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December 16, 2017
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Food Traditions - Italian

By Barbara Matos

A smile comes to my face as I remember past Christmases spent with my Italian family. We were lucky to have everyone—my grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as cousins from both sides—come together for the joyous occasion of Christmas Eve.

I still recall waking up to wonderful aromas escaping from my mom’s kitchen. Her work began in the wee hours to prepare the magnificent Feast of the Seven Fishes, a family tradition going back generations. Long before everyone arrived, the table was set with fine china and fancy linens. My dad had the task of washing all the glassware, starting a fire in the fireplace, arranging all the candles and setting out dishes of candies.

In mid-afternoon, our feast always began with shrimp cocktail served in old fashioned champagne glasses followed by a wonderful tray of lasagna filled with sausage and meatballs. Then, the fish parade began: calamari frita with spicy sauce, fried flounder, linguine with clam sauce (and lots of garlic), mussels marinara, baby lobster tails in sauce and scallops wrapped in bacon. Conversation ceased as everyone concentrated on the meal.

Later, bowls of nuts, fresh fruit and wine arrived on the table. My grandfather would peel and cut the apples for us children. Then, while the women adjourned to the kitchen to make coffee and espresso and to prepare a fabulous finale of dessert, the rest of us would sit around the Christmas tree and hear stories from Christmases past. For dessert, we ate ricotta cheese cake, apple and pumpkin pie and Pannetone, a sweet Italian Christmas bread. Homemade cookies were put out—pinnoli cookies, butter rum balls, crescents with powder sugar, sfogliatelle with honey and my absolute favorite was strufoli, which were Italian honey balls with multi-colored sprinkles. Cordials like Amaretto, Limoncello and Anisette were served in multi-colored little glasses.

After this amazing meal, the children were allowed to open one gift as a Christmas Eve tradition. Then, as soon as the gifts were open, another tradition began—the serving of Italian sausage and peppers before our guests would leave.

I remember falling fast asleep with a very full belly and dreaming about how Santa would soon arrive and how tomorrow would be another day of family fun.

[Barbara Matos is sales/advertising director at The River Reporter.]

Struffoli – Italian Honey Balls
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
3 tsp baking powder
Oil for frying