The United States is well-known around the world as a land of opportunity and a land of immigrants.
Only a few Americans today can claim Native heritage; most of us migrated here from somewhere else, and just about all of us have immigrant blood in our veins. Our specific stories may all be different, but we all came for one important reason: to make a better life for ourselves and our families.
This fact has influenced our culinary traditions, especially at holidays when we gather and celebrate together with special foods. Recent studies point out that the more immigrants to a region the more diverse the cuisine as indicated by the number of ingredients. The US has a very diverse cuisine because we have so many immigrants–hence so many ingredients.
As families adapt to this new country, some traditions are kept, and some are lost. Most of my family has been in the US for a long time, and I am part-Cherokee; our traditions are influenced by my dad’s family coming from farms in Missouri and Oklahoma, so lots of cornbread, biscuits and gravy, and country fried steak and chicken. On my mom’s side, her grandfather came over as a 17 year old from Wales, and he brought with him few traditions, and no culinary ones were ever passed down. My husband’s side is Irish and Scottish, and his only culinary family tradition is corned beef and cabbage.
On the other hand, Que Syrah Sue’s mom’s family is ITALIAN. And many Italians maintained their cultural and culinary traditions when they came to the US and passed down recipes.
So when we heard that the December theme for the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel group was “Christmas in Italy” featuring holiday wines, culinary traditions, or festivals from Italy, Sue immediately started talking about her Italian family’s holiday traditions like gathering together to make homemade raviolis, preparing focaccia and biscotti to bake, and combining various colorful vegetables in vinegar for an antipasti. Plus this past year we have totally fallen in love with Italian wine…
Sue’s Grandma Volpi (later to be Luzi) was from Peseiro, Italy and Grandpa Luzi was from Appechio; both families landed in the Paso Robles area of California, an region well known today for its vineyards, olive oils, and walnuts.
So when Sue asked, her mom was happy to spend an evening making homemade ravioli following her grandmother’s recipe, which led to our next question: what wine to pair with appetizers, antipasti, raviolis and biscotti?
BUBBLES are synonymous with festivities, so we started with two Prosecco followed by a Lambrusco and a Ferrari from Trento, plus white and red still wines, a Sauvignon Blanc from Fruili and a Nero D’Avola from Sicily.
The ravioli have ground beef in them with some spinach and a little cheese so we turned to a lighter bodied, fruit forward red wine thinking it would pair well with the ravioli tossed in a marinara. Our choice? Nero D’Avola from Sicily.
And as there is nothing more festive for holidays than bubbles, we chose three very different ones: Ferrari brut, Lambrusco, and Santa Margarita Prosecco.
Ruggeri – Prosecco – around $15 to $18
Vibrant green apple on the nose, almost a Jolly Ranchers candy, meyer lemon on the finish, with a creamy key lime finish. Nice foamy bubbles, not too sweet, not incredibly dry, this would be a wonderful party wine, because it is middle of the road and would go well with party appetizers with a fruity inviting nose and can be used for a mixer.
As far as I’m concerned, the dryer the better, because it will go better with food: itwent well with the antipasti as well as the toscano cheese and cinnamon, and we could imagine it would go really good with brie. This is fruity enough to bring out at dessert and it went beautifully with our anise seed cookies (biscotti). The apple notes went well with the anise and almond in the cookie, because the cookies are not very sweet, they do well with the wine.
This was a sample supplied for review consideration.
Santa Margarita – Prosecco SRP $25; found on sale for $10 (a steal at that price!)
You could take this wine for any occasion and it would add to the party. This is a sophisticated wine that you could take to a hostess, because if you are going to a party, you can go to the store and grab it on the way, and probably find it cold as well! It’s a great “welcome to my home, let’s pour that wine now” kind of wine because it is versital. This is a wine that will go fine with food, especially delicate seafood like sole or sand dabs.
This wine can carry you from appetizers through to dessert. It is subtle and its flavors will mingle and go well with other outstanding flavors. It does not fight with but it doesn’t necessarily enhance any of the flavors of the meal we had prepared. It just goes with it elegantly.
Fruiuli Doc Grave – 2016 – Sauvignon Blanc
This lovely wine calls out for Ceasar salad and oysters. While it holds up by itself, it is also wonderful with food and we can imagine this with a nice pesto or seafood pasta dish. It stood up nicely to a cream cheese pesto with sundries tomatoes and pine nuts. On the nose, it has green apple; lots of acidity means it is versatile with food yet we were surprised how well this wine also went well with our dessert of anise seed cookies.
This was a sample supplied for review consideration.
Bellagio – Rosa Dulce – Lambrusco – 8% alcohol
Pretty festive Christmas color gives you a nice Christmas color base if you wanted to use this wine for something light and bubbly for holiday cocktails. Low alcohol in this wine makes it a wise choice for a holiday gathering, and we could see taking this to a cookie baking or exchange party. Fruity and sweet, it might be best characterized as grape juice with effervescence yet it has a nice clean finish, not syrupy on the back of the palate.
We thought it would be a great wine for dessert, and while it was fine, Sue’s family recipe for anise seed cookies did not go as well with this wine as the Prosecco did. There was too much fruit in the wine that over powered the delicate cookie. This wine is so fruity, it needs a fruity dessert to carry it through. Maybe if it was a biscotti with raisins, fig, cranberry or currant in it, it would go better with the wine, or try it in cocktail which we intend to do soon!
This was a sample supplied for review consideration with the suggestion of using it for sophisticated, festive cocktails.
Ferrari – Trento Brut – $25
When people think about sparkling wine, most picture Prosecco. But they should think beyond the Prosecco bottle and discover other sparkling wines from Italy that are more similar to Champagne and made in the same way. These elegant wines include Ferrari from Trento DOC and the graceful subtle sparkling wines from Franciacorta.
This entry level Ferrari Brut is crisp and clean, with nice minerality, and petite and foamy bubbles. Like Champagne, wines from Trento like Ferrari are yeasty, but it’s not overpowering: while these is a nice yeasty quality, it is more reminiscent of bread as well as toasted almonds. My husband says this would be a tasty hot tub wine, but Sue and I think it’s more of a dinner wine. Definitely try this with oysters and linguini with clam sauce or a cesar salad. There is a citrus quality, meyer lemon, and a stoniness that would pair really well with seafood. While this was fine with the biscotti dessert, this is a dinner wine.
This was a sample supplied for review consideration.
Alessandro di Camporale Donnata 2014 Nero D’Avola Sicily, Italy 14%alc under $20
When Sue described her family’s traditional ravioli recipe, we knew that we wanted to pair them with a Nero D’Avola, a medium bodied but deeply colored, aromatic red wine made from the native grape of Sicily. According to the Alessandro di Caporal website, all vineyard work is done by hand and uses organic farming principles including: “roses, precious sentinels warning of fungus attacks; green manure, to promote soil fertility and protect it from erosion; and measures to support biodiversity, such as planting hedges and shrubs near the rows of vines to promote the establishment of many precious organisms which combat parasites.”
In color, it is a bright garnet, and deep, dark, and very dense. The nose reminds me of a walk in the redwoods on a damp, cold winter day with a fire going in a nearby fireplace and spicy cookies baking in the oven: smoky, earth, duff, cedar, violets, iris, and cigar box with dark stone fruit. On the palate, this medium bodied wine offers tart fruits of cranberry, pomegranate and tart cherry, cocoa nibs, carob, with cocoa powder on the finish.
This spicy wine brought out the allspice and nutmeg in the ravioli; it works well with appetizers, main courses, and I like it with biscotti too!
Malolactic fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks with indigenous lactic bacteria then the wine was aged six months in steel tanks; a small percentage spent six months in big oak cask. The wine was aged in bottles for ten months. Read more about Alessandro di Camporale Donnata 2014 Nero D’Avola. This was a sample supplied for review consideration.
Turley – 2013 California Zinfandel – Old Vine Zinfandel – 15.5% alcohol – $25 for members
As we were eating ravioli and drinking our italian wines and bubbly, Sue stated that this reminded her of family holiday meals with the exception that they would have been drinking Pesenti Zinfandel because of the ties her family had with the Pesenti family. What we had available to us was the Turley 2013 California Zinfandel – Old Vine Zinfandel which Sue had picked up as part of her Turley Wine Club.
It was a perfect selection. This is what she remembered and perfected our California Italian Holiday Meal. Personally, I wanted this wine with Christmas ham and Thanksgiving turkey dinner and every Friday…This is a fantastic wine for the price and perfect with our ravioli meal: It is rich and decadent.
This is a heady robust kind of wine “full of everything” I said with John in unison.
It is full of fruit and flavor: “It has Friday night written all over it” we all agreed.
This is the original family recipe – like it was handed down to Sue with her adaptations on the side in parenthesis and her comments in italics.
1 cup califlower – partially cooked
3 to 4 carrot – part cooked
3 stalds celery partially cooked
1 to 2 cans string beans – 1 cup fresh partially cooked and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 bottle of pickled onions drained
1 jar artichoke hearts – (I like frozen much better than marinated in the jar)
1 to 2 cans olive oil packed tuna
2 cans button mushrooms drained
2 to 3 sliced dill pickles ( I find the small midget dill pickles look much better than sliced)
1 jar sliced stuffed green olives ( I like small pimento stuffed green olives left whole)
1 can tomato sauce
1 cup or 3/4 cup cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Bring Vinegar, tomato sauce and oil to a boil. Pour over mixture in a big jar.
This was always part of our appetizers at holiday gatherings, It was often made for Thanksgiving and marinated in the fridge in a large jar until Christmas where it was once again served as an appetizer, jars were sent home for family to share throughout the new year.
A couple of years ago, my mother’s youngest sister remembered how we used to enjoy this family tradition, but did not have the recipe. Mom made a batch and sent it to her sister with the recipe attached and so the tradition lives on in our family. I have made this recipe for friends and they either love it or hate it. It brings nothing but fond memories for me.
Great Grandma’s Ravioli
2 C Flour
1 1/2 t water; more if needed
3/4 t salt.
Mix flour, salt, eggs, and water until ready to knead. Knead about 15 minutes. Get it smooth. roll out 1/2 dough for bottom, put filling in middle and other half rolled out dough on top, cut with ravioli cutter.
1lb lean ground beef
4 t chopped onion
1 pkg spinach well drained
3 T parm. cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t sage
1/2 t allspice
1 T sugar
Fry onion in oil, add meat till done, remove from heat, add rest of ingredients. Put teaspoonful or less of filling about an inch apart in a row on dough. Place 1/2 dough on top and cut with cutter.
This is the recipe as handed down to me. As you can see it is kind of rough and if you were not raised seeing how this is done year after year, it may not make sense to you. However it makes perfect sense to me. We would make these right before Christmas and place them in the freezer for the day.
When cooking them you add them frozen to a softly rolling pot of water and cook till they float to the top. Usually 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with your favorite marinara.
I don’t have a recipe for marinara because I don’t need to use one. Just saute an onion, some garlic in olive oil, add fresh or can stewed tomatoes and if possible fresh herbs. These ravioli do not need a complex sauce. They should be the star. Garnish with a little part.
One other thing I always remember Grandma making for our holiday season was
Great Grandma’s Anise Seed Cookies – Better known to most as biscotti
4 eggs beaten
1 cup sugar
1 T anise seed
1 cup almonds blanched and roasted whole
3 cups flour
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 lemon and 2 orange rinds grated
Roll out with rolling pin and sprinkle with almonds. Roll up and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or untill nicely brown.Cut when still warm (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices). Place slices cut side down on baking sheet. Place back in oven and bake 5 to 10 minutes then flip over and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more.
Again all these recipes are rough, that is how they have been handed down to me and all I really needed to complete these because we did them year after year growing up
More Christmas and Italian holiday treasures to be discovered. Join my fellow bloggers below and if you catch us in time, chat with us live on Twitter this Saturday December 3rd at 8am PST and 11am EST. If you missed us, you can still see the conversation by searching for #ItalianFWT on Twitter.
VinoTravels -Christmas in Molise
Feast on History – Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy: Myth or Tradition?
Culinary Adventures of Camilla – Biscotti di Castagne + Vin Santo Dei Chianti
Next month Susannah from Avvinare will host coastal reds and whites along with foods and travel to coastal regions on January 7th.