Christmas Eve dinner is changing this year thanks to a brilliant idea from my husband’s ex-wife. We won’t be having roast capon, honey-baked ham with pineapple circles (studded with cloves), roast turkey, Beef Wellington, or any other large quantities of meat or poultry.
That’s because all of us, even the tiny creatures for whom we produce this annual event, have started down the path of semi-vegetarianism. What that means is less food and (presumably) healthier bodies.
Our dinner will still include tombola, the Italian bingo we all love, mostly for the crazy inexpensive small prizes handpicked by the children to present to winners. It’ll also have drinks for re grownups. Last year it was Aperol mixed with prosecco and the year before that Belinis. This year we’re upping the ante to tequila in lime and salt-dipped glasses. Our favorite nut mix and a bowl of guacamole will blend nicely with the cocktails.
As for the meal, you might call it aperitivo Eve — the centerpiece will be smoked salmon, toast, and soft butter mixed with capers at the ready. The younger gourmets love robiolino cheese on their toast and so we’ll have that, too.
Tiny mozzarelle di bufala, Gaeta olives and deviled eggs will prepare us for the bowls of tortellini in brood. Red wine will be poured to honor the memory of a family member who loved adding a little splash of Amarone to his soup.
Ex-wife will make a good broth the day before and I’ll make tiny Amalfi lemon tarts (dessert) in the morning. A green salad tossed with our exquisite new oil and 100-year-old Sicilian vinegar will clear our palates for the lemon tarts.
Since the tarts are the only real work, here’s the recipe (cribbed from a wise and elderly French baker) so you can spend more time with your guests or family. Who says holidays are harrowing?
Amalfi lemon tarts (makes 36 mini lemon tarts. Cut in half to make 16)
For the pastry
- 180g unsalted butter (6 oz).
- 6 tablespoon water.
- 2 tbsp duck fat (optional).
- 2 tbsp sugar.
- Pinch of salt.
- 2 cups flour (300g, 10 oz).
- 3/4 cup sugar (220g, ½ pound).
- ½ cup lemon juice (125ml, 4 oz, about 3 lemons).
- Zest from 1 lemon, grated.
- 2 eggs.
- 2 egg yolks.
- 1 stick of soft butter.
- Pinch of salt.
— Preheat the oven to 200C (400F) and get out two shallow mini muffin pans or a baking sheet (you may easily form your own small tart shells with this dough)
— Place the butter, duck fat (optional), water, oil, sugar and salt in an ovenproof bowl.
— Put the bowl in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the butter is melted, bubbling, and just beginning to brown around the edges.
— Carefully remove the bowl from the oven and dump in the flour. Stir quickly, until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the dish.
— Let the dough cool. Then put a teaspoon of dough into one mini muffin hole and press it into the base and up the sides using your fingers, making a tart shell.
— Stick the bottom of the dough tarts with a fork once or twice.
— Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown all over.
— Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
— Reduce the oven to 185C (350F).
— In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice, eggs, yolks and zest and mix to dissolve the sugar and cook over very low heat until thick but not boiling.
— When the mixture is very thick but not boiling, remove from the fire and stir in the soft butter. Mix well. You will have a thick lemon curd. Let cool slightly.
— Spoon the curd into each pastry shell to make a miniature tart.
— Put the mini tarts back in the oven at its lower temperature Shut the oven door and bake for 5-10 minutes, until the centers are just set and the edges of the tarts are nicely browned.