At casa Caldesi we have already put up our tree as we really embrace the run up to Christmas and enjoy holding parties to bring our neighbours, family and friends together. We exchange best wishes, presents and most of all recipes and tips for Christmas entertaining! So, as the season of ‘Festive Fun’ approaches here’s a great recipe for a party nibble that always goes down very well with a chilled glass of prosecco or two!
Parmesan and parsley fritters
This is Sabia Tortella’s recipe from the region of Abruzzo in the south of Italy. The delicious little fried cheese balls are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. They are great served with the red pepper sauce to dip into or in Abruzzo they are eaten as a main course rather like vegetarian meatballs in a bowl of tomato sauce, see the recipe below. Try to find a course country loaf that has gone a little stale as the bread should bounce back to life after it has been soaked and squeezed.
Makes 25 fritters
150-200g stale country-style bread, crust removed
15g fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
3 medium eggs
250g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and pepper
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Soak the bread in some water for a few minutes until it has become soft. Squeeze out and crumble. If necessary, put into a food processor for a few minutes to break up larger lumps of bread. Finely chop the parsley and garlic together and mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, adding 150g bread at first, then more if needed.
Test one ball first. Roll one 3 cm ball from the mixture and fry in the hot oil. If the mixture seems wet, add more breadcrumbs, as necessary. If too dry, add more egg. Roll the rest of the mixture into balls and fry in hot oil until golden brown all round. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve straight away or allow to cool and reheat later in a warm oven before serving.
Red Pepper Sauce
Once you have discovered how simple this sauce is, you’ll being making it all the time. It is also very low in fat so it’s one of the few light Italian dishes. Red pepper sauce is lovely with the cheese and parsely fritters or poured over chicken breasts or as an accompaniment to baked ricotta.
4 red peppers
1 clove garlic
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
150ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon of sugar
Roast the peppers in the oven at 200°C for 35 – 45 minutes until they are blackened. Once done, take out of the oven and put into a plastic bag so that they sweat and the skins will slip off more easily. Peel off the skins with your fingers, slice open and pick out all the seeds. Roughly chop the peppers. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and when hot fry the garlic, shallot for a few minutes. Then add the peppers and fry again for a few minutes stirring to combine the ingredients. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil, let it reduce a little. Pour the contents of the pan into a blender and whizz until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. If the peppers are bitter add half a teaspoon of sugar to compensate.
Classic tomato sauce
This is the classic pasta sauce for pasta pomodoro. It is easy to make and so much better for you than the sugar-loaded commercial varieties. Don’t stint on the oil as you need it to cook the onions for long enough to soften them and release their sweetness. This balances against the acidity of the tomatoes and creates the perfectly balanced sauce. The sauce keeps in the fridge for up to four days.
6 – 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red or white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
2 x 400g cans whole tinned Italian plum tomatoes
Salt to taste (I add a teaspoon)
Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and fry the onion and garlic, if using, over a medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the salt and pepper.
Add the tomatoes and rinse the tins out with a little water, add this to the pan. Bash the tomatoes with a potato masher or wooden spoon to break them up. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 40 minutes to concentrate the flavours. The sauce should be thick and not watery. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
These recipes are from my book ‘The Italian Cookery Course’ published by Kyle Books with photography by Lisa Linder. You can order signed copies of the book here.
PS:- Here’s a picture of our eldest son Giorgio bringing in the Christmas tree… and finding it hard to understand the concept of doors!… Note our family pet ‘Bella’ looking on in disbelief