Christmas was always a special time. As a child growing up in an Italian American family, it also meant that our family followed the same traditions year after year. What I remember of those years was that, after church on Christmas morning, my father would take us to visit the relatives where he would pick up all kinds of goodies from his sisters for us to eat later in the day. Those goodies included struffoli, panettone and homemade ricotta cookies.
On the way home, he would pick up my maternal grandfather (who was a widower) so he could have Christmas dinner with us. My grandfather always had a huge box of all those delicious Italian pastries. While all this was going on, my mother was home preparing Christmas dinner. It was always the same dinner – that was how they liked it!
A traditional Italian Antipasto – a large platter of Italian cold cuts alongside olives, anchovies, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, marinated mushrooms, Italian cheeses and lots of crusty bread on the side.
The next course was Meatball Lasagna – my mother’s specialty. A lasagna with little meatballs between the layers of noodles. I used to have to help her make those little meatballs and after making 20 or so, I was looking to quit.
The main course was always roasted boneless pork loin with potatoes. I liked the potatoes because they got brown and crusty from roasting alongside the meat, but, at the time, I wasn’t crazy about the pork. Thinking back, it may have been because my mother is a simple cook, who doesn’t use many spices in her cooking.
Sautéed spinach and a big mixed green salad were always the side dishes.
My mother was not one for baking lots of desserts and she never made Christmas cookies, as I have done all the years of my married life. She does bake great apple pies, chocolate chip cookies and Capri cakes for special occasions – just not for Christmas. We had plenty for dessert with what my father’s sisters gave him and all those lovely pastries my grandfather had bought with him.
Italian-American Meatball Lasagna
This is another favorite from my childhood days that my children and husband are also crazy about.
- 1 pound ground meat (pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey or a combination)
- 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 finely minced garlic clove
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- 12 traditional lasagna noodles
- 4 cups homemade or store-bought tomato sauce for pasta
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Two 15 ounce containers ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the meatball mixture. With wet hands, shape into mini meatballs, using 2 teaspoons of mixture for each. Place the meatballs on the prepared cookie sheet and bake until brown all over, about 15 minutes.
To make the lasagna:
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add noodles to the boiling water one at a time and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and place the noodles on kitchen towels.
Stir the chopped basil into the sauce. Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for the top layer.
In a medium bowl, blend ricotta, egg, parsley and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese.
To assemble the lasagna:
Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Top with 4 noodles, overlapping. Layer half of the mozzarella slices on top of the noodles, followed by half the ricotta cheese. Spread the ricotta with a spatula. Scatter half the meatballs over the noodles. Pour 1 cup of the sauce over the meatballs.
Top with 4 more noodles and layer with the remaining mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Scatter remaining meatballs over the cheese. Pour 1 cup sauce over meatballs.
Top with the final 4 lasagna noodles. Spread with the reserved 1 cup of sauce. Top with the remaining Parmesan. Cover the dish with foil.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 15 minutes until bubbly and slightly browned. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Italian Roast Pork
- One 3 pound center-cut pork loin roast
- 4 large russet potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 2 teaspoon freshly ground rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
Rub the pork roast with garlic, thyme, oregano, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon of the ground rosemary.
Drizzle half of the olive oil on the roast and rub to coat.
Place pork into a roasting pan with a rack at the bottom.
Place potatoes around the roast and sprinkle them with the remaining rosemary, salt and pepper.
Pour the remaining olive oil over the potatoes. Add the white wine to the pan.
Place in a 350 degree oven, covered, for about 45 minutes.
Uncover and roast for another 30 minutes, until the meat registers 140 degrees F. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 20 minutes before slicing.
For the Dough:
- 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon anise liqueur
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- The zest of half a lemon, grated
- The zest of half an orange, grated
- 1 pinch salt
For the struffoli:
- Olive oil for frying
- 3/4 pound (300 g) honey
- 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- Colored sprinkles
Combine the ingredients for the dough, knead it well and let rest for at least an hour, covered. It does take a while for the dough to absorb the eggs.
Pluck off a piece, roll it out under your fingers to form a snake about as thin as your pinkie and cut the dough into quarter-inch long pieces.
Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown and drain them on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining dough.
In another pot, preferably round-bottomed, put the honey, sugar and water in it. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow.
At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate.
Using your fingers shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle or in a dome shape, dipping your hands frequently into cold water so you don’t burn yourself.
Sprinkle with colored sprinkles.
Marisa's Italian Kitchen
December 18, 2015 at 8:49 am
Jovian…..everything looks absolutely delicious!!!
December 18, 2015 at 8:50 am
Well, not sure how you could fit in both the meatball lasagne and stuffed pork! It’s a hard decision for me but the pork might win out but the meatballs would follow another day.
December 18, 2015 at 10:16 am
Yes, I know – too much food on the table – but that is old school Italian – food means love.
Marisa's Italian Kitchen
December 18, 2015 at 8:50 am
So sorry Jovina, I spelled your name wrong😊
December 18, 2015 at 9:04 am
You have the best recipes and I love all of the history associated with each. You are like a recipe/travel/history master.
Is there anyway I can pin them?
December 18, 2015 at 10:14 am
Thank you so much Linda. Yes at the bottom of the post on my blog, there is a pinterest button (not in the email). You have to click on the title to got to the blog
December 18, 2015 at 9:14 am
Great memories! I don’t think I’ve ever seen meatball lasagne, but I am sure my family would love it–maybe for Christmas Eve. Then we could still have our traditional Christmas meal with no complaints from the masses!
December 18, 2015 at 10:15 am
Sounds like a good plan. Thanks Anne.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way
December 18, 2015 at 12:33 pm
Well, we are back in business. I got your post today on my blog email but as I said that is fine by me. It certainly sounds like your meal was delicious!! For the Italians it’s all about the food and the gathering. I love that concept. Today I feel like so many meals are rushed and not enjoyed. Italians show their love in feeding the ones they care for. I guess that’s why I love to cook. For me it is sheer pleasure. I really enjoyed your memories *sigh* sometimes I get a little blue at Christmas because I do miss my parents. This was such an important celebration for us. Have a wonderful weekend!!
December 18, 2015 at 12:38 pm
so glad we are back in business. I love reading your insightful comments. Yes, I agree, family gatherings and lingering over dinner are traditions that have gone by the wayside. memories are nice but they can also be remorseful. All part of growing older. I am glad my children like to keep the tradition going on holidays. Have a wonderful weekend, also.
December 18, 2015 at 2:10 pm
For many years, my Dad would make Bacala Fritto on Christmas Eve. He and I were the only ones who liked it, my brothers and Mom never ate very much of it, but I loved it.
December 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm
On yes, Christmas Eve is the Feast of the Seven Fishes and baccala is always on the menu. You can make for yourself. Just be sure to soak it well to get ride of the salt.
December 18, 2015 at 2:42 pm
No matter how much soaking he tried, the rest of the family never cared for it. But I always lived it. When I was able to go to Italy, the first thing I ate was bacala!
December 18, 2015 at 2:43 pm
that should be ‘loved it’, not ‘lived it’ !
December 18, 2015 at 2:45 pm
Smart! What a treat.
December 18, 2015 at 8:47 pm
Reblogged this on My Meals are on Wheels.
December 23, 2015 at 7:19 am
Your post brought back memories of visiting one of my Italian friends on Christmas day. She was in the kitchen making lasagna with meatballs. 🙂 I’ve yet to have it prepared that way…just with meat sauce.