Christmas Dinner in Emilia Romagna, Italy

Italians do Christmas feasting arguably better than anyone else. Whole days are dedicated to multi-course banquets, with dozens of family members working together to create traditional dishes to celebrate this most important holiday in Italy. The dishes are often decided by the availability of local bounties of a particular region. Many of the most intricate and time-consuming dishes that each region is known for are prepared for especially for Christmas. Emilia-Romagna is considered one of the richest regions in the world for producing gastronomic products, so much so that it has earned the nickname of “Food Valley”. The fame of Emilia-Romagna is due to two gastronomic pearls: Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano, which have become famous Internationally. Here are other items produced in the region:

  • Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • Prosciutto Ham from Parma
  • Mortadella of Bologna
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Parma and Reggio
  • Grana Padano cheese from Piacenza
  • Tortellini of Bologna
  • Tagliatelle egg pasta of Bologna
  • Zuppa Inglese of Emilia Romagna
  • Lambrusco sparkling wines from Emilia Romagna

The Christmas dinner menu below showcases many of the foods that this food-crazy region is so famous for, as well as a few banquet dishes from Bologna’s renaissance past.

Italian Christmas Banquette in Emilia Romagna

Antipasto

  • Salumi (Mortadella, Prosciutto de Parma, Coppa and Pacetta Piacentina)  
  • Fromaggio (Gran Padano, Fossa, Parmigiano Reggiano flakes with drops of Balsamic Modena)
  • Verdura (Marinated Mushrooms and Red Peppers in Olive Oil, Giardiniera – pickled vegetables)
  • Bagna Cauda w/ Crudo (warm anchovy dip with crudites)
  • Salad of Tart Greens with Prosciutto and Warm Balsamic Dressing
  • Pane Focaccia (flatbread or “pizza bianca”)

Regional Wines: Dry Lambrusco, Sauvignon Blanc di Parma, or a light Barolo  

Primi

  • Tortellini en Brodo (meat-filled pasta in broth)

Regional Wines: Piedmonts’ dry red Freisa d’Asti or “La Monella,” or fruity white Arneis 

Secondi

  • Cappone Natalizio (Christmas Capon)
  • Pasticcio di Tortellini con Crema di Cannella (renaissance tortellini pie with ragu and custard)
  • Tagliatelle con Arance e Mandorle (Tagliatelle pasta with caramelized orange and almonds)
  • Fagiolini alla Bolognese (green beans with mortadella)
  • Panzanella (bread salad)

Regional Wines: Aged red Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone or Classico   

Dolce

  • Torta Barozzi (rich chocolate cake)
  • Zuppa Inglese (Italian trifle)
  • Café Expresso

Regional Wines: Nocino (walnut liquor) or Black muscat-based Elysium dessert wine

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A South African Braai

“Ons gaan nou braai!” Afrikaner saying

It means “a braai is not a barbecue”. Braai (bray), is a South African cultural institution. Like the Argentinean asada, American backyard cookout, or Korean gogigui, it is built on community than just an outdoor cookout.

What makes braai so special is that it is all about bringing good friends and family together around a shared celebration. There is always some excuse for holding a braai, whether it’s to celebrate a wedding, birth or death, or just because. Everyone brings meats and sides to share, called “Bring & Braai”, it’s basically the same idea as the North American Potluck.

Meats include beef boerewors and pork sausages, kebabs, chicken and steak with fish and other seafood added on the coasts. Must-have sides include pap (cornmeal porridge), Mieliepap terts (corn-bacon & mushroom pie), garlic bread or braaibroodjies (grilled cheese, tomato and chutney sandwiches), and, of course, chakalaka.

To understand how important braai is to the nation, consider this; it even has its own national holiday dedicated to it on the 24th of September called National Braai Day.

It all started by the Voortrekkers (Afrikaans for “pioneers”), disgruntled Afrikaner farmers descended from the original settlers working for the Dutch East India Company. Unhappy with many aspects of British colonial rule, they migrated east from the then-British occupied Cape Colony off the coast of South Africa in the 1830-40s. They travelled with ox-drawn wagons and horses, which meant they had to pack light. To survive, the nomad farmers had to hunt, shoot, and roast meat on open fires in the open air, and so the culture of braaing (derived from the Dutch word for roast, “braden”) was born. The Bantu peoples who lived in these parts of South Africa at the time had also developed an appreciation for grilled meat. Where cattle were mainly used for the production of milk, they preferred to roast mutton, goat, or game. Another important protein supply were grilled insects such as caterpillars, locusts, and termites. Today, standing around a fire and preparing grilled meat (no insects) is a unifying tradition of South African enjoyed by people across different ethnic backgrounds. Even when you invite friends over for beers, a braai is likely to break out. A basic braai menu might look like this:

SAMPLE SOUTH AFRICAN BRAAI MENU

Pregame

Fire-Baked Dukkah Oysters (grilled oysters)

Broodjie (grilled meat/cheese sandwich)  

Salad

The Heritage Salad (Date, spinach & biltong)

Chakalaka (hot vegetables)

Meats

Boerewors (traditional beef sausage)

Beef Short Ribs (glazed in Coke BBQ sauce)

Sosatie- (curried Lamb and apricot skewers)

Piri-Piri Butterflied Chicken (butterflied chicken in hot sauce) 

Bunny Chow (Curried Pork in hollowed-out Bread Loaf)

Sides

Monkey Gland Sauce (tomato-chutney sauce)

Mieliepap Tert – (Cheesy Cornmeal Pie with bacon & mushrooms)

Mielie (grilled corn on the cob)

Dessert

Melktert (milk tart)

Malva Pudding (warm cream soaked pastry)