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Eleonora Galasso, the glamorous Italian food writer, shared a gorgeous festive entertaining menu with us for our November issue. Here, she reveals what a Roman Christmas is like.
'My Christmas is a very noisy business. In Italy, you get the whole extended family descending, from the aunt that never got married, to the cousins to the nonnas. It's a crowded time, but something I always look forward to!
I usually spend Christmas in Rome, or sometimes I go to Puglia, where my family is originally from. It all starts with the making of the nativity scene – the presepe – on 8 December. We all buy a different piece to put in the scene every year, so it grows wider and wider. It represents our time together and our efforts to stay together as a family as we grow.
Find Eleonora's trio of bruschette recipe in the November issue of Sainsbury's magazine
Then it's time to start cooking! I take about three days to cook with my grandmother, who is an incomparable source of knowledge. We make this almond cake, which is a secret family recipe, decorated with a buttery, almond-infused sauce and dipped in liqueur. We make 10 or 15 to hand out to neighbours and friends! It's so they have a touch of us in their homes.
We do like to have meat at Christmas but we also love light salads, clementines, and mustards made with fruits of the season. You need something to keep the palate fresh! Romans are big believers in aromatherapy; we stuff fresh herbs in everything. One of my favourite dishes is a beautiful salad, which is very Christmassy, with orange, fennel, pine nuts and olives.
Find Eleonora's clementine jellies recipe in the November issue of Sainsbury's magazine
Christmas Eve is a big family supper and it's always fish. We have eel or cod, and ravioli made with ricotta. In Rome you always have ricotta, it's our go-to cheese! There are usually lots of other delicious Italian cheeses afterwards. We open presents after Midnight Mass – as children we couldn't wait to get out of church. Often an uncle would stay behind and dress up like Father Christmas.
On Christmas Day we might have cotechino, a big pork sausage, often cooked with lentils – it's a lovely combination, very rich, and the lentils are thought to bring good luck. It's all washed down with Prosecco, cocktails (Negroni or spritzes), and good red wine, probably rich in body like a Valpolicella, Primitivo, Soave or a Frascati.
We eat a lot of sweet treats. Every region has its specialties. In Puglia they have these utterly scrumptious almond paste sweets called pasta di mandorle, and my aunt usually brings some up. Panettone is originally from Milan and Pandoro from Verona, but we eat those too – though we usually buy them from bakeries!
Find Eleonora's Imperial-style sweet golden bread recipe in the November issue of Sainsbury's magazine
The Italian kitchen is a real place of leftovers – we always want things to last for a few weeks, so we often put liqueurs, homemade cream or jams on the panettone, so it lives another day. You would be an honoured guest if you were offered leftovers from the host – It's a sign of confidence in the friendship, the end of one dish will become the beginning of the other.
On 6 January it is Epiphany, the end of Christmas. This is Befana Day, when an old, witchy lady supposedly comes round and give kids either sweets or charcoal. If the kids have been a bit naughty during the festivities, she gives them suggestions on behaving better this year, which is a relief for the parents!'
Eleonora Galasso's As The Romans Do is published by Mitchell Beazley, £25
Find Eleonora's Roman Christmas menu in the November issue of Sainsbury's magazine, out now!