Get the idea: Christmas fare
I have already said one of the reasons I like Christmas is because it is perhaps the only festival we have left that has special food. In other countries they have many, and in places like Italy there would be numerous occasions during the year when everyone would take several days off work, carry statues through the streets, eat special food at special meals and generally have a good time. We don’t have enough of such festivals.
The special food at a Kiwi Christmas is still traditionally the food of England: ham, turkey, trifle and Christmas cake. That this set is suited to the northern European winter doesn’t bother me as it is the only time of year I eat like this and it signifies Christmas.
While keeping to the traditional foods, I do like to fool around with them and cook and present them in different ways from the plain Christmas fare I was brought up with. The following few ideas are my variations.
Cut 2cm thick slices of ham, brush lightly with vegetable oil and brown well on the barbecue, serve hot with sliced avocado, thinly sliced iceberg lettuce, barbecued sweetcorn cobs and with a salsa of finely chopped red onion, finely diced fresh barbecue-browned pineapple, thinly sliced chilli, chopped mint and coriander, lime juice and a little honey to sweeten; steamed rice or a big stack of warm flour tortillas on the side.
Thinly slice boneless turkey breast across the grain of the meat and beat out lightly with a meat hammer so you have very thin slices. Slow fry finely chopped onion, thinly sliced celery, finely diced carrot, finely chopped garlic, dried wild oregano and lots of thinly sliced button mushrooms for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Taste and season.
Layer this mixture in a shallow ovenproof dish with the turkey slices and add beef jus to almost cover. Sprinkle with some panko crumbs and plenty of freshly grated parmesan. Place in a 200C oven for 25 minutes or until everything is bubbling and browned. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley, boiled minted new potatoes and a big green salad.
Place sliced ginger, garlic, some star anise pods and a big splash of Japanese soy sauce in the bottom of a roasting dish and place a piece of belly pork on top. Slow roast at 180C until well cooked and the crackling crisp. Remove and slice thinly.
Serve on a big platter with sliced peeled cucumber, tomatoes, blanched green beans and asparagus, cos lettuce leaves and sliced red onion, with a big bowl of sticky rice and sides of Thai sweet chilli sauce and a small bowl of equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, sweetened with sugar, and with chopped garlic, chilli and coriander.
Thinly slice fat-trimmed beef sirloin or scotch fillet (about 1cm thick) and toss in a bowl with finely chopped garlic and lots of cracked black pepper. Make a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and add lots of halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, pitted kalamata olives, capers and chopped anchovies.
Fry or barbecue the steak over high heat for about 20 seconds each side and spread the slices over a warm platter on cos lettuce leaves and thinly sliced spring onions. Spoon the vinaigrette over the top, and sprinkle with lots of basil leaves. Serve with al dente short pasta tossed with finely chopped garlic, finely grated parmesan and lots of chopped Italian parsley.
Make a Romesco-style sauce by roasting tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil and a few garlic cloves at 200C for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes are collapsing and the garlic soft. Place everything, including the oil and juices, in a food processor with a very small handful of roasted hazelnuts, a slice of ciabatta sprinkled with red wine vinegar, a large cored, seeded, roasted red capsicum and splash of your favourite hot sauce. Puree until smooth and thin with extra-virgin olive oil so you have a thickish, creamy sauce. Taste and season.
Serve on any combination of barbecued seafood with a salad of thinly sliced fennel, rocket leaves, cos lettuce and ciabatta (ripped into bite-sized pieces, tossed in extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and well browned in a roasting dish in a hot oven), wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
WHOLE EYE FILLET OF BEEF
Trim an eye fillet of sinew and fat and rub with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Brown in a hot pan and finish the way you like it in a 200C oven. Remove and rest loosely, covered with foil, in a warm place. Crumble plenty of blue cheese into a bowl and add lemon zest, chopped parsley and a little cream to make a sauce.
Thinly slice radicchio, iceberg lettuce, celery and blanched green beans and make a bed of the mixture on a large platter. Slice the beef thinly and place on the lettuce mix. Pour the sauce over it, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve with boiled new potatoes.
Place a leg of lamb in a deep ovenproof dish, add a couple of large rosemary sprigs, a big splash of dry white wine and a little beef stock. Cover tightly. Slow-roast at 160C for 3 hours or until the lamb is very tender, almost falling off the bones. Remove from the oven. Pull the meat off the bones.
Serve on well-seasoned couscous flavoured with lots of roasted peeled, cubed purple-skinned kumara, finely diced preserved lemon, lemon juice, chopped mint, coriander and parsley and chopped roasted almonds. Serve a big salad of lettuce, cucumber and halved cherry tomatoes on the side.
Make icecream sandwiches with thinly sliced un-iced Christmas cake and chocolate icecream. Drizzle each sandwich with dark rum and serve with whipped cream and roasted sliced stonefruit.
Make a trifle using savoiardi biscuits doused with brandy and a little orange juice, real creme anglaise or custard (store-bought), lots of fresh raspberries, whipped cream and shaved dark chocolate.
Roll out some made-with-butter flaky puff pastry and cut into small rectangles. Brush each with egg white and sprinkle well with sugar and bought sliced almonds. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes or until well cooked. Remove from the oven, cool and serve with a big bowl of hulled, halved strawberries tossed with plenty of limoncello and sugar and a bowl of mascarpone.