Birchbox Test Kitchen: Italian-Inspired Holiday Menu

The giving season, to me, is about nourishing and being nourished by the people we love. Sometimes that means giving and receiving presents around a tree, and sometimes it means eating a communal meal prepared with love. Personally, I can't think of anything better than creating a meal and watching the people I care about enjoy it.

Holiday meals have a tendency to be loaded with butter and carbs, but I firmly believe that meals can be decadent without being heavy. Growing up in an Italian-American household, I ate with an emphasis on fresh, simple ingredients. Sugary, special things like Christmas cookies were that much more special because they were never the main event.

Ricotta Crostini
This menu is dead simple, impressive without trying too hard, delicious, and healthy. It's bookmarked with a little richness, so you still get that holiday flair.

Ricotta and Honey Crostini

Simply toast some hearty, rustic bread, add a dollop of ricotta, and drizzle with honey of choice. If you really want to impress your guests, try Dean & Deluca's Acacia black truffle honey. For a savory twist, you can replace the honey with freshly cut prosciutto slices from your local butcher. Yum!

Raw Kale Salad

This is the easiest salad and does well as an accompaniment to both rich and lean dishes alike. Wash, dry, and de-rib one bunch of kale, and slice into thin strips. Rub with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Squeeze juice of half a lemon over the salad and top with grated parmesan if desired. Brussel Sprouts

Seared Brussel Sprouts

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a bushel of washed brussel sprouts and boil for one minute. Drain and let cool slightly. Trim ends and cut in half. In a sauté pan, heat some butter or olive oil and place sprouts flat-side down. Cook on medium-high until crispy, about three to four minutes. Toss finished sprouts with seasoning as desired. This would be a good place to add some spicy paprika or red pepper flakes for a little kick!

Baked Whole Branzino

Roasted whole fish is the best thing since Cracker Jacks. Start with a cleaned whole fish—your local grocery store or fishmonger will be able to gut and scale a fish of your choosing. In addition to branzino, rainbow trout is also a tasty choice for this straightforward recipe.

This nytimes.com video has the lowdown on everything you need to cook and serve this baby. Me, I like it with the most basic seasonings—extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs like rosemary or Italian parsley if I have them, lemon slices, salt and pepper. That is all you need, and it is divine.

Jeanettes

Dessert

My grandmother wouldn't let a holiday meal go by without the requisite seasonal cookies. She's famous for the cookies pictured, which she calls Jeanettes, but struffoli would be another festive dessert choice. Fried dough plus sugary goodness equals an Italian holiday delight. And don't forget to enjoy your cookies with a cup of strong Italian roast! Adorable scrabble-themed mug not required, but totally encourage.

Mangia! Salute!

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