This will be the first Christmas post, and it might be the first of many more Christmas related posts, believe me. I started to breath a Christmas air even before I opened the first window of the Advent Calendar. Maybe it was because of a short trip to the local Ikea, where I first smelled the festive atmosfere – along with cinnamon and cardamom from the fragrant kanelbullar – I saw the first lights and decorations, but mostly red and white paper and ribbons to wrap your gifts.
Now I’m writing this post with Christmas music in the background, a green tea with cinnamon and orange peel that has an evocative name that leaves little to the imagination – Christmas tea – and at the same time I’m munching on almond and chocolate tiny cookies, something you will hear about soon.
If I have to find another reason for this Christmas feeling ahead of time, well movies would be the first thing that comes to my mind. As in every other area of my life, from career aspirations to romantic fantasies, movies have greatly influenced my expectations and my imaginary about Christmas.
For ten years now, Love Actually has been the movie which opened my Christmas marathon, the first movie I watch when it is five weeks to Christmas to meet the deadlines given by the stories intertwined with laughter, perfect songs and a cast that includes many of my favourite actors. As every year two weeks ago it was the perfect time for Love Actually, watching the dvd curled under a double duvet and dreaming about London. My romantic side comes out with also with The holiday: I found the English cottage of my dreams in this movie, right there at the end of a country road with a nice fence and white snow to frame the roof.
Add to the list Home Alone, a must for the days leading up to Christmas, it makes me a feel like a child again, each time I enjoy it, just like the first time. Another movie of my childhood which helped me to believe in the magic of Christmas is Miracle on 34th street. The closest to Christmas I get, the more films I watch, from Disney cartoon movies to every single romantic comedy on tv, new and old, as long as there’s Jingle bells singing, snow and a trimmed tree.
Another reason for this early Christmas is the new collaboration with Ferrari, an Italian company founded in 1823 in the Po Valley that still produces excellent cheeses. They asked me to prepare a menu for Christmas: we’re talking about three easy recipes – appetizer, first course and main dish – melting with cheese, tasty and quick, perfect for those people who want to cook a Christmas lunch or dinner with just a little time, or who prefer to spend hours gift wrapping boxes and decorating the house rather than mixing and chopping and stirring in the kitchen.
Let’s start with the appetizer, a butternut squash parmigiana, a tasty gratin. You know that eggplant parmigiana is my favourite dish. If I could, I would it eat it all year round in spite of the season. Well, I found a worthy substitute that does not make me regret the eggplant!
The baked squash is quick to prepare and if you brush thin slices with extra virgin olive oil they’ll become crisp, keeping a soft and sweet heart, just like the eggplant slices you would fry at the end of summer. Then you proceed as in the most classic of parmigiana: a good tomato sauce, pieces of mozzarella torn with your hands and heaping tablespoons of parmigiano reggiano. Be generous, please.
To simplify the organization of the big day, make the small parmigiane in advance and choose individual ramekins, then you just have to heat them up a few minutes before bringing them to the table. And as in the case of a classical parmigiana or lasagna, taste and texture will get better the day after.
Butternut squash parmigiana
- 600 g of butternut squash
- Flour for dusting the butternut squash
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 400 g of tomato puree
- 1 clove of garlic
- 250 g of mozzarella
- 100 g of Parmigiano Reggiano
- Heat oven to 190°C. Slice the squash thinly, dust with flour and lay on a single layer into a baking tray greased with olive oil. Brush the butternut squash with extra virgin olive oil and bake for about 35 minutes until golden and crisp.
- Meanwhile prepare the tomato sauce. Heat a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil with a clove of garlic and add the tomato puree. Cook on low heat for about ten minutes and season with salt.
- Now it's time to make the parmigiane. You can use 4 individual ramekins or a large baking dish.
- Start with the baked butternut squash slices, add mozzarella torn with your hands, a good deal of Parmigiano Reggiano and a few tablespoons of tomato sauce. Make three layers and top with tomato sauce, mozzarella and a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano.
- Bake the parmigiane for about 30 minutes, until golden. Serve them hot and enjoy the melting cheese.
Which is your favourite movie to begin the Christmas season?