The Italian Celini family owns the restaurant Da Lidia in Maasmechelen, in Belgium. Last year one week before Christmas when I called to schedule an appointment with Signor Marco Celini, after talking about shopping I also expressed my interest in the menu and he responded that it would be a typical, savoury Italian dinner with lots of pasta, birds and of course alongside a selection of vibrant wines.
After our conversation I could hardly wait to see his restaurant not only because the menu aroused my interest, but also because he promised me to reveal some secret of their „backstage” (connection with the cooking). When I entered the Da Lidia’s I immediately felt in Italy. Divine Mediterranean fragrance was floating in the air, and instead the oil and orange tree a huge Christmas tree was standing in the center of the dining room. Silver garland ran over the fireplace, shiny silver candles made the tables more sophisticated. Savoury Italian snacks were already placed on the 5 storey plates, on the bottom level chocolates, then nuts, oranges, tangerines, and mini panettones, finally, fresh fruits, dried fruits winked at me. Wine bottles and some fragrant rosemary centerpieces transported me immediately to the Tuscan countryside. The background music song was some Americaruso Lucio Dalla vivo performance. -“Have you ever heard singing Lucio Dalla?- asked signor Marco Celini after the formal greetings. -No, I have not. Actually I was really surprised by that fact myself, since my Italian babysitter, Mimmi had a rich Italian record collection, but she was always made us to listen Benjamino Gigli’s song La Mamma. So I see I have a lack of musical erudition, at least in the field of Italian music.- and before finishing my sentence an army of children plunged into the room (Gianmarco, Francesca, Leonardo, Carlotta and Valentina) driving my attention away. First they invaded the buffet table, collected some parmesan cheese from the top of parmahams then scattered quickly fearing that Donna Elvira, (Marco’s wife) would catch them in the act. “Fearing of the devil” she arrived with an authentic Italian cake, the Noga Panettone in her hand. She placed it next to the dried fruits, and tangerine bowl.-These things we nibble between courses-she explaned and offered me a mini panettone slice with lemon cream on top then steered me toward the kitchen. On my way I admired again the tastefully dressed table with dominating silver, green and white colours, (but on each napkin a rosemary sprig and a piece of dried red paprika was slipped into, whereof people immediately associated to the Italian flag colors). – We have a lot to do!- exclaimed Elvira apologetic and as if she had wanted to demonstrate, a female voice called after Marco- Scusami tanto, signora, but my mother needs me- told us Marco and ran to the kitchen. We women followed him. In the kitchen Elvira’s oldest teenage daughter, Maddalena was already busy with helping her grandma. I got an apron too and Lidia started the demonstration of how to make the traditional stuffed quinea fowl. -We have the same menu for Christmas dinner every year (at least for 100 years) begun the 75-years old Lidia. -We Tuscans eat lots of beef and game. One of the most famous steak prep is bistecca alla Fiorentina, a T-bone that is grilled plain, sprinkled with salt and pepper, sliced at the table, and served with olive oil and a simple arugula salad. -And we serve with lemon wedges because the juice cuts the richness of the meat! -took over the lead Marco. – And we don’t celebrate Xmas with supper on the 24th but always on the 25th on the day of San Stephano! Then we prepare ravioli, but on New Year’s lentil dish is a must, because legend has it that the more a person eats, will be luckier. -continued Lidia. -But mamma what about the guinea fowl!-interrupted her Marco again and then she went back to the point and made a marvellous demonstration…
Italian Christmas menu at Da Lidia’s
Stuffed olives with parmesan, Italian meat plate, (Parmaham, San Daniele salami, Chicken broth, Stracciatella (pigeons), Vincis grazie lasagna, Maccheroni alla Chitara con Piccione frappe (noodle wreaths), Zeppole (Italian donuts) in Ciccerchiara (sweets), Quail in grape sauce, Guinea fowl filled with black puding sausage and rosemary, sage, garlic
Starters: (in Italy pasta is usually served as a first course in smaller portions in order to leave room for the main course)
Olives all’ascolana (stuffed olives) Ingredients: 3 slices of bread, 100ml of broth, 100g speck, 2 tablespoons oil, 100gr ground beef, 100g chicken liver, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 50g chicken, 50g parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, salt, pepper, 50g green olives, 2 tablespoons flour, 3 eggs, breadcrumbs, oil for frying.
Soak the bread slices in the broth. Bake the speck in the oil, add the two types of minced meat, and the chicken liver. Season with tomato sauce. Pour some water and steam everything together about 5 minutes. Then place it into a mixer, add 1 egg and the grated parmesan, season with cinnamon, salt, pepper and nutmeg. If you take olives with core, unpit them and fill it with the pureed meat mixture. Rotate the stuffed olives in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and fry them in hot oil. Wine suggestion: Franciacorta Brut Wine Annamaria Clementi from 1994 ..
Stracciatella Soup with eggs Ingredients: 1 chicken, 1 celery, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 4 eggs, cheese, salt and pepper
Cook the chicken broth as usual. Strain and let it simmer again, beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the parmesan to egg and poach in the boiling soup.
Maccheroni con Piccione Ingredients: 400 g spaghetti, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 quail thigh for each persons one, 3 ripe tomatoes, 40 g pecorino cheese, salt and pepper
Bake the quail in oil. Cut of the tomatoes into quarters and add to quail. Cook on low heat for 2 hours. Cook the pasta, distribute and place the dish on the side of the quail thighs. Sprinkle with plenty of pecorino cheese. Boris Maurizio Zanella 1996, Rosso dei Sebino
Vincis Grazia Lasagna Ingredients: 400 g noodles, butter, 40 gr, 75 gr parmesan cheese, 50 gr mozzarella
for the sauce: 3 tablespoons oil, 40 g butter, 1 small onion, 250 gr ground beef, ham or speck, half a liter of red wine, 3 tomatoes, nutmeg, salt and pepper
Make the lasagna on the usual way..
Farona ripiena (stuffed quail) Ingredients: 1 large beautiful guinea fowl, 2 ps black puddings, three branches of rosemary, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon juniper, 4 tbsp oil, 1 glass of white wine, salt and pepper
Clean thoroughly fowl, then dry with a kitchen paper towel. Peel off the skin of the black pudding, add 1 clove of garlic, and crushed juniper berries, and put into the mixer. Season with salt and pepper and fill the fowls with that. Rub the outside of the bird with oil (or butter), salt and pepper, flavour with rosemary and sage. Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 45 minutes. 15 minutes before the cooking is finished, pour the white wine and add to the remaining two (grated) garlic to it and bake for another 10 minutes. When serving, garnish with lemon slices, tomatoes and lettuce. Verdicchio dei Castelli White Wine Tip of San Michele di Jesi 2000
The Italians rarely serve elaborate dessert. At the end of the meal, it’s common to serve a bottle of wine (vin santo- dessert wine) which has a musty, honey flavour, and cantuccini which guests drunk into the wine to soften before eating. But this Zeppole is a traditional Christmas donut.
Zeppole Italian donut Ingredients: half a kg of flour, 125 g butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, 300 ml milk, 40 g yeast, oil, corn oil and sugar
Add sugar to the milk, add butter and mixed everything well. Add the flour, stir in with the developed yeast. Mix them well and then make round donuts, (make a hole in the middle). Fry them in hot oil. Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.