman reckons that clients nick them if they are left outside, or that the bar next door mistakenly picks them up for theirs!

Fabulous festive atmosphere. There was hardly time to be envious of the meeting and greeting going on, and wish I was among my own...



  1. Hi Bronagh!! nice to have fresh news from you, its also a wonderful excersise of English, it only makes me really Im going to heat my lentejas and eat something.
    Christmas in Sevilla were 100% rainy, and even snow!.. I got from the three kings a pullover,some socks and a new Agenda
    See you in this blog, happy new Year to Salvo and you.

  2. Mamamia! ... and I am reading your story when I am literally starving after a long day in the office and with the cold January wind banging at my window... I wish I could order some food from Milazzo, especially the fresh praw and aspargus risotto! I love the blog so keep blogging mon amie because I have now subscribed to the blog.

    Bonne annee 2010 and big bisous a toi et Salvo!


  3. Happy New Year to you to Dani! Pues te han tratado muy bien los Reyes Magos, eh? It didn't seem like Christmas here at all with 25 degrees, and people swimming!

    Vero - I have been meaning to put up some of the recipes for some of our dishes so you can have a taste of PM in your own cuisine. :)