Neapolitan Christmas Dishes and Wine Pairings
Come with us on a culinary Christmas journey to Naples.
Christmas in Naples is truly worthy of the word abbondanza, or abundance, where preparations for feasting are readied weeks in advance. The kickoff is always Christmas Eve, traditionally known as La Vigilia, or the vigil. In times past, in accordance with church law, this was a day of fast, so only fish dishes appeared. It is still possible to create a traditional Neopolitan spread with wine pairings in the modern age.
It is nice to start things off with a baccala’ alla Napoletana, a delicate tasting, slow stewed salt cod with tomatoes, black olives, raisins, pine nuts, garlic and capers. A vibrant tasting dish like this would call for a Nero d’Avola, a soft red wine with moderate alcohol. An alternate first course could be a lemon and olive infused frutti di mare, a variety of marinated seafood including shrimp, squid and scallops. This calls for a refreshing, crisp, citrusy Greco di Tufo.
Mary Ann Esposito is the beloved host of America's longest running cooking show, Ciao Italia.
Roast Capon Recipes from Snooth Eats
Peperoni Imbottiti Recipe from Snooth Eats
Insalata Recipes from Snooth Eats
Struffoli Recipe from Snooth Eats
The table would also have such classics as Ragu’ Napoletano, a hearty taste combination of beef and pork slowly braised with tomatoes, onions, basil, olive oil and red wine. It is often served with macaroni. Aglianico wine would work both to pair with this dish as well as add it as an ingredient in the ragu.
Roast capon is the centerpiece of the Italian holiday table seasoned gently with herbs and spices and brushed with olive oil before roasting. Fiano di Avellino goes well with this delicate meat.
Peppers are a staple of Neapolitan cooking. Peperoni imbottiti, a combination of sweet red and yellow peppers that are stuffed with anchovies, black olives, garlic and fresh breadcrumbs and baked in the oven with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil are a meal in themselves, or can be a side dish. Negro Amaro wine would pair beautifully with this dish. Sides also include insalata and insalata di rinforzo (reinforced salad). The name derives from the fact that this marinated salad could be kept for days and other ingredients could be added to it to reinforce it. It usually consists of cauliflower, escarole, green olives, anchovies and other marinated vegetables known as sottaceti misti. Falanghina is a nice balance between the vegetable flavors and the acid in the wine.
Dolci are just as important on the Neapolitan table and call for a variety of sweets from the classic baba au ruhm, little sweet cakes soaked in rum, to small balls of dough that are deep-fried and then coated in honey. Called struffoli, they are Greek in origin and Neapolitan cooks turn them out by the hundreds, piling them high into a pyramid shape and sprinkling them liberally with colored sugar and diced candied fruit. Biscotti including mustacciuoli, a diagonal shaped cookie covered with melted chocolate are also classic at holiday time and perfect with grappa or a moscato grape varietal wine.
Mary Ann Esposito is one of America’s most beloved television chefs. Through her long-running PBS program Ciao Italia and appearances on other television programs including The Today Show, Regis and Kelly, QVC, the Food Network, Discovery Channel, Fox, Martha Stewart Radio, RAI International, The Victory Garden, Simply Ming, and so many others, she has been able to share traditional Italian cooking with audiences around the world.
Mary Ann has worked beside world-renowned chefs like Julia Child, Todd English, Daisy Martinez, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, and countless others who share the same passion for cooking. Mary Ann is the author of 12 cookbooks. Her most recent, Ciao Italia Family Classics, is available here. For more information visit www.ciaoitalia.com and facebook.com/maryannesposito.