There is no doubt that good food can create a happy gathering, but good company is vital. Friends and laughter can make any meal special. Our band of travelling appetites, otherwise known as Stomachs Eleven, assembled at the home of Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' over the weekend for our annual Christmas dinner.
The theme for tonight, Pig Flyin' said, would be The Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as The Vigil or La Vigilia. It's an Italian Christmas tradition, celebrating Christmas eve with a feast of seven different seafood dishes.
Prosecco with pineapple and rosemary sorbet
We started with glasses of sparkling prosecco, poured over balls of sweet and refreshing pineapple and rosemary sorbet.
Parmigiano reggiano truffle popcorn
A huge tin of parmigiano reggiano truffle popcorn was provided for snacking, and proved dangerously addictive. Hot kernels of popcorn were tossed liberally in melted butter, truffle oil and a mountain of finely shaved reggiano cheese.
Table centrepiece of fruits and vegetables
The table centrepiece was a rustic display of fresh fruits and vegetables. The ribboned orange added a festive touch, but it was hard not to admire the simple beauty of fresh zucchini flowers and vibrant red and white borlotti beans coupled with the sweet fragrance of donut peaches.
Sydney rock oysters
Our seafood bonanza began with fresh oysters - Pacific oysters may be large and creamy but the briny intensity of Sydney rocks will always win my heart.
Slicing the kingfish pastrami
Kingfish pastrami on air baguettes
Thin shavings of homemade kingfish pastrami (made using a modified recipe by Mark Best) are draped over homemade air baguettes, hollow torpedos that splinter into a thousand crunchy shards with one bite. It's a variation on the El Bulli dish, where lardo has been replaced with kingfish.
The air baguettes were made using a Sardinian pizza base recipe that is traditionally baked to a puff. It's wonderfully light and crisp, and a perfect complement to the salty sweet kingfish.
Sarde in saor - Venetian sweet-and-sour sardines with pine nuts, dill and pickled onions
We move onto sweet-and-sour sardine fillets, a Venetian specialty of sardines dressed with toasted pine nuts, olive oil and dill served on a bed of pickled onion ribbons.
Scampi crudo with ocean trout roe and capers
Raw scampi is one of my most adored treasures in the world. Here it's an edible artwork with curls of scampi patterned with mounds of ocean trout roe, tomato, capers and micro herbs.
Olive all'Ascolana crumbed olives with anchovy stuffing
Crumbed deep-fried olives stuffed with anchovies provide crunch and a salty hit.
Insalata ala 'esqueixada' or torn salad or raw marinated baccala (or bacalao salted cod) with onion, olives, tomatoes and cucumber
The torn salad is a rustic assembly of salted cod with onion, tomatoes, olives and cucumber. It's the first time I've tried salted cod soaked but raw, and there's something quite comforting about the simplicity of this dish.
Calamari stuffed with cannellini beans, rosemary and its own tentacles
Calamari can be a tricky beast to cook, but when it's done well, it's wondrous. Here the calamari has been stuffed with cannellini beans, chopped boiled eggs and its own tentacles, then chargrilled until just cooked. The calamari is amazingly tender, enhanced by a smoky caramelisation of the skin.
Fior di zucca ripieni con il quattro formaggi - deep-fried zucchini flowers with four cheeses: reggiano, pecorino sardo, ricotta and gorgonzola picante
What better enticement to eat your vegetables than to deep-fry it?! The zucchini flowers have been dipped into a slow rise yeasted batter that deep fried to an ethereal crisp. Hidden inside the flower is a luxurious stuffing of four different cheeses: reggiano, pecorino sardo, ricotta and gorgonzola picante.
Unrolling the rotolo
The rotolo, Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' explain, is a dish they both enjoy but rarely find in restaurants. It's easy to understand why when you see the work involved to create this rolled pasta 'sausage'.
Slicing the rotolo
A large sheet of homemade pasta is needed to roll up with a filling. The entire thing is then wrapped in muslin cloth and boiled until just cooked.
Rotolo di pasta con ripieno di zucca - homemade pasta stuffed with charcoal roasted pumpkin and dressed with hazelnut, fried sage leaves and burnt butter
The resulting pasta slice is elegant but also nourishing. It's like a pasta pudding, with the soft pasta sheets and nutty pumpkin filling yielding easily against the gentle nudge of fork. A garnish of deep fried sage leaves and toasted hazelnuts add texture, and the burnt butter sauce gives an extra level of richness.
Granita al cetriolo - cucumber granita with homegrown lemon verbena and pineapple sage
We cleanse our palates with cucumber granita, the delicate crystals pepped up with homegrown lemon verbena and pineapple sage.
Snapper in fig leaves and foiled leeks on the barbecue
An enormous New Zealand snapper wrapped in fig leaves had gone onto the barbecue a few courses beforehand. Three whole leeks wrapped in foil keep it company.
It's a spaceship. No, it's a Kamado grill
The Kamado grill is Pig Flyin's latest acquisition and by all accounts, it's set for some overtime during the coming summer.
Pesce alla griglia - charcoal grilled New Zealand snapper wrapped in fig leaves
The charcoal grilled snapper is revealed with a flourish and many exclamations over its generous size.
Serving the snapper
The flesh is sweet and firm, smoky from the grill and delicately flavoured from the wrapping of vine leaves.
Charcoal roasted leek
The charcoal roasted leek is soft, smoky sweet, and I'm a sucker for the caramlised outer layer which is chewy but caramelised like a vegetable candy.
Spiced poached white peaches with polenta olive oil cake and fig leaf ice cream
There are six desserts, Pig Flyin' announces as we're clutching our stomachs. We are alarmed but also not surprised. Pig Flyin' never does anything by halves!
Desserts commence with a blushing white peach, spiced and poached resting on a tile of polenta olive oil cake. The fig leaf ice cream to the side is a revelation, made using the younger leaves of a neighbour's tree (the same one used for the snapper). The ice cream tastes like figs but without the cloying sweetness, and the inclusion of yoghurt provides a gentle tang.
Melanzane al cioccolata - Eggplant and chocolate dessert
Dessert number two is an eggplant and chocolate dessert, a favourite with locals along the Amalfi Coast throughout the long hot summer. It's not as strange as you might think, with the creamy nutty bitterness of the eggplant played off against layers of chocolate sauce and sweetened ricotta. It also looks just like a Christmas yule log!
Eggplant and chocolate slice with double cream and hazelnuts
Panforte al cioccolata with figs, walnuts, hazelnuts and honey
Homemade petit fours include a rich panforte made with figs, walnuts, hazelnuts and honey.
Wafer con creme ananas - pineapple buttercream wafers
There are also sunshine bursts of yellow with pineapple buttercream sandwiched between layers of wafer.
Amarena cherries - sour Italian cherries bottled in syrup
The Amerena cherries are the only thing not homemade tonight. They're sour Italian cherries, usually grown in the Bologna and Modena regions of Italy, and are wickedly sweet.
Sfogliatelle alla ricotta
And finally, finally, we finish with homemade sfogliatelle, amazing flaky pastries that crunch as loud as a potato chip. Sfogliatelle means 'many leaves' or 'many layers' and the extreme flakiness of this delight is thanks to lots of soul giving lard. Stuffed inside is a pocket of ricotta, semolina and citrus. The recipe Pig Flyin' used is here.
The Pig Flyin' pine Christmas tree
What will you be eating this Christmas? I have dinners with friends and family ahead - not all of them necessarily fancy, but all celebrating the people we love and cherish.
Have a lovely Christmas everyone! Enjoy the feasting ahead and remember there's always room for second dessert. I see pavlova in my future, and lots of it!
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner 2011
Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner 2010
Stomachs Eleven Christmas dinner 2008
Thanks again to Mr and Mrs Pig Flyin' for the incredible feast. More pics of the behind-the-scenes prep can be seen on Pig Flyin's Instagram.
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12/24/2012 03:46:00 a.m.