Italian Christmas Dinner at Bellina Alimentari

As most of you know, we cook quite a bit of Italian food in our home. As a result, we are always curious as to how other Italians cook, especially around the holidays where food takes center stage. When we saw that Bellina Alimentari was holding a class on cooking a classic Italian dinner, I jumped at the chance to attend!

We were greeted by owner, Tal Baum, who explained that Christmas in Italy is a time to indulge in decadent meals. The dishes are minimalistic and feature only the freshest seasonal elements; every ingredient counts. It's a custom in Italy to start a meal with “Tagliere misto di antipasti” – a beautiful board of assorted antipasti, pairing your favorite craft cheeses and charcuterie with honey and jams. Garnish with olives, fresh fruit and nuts, play with different combinations of crostini. She demonstrated several simple crostini recipes that are easy to make at home.

Ricotta, Walnut and Honey Crostini
4 bread slices, toasted
4 tablespoons walnut butter
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons honey
Pecorino cheese, shaved
Salt, pepper

Pick a style of bread that is easy to slice; baguette or ciabatta work well. Slice and toast bread in a 350ºF oven for about 8 minutes each side before topping with ingredients.

If you cannot find walnut butter, you can substitute another nut butter or make your own by pureeing ¼ cup walnuts with 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil. Mix ricotta and walnut butter until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Top crostini with ricotta-walnut spread and drizzle honey generously over the top. Garnish each slice with shaved pecorino cheese.

Goat Cheese and Caramelized Apple Crostini
4 bread slices, toasted
1/2 Ib. Chevre or other soft goat cheese
1 small apple
2 tablespoons sugar
Kosher Salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
Fresh thyme

Dice the apple in small ¼” cubes and simmer slowly with the sugar until apples are tender and caramelized. Set the apples aside to let cool. Toast the crostini as above.

Spread goat cheese on each slice of bread, top with a spoonful of caramelized apples, garnish with a few thyme leaves, a light drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper.

In addition, to the crostini, Tal showed us how to create a deluxe cheese board for the holiday table. Starting with three cheeses (Asher bleu, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the ricotta spread above), she added a selection of charcuterie and intermingled olives, pickles and jam. Her advice is to place items on the board next to their complements (e.g., salami next to pickled mustard seeds).

As we nibbled on our crostini, she demonstrated how to prepare a butternut squash risotto with crispy pancetta. Starting with broth from scratch, Tal cooked the rice stirring constantly. As the rice absorbed the broth, she ladled in more cooking and stirring and again adding ladles’ full, until the rice was fully cooked and creamy. As the risotto is nearly done, the cheese is added with the crisp pancetta stirred in just before serving. The end result is a decadent dish perfect for celebrating the holidays.

No Italian dinner is complete without dessert. Plates of the restaurant’s panettone bread pudding were served as Sous Chef, Sidney Blackwell showed us how to make a classic zabaione. Zabaione is an Italian dessert made by whipping a large amount of air into egg yolks, sugar, and liqueur until it becomes a light custard. The zabaione was drizzled over the top of the bread pudding for an ideal finish to the meal.

Many thanks to Bellina Alimentari and CulinaryLocal for a lovely evening of holiday conviviality!