Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Dinner

Mum's preparations for tonight's dinner have been going on for days. The menu is the same every year, white spaghetti then salt cod, slow-cooked in the oven with potatoes, then salt cod fried in batter with salad, then cheese and finally cannoli. The salt cod has been soaking for 48 hours and the pasta and two types of custard are ready for the cannoli. It's lot of effort but it produces the best meal of the year.

Mum learnt this from her mother-in-law, my late grandma, and she's now the only one left in our family who makes them. She has to make loads extra for dad to take to aunts and uncles. She makes fresh pasta, cuts out circles then wraps them around lengths of cane that she had made in dad's village. She then deep fries them until crisp and golden. She gave me my own set of cannoli canes when I left home but I have never used them. Shame.

Make the pastry using 1lb strong flour, 4 large eggs and a pinch of salt then knead for 10 minutes to make a smooth dough. Roll out very thinly then cut out 4 - 5in circles. Wrap around cylindrical moulds and fry in a couple of inches of vegetable oil, turning until puffed and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the custard, place 3 pints of milk in a very large pan. Using a knife pare the rind off a lemon and add to the milk and warm gently. In a bowl whisk, 12 tablespoons of sugar with 12 eggs yolks until smooth and light then whisk in 12 tablespoons of flour. Whisk in the warm milk then return to the pan. Bring it to to the boil, stirring continuously until thick. Remove from the heat then divide in half. Melt a large bar (200g) of dark chocolate and stir into one half of the custard, leave to cool. Add a small glassful of Strega to the other half and leave to cool.

A few hours before serving, spoon the custards (avoid the peel) into the cannoli, so one side is white and one side chocolate. Leave in a cool place. Drizzle with clear honey or dust with icing sugar before serving.

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