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Impress Your Guests with this Delicious Plant Based Italian Christmas Menu

This southern Italian vibrant menu is designed to elevate your Christmas feasting experience. Read on to discover the recipes that will delight your loved ones this festive season. For more Christmas menus and recipes to choose from, check out these previous Natale blogs here and here.



THE CHRISTMAS MENU


Antipasto: Verdure grigliate

(grilled vegetables)

Pizzelle fritte

(mini pizza fritters)

Primi:

Calamarata pasta

(Mushroom Calamari Pasta)

Secondi:

Peperoni ripieni di pane

(Stuffed capsicums)

Contorni:

Fagioli al sugo

(Beans with rich tomato sauce)

Caponata 

(Eggplant stew)

Dolce:

Cannoncini 

(Custard cream horns)



 

Antipasto - Starters


VERDURE GRIGLIATE

(Grilled vegetables)


Verdure grigliate is quite simply a plate of grilled zucchini, eggplant and capsicum with a whisper of dressing. You will need a grill pan or BBQ grill to create those iconic charred lines, but if you don’t have either, a hot frypan will be a fine substitute.




Serves 4 starters | 15 minutes


Vegetables


2 zucchini

1 medium eggplant

1 small red capsicum

1 small yellow capsicum

1 small green capsicum

¼ cup olive oil

sprinkling of salt


Dressing


2 tablespoons lemon juice (approximately ½ lemon)

2 tablespoons olive oil

large handful of parsley

¼ teaspoon salt

cracked black pepper


  1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into slices 1cm thick. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 5mm thick strips. Chop capsicums into large pieces. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle over the salt. Toss well to coat the vegetables.

  2. Heat a grill pan, frypan or BBQ to a high heat. In batches, place the vegetables onto the grill and cook until lightly charred and al dente. The capsicums will need approximately 8 minutes to grill and the zucchini and eggplant 3-5 minutes. You don’t want the vegetables to be too soft.

  3. Pour the lemon juice into a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Stir through most of the parsley, then the salt and pepper.

  4. Pour the lemon dressing over the grilled vegetables and garnish with extra parsley and pepper.



 

PIZZELLE FRITTE

(Pizza fritters)




When I first tried pizzelle fritte I was at a restaurant in Ostuni. A wicker basket filled with the pizzelle arrived at our table as a complimentary starter. On top of each fried pizza were chopped fresh tomatoes and a smattering of basil leaves. Salty, oily and juicy all at once. I was smitten. You can experiment with your own toppings, but I’ve included a few suggestions below.


Makes 15 | 50 minutes + proving


Pizzelle fritte

1 teaspoon dried yeast

large pinch of sugar

390g (3 cups) plain flour 1

teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ litre oil for frying, like sunflower oil


Suggested pizza toppings

Fresh chopped tomatoes with oregano or basil

Tomato sugo with olives and rocket

Tomato sugo with grated vegan cheese


  1. Combine ¼ cup of warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes to activate.

  2. Pour the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the liquid yeast, olive oil and approximately 200ml of water, a little at a time, stirring as you go with a fork. If it’s too dry, add a dash of water; too wet, sprinkle in extra flour. Use your hands to bring the dough together.

  3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with flour as you go. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Leave to rise for 1 hour.

  4. Transfer the dough to a benchtop. Shape into a long log and cut into 15 chunks. Roll each piece into a ball and leave to rise for a further hour.

  5. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand and roll into a disc shape approximately 10cm in diameter.

  6. Fill a frypan with the oil and heat to a medium to high heat (approximately 150C). To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a small piece of dough into the oil. If it sizzles immediately with enthusiasm, it is ready.

  7. Fry on each side until golden and puffy, ensuring the oil isn’t too hot, otherwise they will burn and cook too quickly. Drain on absorbent paper.

  8. Top the pizzelle fritte with your choice of garnishes. They are best served warm and fresh but can also be enjoyed as a cold snack.

 

Primi - First Course


CALAMARATA PASTA

(Mushroom Calamari Pasta)




Calamarata is a ring-style pasta that resembles the shape of calamari. For this popular Napoletana pasta, calamari are sauteed in white wine along with cherry tomatoes to create a light and juicy sauce. The fun begins with our calamari substitute: king oyster mushrooms. Add some flavours of the sea, such as dried seaweed and lemon, and it will turn into a seafood lovers delight. You can find vegan fish sauce in Asian grocers or vegan food stores. If you can’t access vegan fish sauce, just stick to lemon juice and dried sea vegetables. Feel free to substitute calamarata for rigatoni or other tubular pasta.


Serves 4 small mains | 1 hour


⅓ cup vegan fish sauce

2 teaspoons crushed dried sea vegetables, such as nori or wakame

juice of ½ lemon

350g (8 large) king oyster mushrooms

3 tablespoons olive oil + extra to garnish

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 fresh chilli, finely diced

¼ cup white wine

400g cherry or mini tomatoes, halved

handful of parsley, chopped

250g dried calamarata or rigatoni pasta

dash of salt


  1. First prepare the marinade. In a bowl combine the fish sauce, sea vegetables, lemon juice and ¼ cup of water.

  2. Slice the mushrooms into rounds. Take a small apple corer or a round object and cut holes into the mushroom rounds to create calamari rings. I like using a piping tip or cannolo tube. Toss the mushrooms in the marinade and marinate for 20-30 minutes. Drain mushrooms but reserve the marinade.

  3. Heat the oil in a frypan and add the garlic and chilli, frying for 1 minute on low, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the marinated mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute, pouring in a dash of the reserved marinade to prevent the pan from drying out and the garlic burning.

  4. Pour in the wine, turn up the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the wine has mostly evaporated. Stir through the tomatoes and parsley. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

  5. While the sauce is cooking prepare the pasta. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta for 12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

  6. Transfer the pasta into the mushrooms, stirring through the pasta water to loosen and moisten the sauce. Add a few dashes of the marinade to taste. Check seasonings - you might need a dash of salt - but it will depend on how salty your vegan fish sauce is.

  7. To serve, drizzle over olive oil and garnish with parsley.


 

Secondi - Second Course


PEPERONI RIPIENI

(Stuffed capsicums)




These stuffed capsicums, their fleshy skins warm and oily, are the best of vegan Italian food. I suggest a long variety, such as Bullhorn. This serves 4 with side dishes.


Serves 4 | 1 hour


4 red or green long capsicums

300g (approx) day old bread

bunch of parsley, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180C.

  2. Cut the tops off the capsicums, deseed and remove their pith. Keep the tops.

  3. Remove the crust from the bread. Break the bread into chunks and place in a bowl along with about 1/3 cup of water. Mix until the bread softens. Stir through the parsley, garlic, salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil.

  4. Evenly pack the bread into the capsicums until all the stuffing is used up.

  5. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the base of a casserole or baking dish. Place the capsicums in the dish, along with their tops. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the capsicums.

  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the capsicum skins are softened and browned. You can serve these straight out of the oven or enjoy cold the next day.


 

Contorni - Sides


FAGIOLI AL SUGO

(Beans with rich tomato sauce)




This unassuming dish is inspired by our unforgettable stay at Villa de’ Luccheri, an agriturismo in the province of Frasso Telesino, a lush hilly area of Benevento. On arrival we foraged for wild herbs on the beautiful estate. Sure enough, the cook popped the herbs into our dinner that night. For this recipe, instead of foraging for wild greens, you can use common bitter leafies, like rocket.


25 minutes


2 tablespoons olive oil + extra to serve

1 small onion, diced

300g cooked or canned cannellini beans

1 cup (250g) canned diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

black cracked pepper

1½ cups (30g) bitter green leaves, like rocket or dandelion


  1. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3 minutes or until soft.

  2. Stir through the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, salt, pepper and ½ cup of water. Add the greens, cover and simmer on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir through another ½ cup of water. Simmer for a further 3 minutes.

  3. Remove from the heat and garnish with a generous glug of olive oil.


 

CAPONATA 

(Eggplant stew)



If Sicily’s persona was a dish, caponata would be it: a celebration of contrasts. It is both sweet and sour. After two weeks in the region I had ordered caponata many times and discovered that each version had its own style, sometimes surprisingly pulpy and stewy, other times firm and cold, like a salad. My recipe has a slightly firm texture but still plays homage to its stewed nature, perfect for spreading over crusty bread.

35 minutes


2 medium-large eggplants

⅔ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons

1 small onion, finely diced

2 celery sticks, diced

1½ cups (380g) tomato passata

¼ cup of capers

½ cup pitted olives

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons pine nuts

½ teaspoon salt

handful of basil leaves, optional


  1. Cut the eggplants into cubes. Heat ½ cup of the oil in a large frypan and fry eggplant until golden brown. You may need to cook it in batches. Pour in extra oil if necessary. Drain well on absorbent paper.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan and sauté the onion for a couple of minutes, allowing it to soften. Add the celery and cook for a further minute. Stir through passata, capers and olives. Simmer for 5 minutes on low, stirring occasionally.

  3. Add the vinegar and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes.

  4. While simmering the vegetables, lightly toast the pine nuts. Place pine nuts in a non-stick frypan and dry roast over a low heat for 1-2 minutes, shaking the pan frequently to prevent from burning. Remove from the heat when the nuts begin to turn a light brown.

  5. Stir the toasted pine nuts and salt through the eggplant and tear in the basil leaves, if using, just before serving.


 

Dolce - Dessert


CANNONCINI 

(Custard cream horns)




For every family celebration, my Zia Carmela would bring along a towering platter of these custardy pastries in both chocolate and vanilla. In the northern regions they are often called cannoncini and in the south, cannoli alla crema (not to be confused with the Sicilian deep fried and ricotta-filled cannoli). But really, what’s in a name? That which we call a cannoncino by any other name would taste as sweet! You will need 12 pastry horn moulds.


MAKES 12 | 35 minutes + cooling


Pastry horns

2 sheets thawed vegan puff pastry

vegan margarine or oil for greasing


Custard cream

1 ¾ cup soy milk

⅓ cup cornflour

½ cup vegan butter or margarine

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons Strega liqueur, optional

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon lemon zest

light dash of turmeric powder

100g dark chocolate, optional (see 'Variation' below)

½ cup vegan chocolate hazelnut spread, optional (see 'Variation' below)

icing sugar to serve


Pastry horns


  1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to 200C.

  2. Grease the outside of the horn moulds with margarine or oil.

  3. Cut long strips from the pastry sheet, approximately ½ inch to 1 inch thick. Feel free to vary the thickness.

  4. Taking 1 strip of pastry at a time, begin at the bottom tip of the mould. First, enclose the end of the pastry dough around the tip. Then wind the pastry around the mould, overlapping the pastry layers slightly as you go. This may be a little fiddly at first, as the greased mould makes it slippery. But you’ll get the hang of it. Depending on how wide your pastry strip is, you will need to wind a second strip of pastry around the mould. Stop before you get to the very top of the mould.

  5. Repeat with the remaining strips of pastry until you have used up all the moulds or the pastry. Whichever comes first. Place the pastry moulds on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

  6. Allow pastry horns to cool only very slightly before gently removing from the moulds. They should slip out easily if greased. Cool pastry before filling.

  7. In a medium saucepan, pour in the soy milk and whisk in the cornflour until dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Heat slowly over a medium heat, stirring often. Once it thickens, simmer and stir on low for a couple of minutes. Take off the heat and allow the custard to cool completely.

  8. To fill the horns, transfer the cooled custard cream to a piping bag or bottle. Pipe the custard into the pastries until filled to the top. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.


Variations

For chocolate cream horns, whisk 100g grated dark chocolate through the hot custard. For Nutella-style cream horns, stir in ½ cup vegan choc-hazelnut spread through the hot custard until thoroughly combined. Although the Strega liqueur gives this custard that special southern Italian essence, you can substitute it. Limoncello gives a lovely fresh zing or, if you’re going for chocolate cream horns, try Frangelico or a vegan coffee liqueur.




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