Our tasty travels continue as we discover a wide variety of celebrated Christmas cookery across cultures. This time we visit two areas of the world known for having a rich history of holiday traditions, the Mediterranean and Nordic regions.
Christmas is a time of a celebration among Christian countries across the Mediterranean region. In France, families attend a midnight church service on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, they gather for a Réveillon—a long dinner that usually lasts until early Christmas morning. Traditional dishes served in this Mediterranean Christmas dinner include Dinde aux Marrons (roast turkey with chestnuts), roast goose, foie gras, lobster, oysters, venison, and various cheeses. Bûche de Noël (a chocolate cake log) is normally eaten for dessert.
In Spain, Christmas Eve is called La Noche Buena or ‘The Good Night’, and most families celebrate it with a large feast before they attend a midnight service called ‘La Misa Del Gallo‘ (rooster’s mass). The traditional Mediterranean Christmas dinner menu in Spain consists of several tapas (appetizers) such as boiled shrimp, sliced ham, artichokes, crackers, pâtés, different cheeses, roast turkey or lamb, soups, and stews.
Dinde aux Marrons (French Roast Turkey with Chestnuts)
Turkey, ready-to-cook (10 pounds)
Chestnuts (2 pounds)
Consommé or broth (2 cups)
Water (1 cup)
Sausage meat (2 pounds)
Lean ground pork (1 pound)
Salt (1 tablespoon)
Pepper (¼ teaspoon)
Brandy (⅛ cup)
Salt pork (4 thin slices)
Cooking Instructions: Cut an incision through each chestnut’s shell using a sharp knife. Bake chestnuts on a cookie sheet at 450°F for 10 minutes. Shell chestnuts.
Bring chestnuts, consommé or broth, and water to a boil in a large saucepan. Cover and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and let it cool.
Combine chestnuts, sausage meat, ground pork, salt, pepper, and brandy in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly.
Stuff turkey with chestnut mixture. Sew up the opening. Cover breast with salt pork slices. Cover with buttered wax paper. Place on rack in roasting pan. Pour 3 tablespoons water in pan. Roast turkey at 450°F for 15 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 375°F and continue roasting for 1 hour. Remove wax paper. Continue roasting for 30 minutes. Remove salt pork slices and continue roasting for 2 ½ hours, or until well done, occasionally turning the turkey and basting it from the excess fat on the pan. Stand the bird breast-side up for the last half-hour.
For gravy: Pour off excess fat from cooking liquid in the pan. Add ¼ cup boiling water, bring to boil, and scrape bottom of the pan until all the brown crust is dissolved. Do not thicken. Season to taste.
Chestnut Soup with Thyme Migas
Cooked chestnuts (1 cup)
Large banana shallot, peeled and finely sliced (1 piece)
Fresh chicken or vegetable stock (5 cups)
Double cream (5 ounces)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh breadcrumbs (5 tablespoons)
Thyme (4 sprigs)
Garlic, unpeeled and crushed (1 clove)
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, then add the chestnuts. Season well, and then pour in the stock and wait to boil.
Decrease temperature to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes until the chestnuts soften and the stock reduces.
Blend the soup in a food processor, adding the liquid gradually. You’ll want a thick consistency. Season to taste and keep warm.
For the migas, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan, and fry breadcrumbs, garlic, and thyme over medium heat until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Season to taste and drain well.
Serve the soup in bowls and garnish with the migas. Top with fresh thyme and extra olive oil.
THE SCANDINAVIAN REGION
The cold, dark winters of the region inspired the development of modern Yuletide customs practiced all over the world. Yule is derived from Jul, an important holiday that celebrated the winter solstice in pre-Christian Scandinavia. The locals emphasize the importance of enjoying life’s simple pleasures—spending quality time with friends and loved ones, having long meals, and relaxing in a warm, cozy atmosphere—especially during the long winter season.
In Finland, Christmas is celebrated from December 24th to 26th with Christmas dinner eaten on the 24th. The traditional Finnish Christmas dinner consists of lihapyorykoita (meatballs), oven-baked ham, root crop casseroles, liver casserole and pâtés, smoked or raw salmon, herring dishes, and mixed beetroot salad. Perhaps one of the most important dishes on the Finnish Christmas Eve dinner is lanttulaatikko, a baked rutabaga casserole.
Lihapyorykoita (Finnish Meatballs)
Lean ground beef (1 pound)
Plain bread crumbs (1 cup)
Yellow onion, minced (1)
Heavy cream (½ cup)
Salt (2 teaspoons)
Ground allspice (1 teaspoon)
Butter (¼ cup)
All-purpose flour (2 tablespoons)
Milk (2 cups)
In a bowl, mix the beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, cream, salt, and allspice evenly with your hands. Roll the mixture into spheres the size of golf balls.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook about half the meatballs in the butter for 5 to 7 minutes until evenly browned on all sides; repeat with the remaining meatballs. Keep the remaining liquid in the skillet when finished.
Sift and cook the flour in the skillet drippings for 2 to 3 minutes until brown. Stream the milk slowly into the skillet while whisking vigorously; pour the cream into the mixture and stir until smooth. Pour the gravy through a strainer to remove lumps. Put all the meatballs back to the skillet; stir to coat with the gravy. Bring the mixture to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the meatballs are all cooked through.
From the Mediterranean coasts to the Scandinavian fjords, we hope we have tempted your taste buds with these holiday dishes. Try these delectable discoveries to make your Christmas dinner remarkable for you and your loved ones.
To see other Christmas meals from Europe, please visit The Festive Flavors of the Balkans, the Baltic and the British Isles and Cuisine in the Caucasus and Central Europe.