Monday, 30 November 2009

A cosmopolitan Christmas

Grab your towel before the Germans get the best spots! Sorry, don't mind me, I'm dreaming of a hot Christmas with a pool but it ain't going to happen! If you're curious, this is the pool annexed to our Ibis hotel in France. The pool was blissfully quiet most of the time and we found out why when we stepped inside it. Despite a temperature of 35 degrees under the French sun, the water was 19. Freezing, so like all other guests we swam very fast (dart, I forgot to pack the English Channel swimmers' grease) and left in a hurry.

Let's stop dreaming and go back to the theme. One of the tips I gave in an article about celebrations on a budget was to change the menu. Turkey can be expensive and I have read that this year retailers have underestimated the demand (Brits might be trying to save but it doesn't mean that the turkey gets it). So not sure what the prices of turkey are this Christmas and are they going to fly in foreign birds? Sorry, still thinking about the sun holiday abroad.

If you like to try a foreign menu for Christmas, click here and type Christmas in the search box. Most nationalities are represented - some alternatives might even be cheaper than your usual festive fare.

As I'm of Italian origin, I want to present to you an authentic Italian menu. The only snag is that Italian food is different from region to region. I come from Piedmont (Piemonte), which is the region attached to France. Not many Brits know it, but I only need to say four words to demonstrate that it is more popular than you think: 'white truffles' and 'Barolo wine'.

So what do Italians eat at Christmas? There is a variety of dishes as every region has its specialities but here is a summary: baccala' (salted dried cod fish cooked in sauces), smoked salmon (usually Danish or Scottish), spicy fish soup, baked pasta (quite a cheap alternative this), rosbif (yes, it's the roast beef, spelled the Italian way), pork roast, turnip soup (I kid you not), pig trotter with polenta and lentils, carpaccio (basically cured raw beef cut very finely), Russian salad, ravioli in capon broth (see below about the capon).

The equivalent of the turkey is the capon (basically a castrated chicken that has been fattened up). Many meals in the north include a starter of smoked salmon and carpaccio, fresh pasta, a roast (capon, beef, pork) and then the desserts.

The traditional dessert is Panettone (cheaper ones are available from Aldi, Lidl, etc), then there are regional variations of sweets on top such as Mont Blanc (chestnut puree and chocolate mountain with whipped cream on top), honey pastries, dried figs, candied almonds, marzipan fruits, panforte (sometimes available in delicatessen), pandolce....

And drinks? Italian 'champagne' is called spumante and there are bottles for every pockets. Forget that Asti of your student days, Asti spumante can be as good as the French stuff (but it will cost you). There are other brands of spumante, some quite pricey. I'm not sure if you can find them in the UK, though.

In Piedmont we have great red wines: Barolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Fresia, to name a few. The white wines include Cortese and Chardonnay. Malvasia and Moscato are two dessert wines on the sweet side.

So perhaps, you can replace some of the expensive dishes with cheaper Italian alternatives, although I think the wines might not be much of a bargain as good wine is never cheap.

Buon Natale (Happy Xmas).

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