A California Holiday Feast

Traditions of Europe meet West Coast organic sensibilites in this festive and flavorful meal.


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For most families, the holidays are a time to celebrate tradition at the table, and Chef Gia Passalacqua, co-owner of Dry Creek Delectables in Healdsburg, Calif., says she’s the first to agree.

“The holidays are the perfect time to bring out your once-a-year traditions,” she says, but adds, “It’s also a fun time to try a new twist and create new traditions.”

As a personal and professional chef, Passalacqua’s passionate about sourcing local ingredients—a philosophy now spreading beyond West Coast tables to kitchens nationwide. “Your dishes will be tastier, fresher and it also builds community as you support local farmers and purveyors,” she explains. “You may not be able to source everything locally, but start with one or two things.” She also recommends growing fresh herbs in your front or back garden, or “even on the windowsill if you’re in an apartment or small place. Even that will make a big difference in the flavors of your food.”

Past-meets-present culinary approaches and a focus on local products fueled Passalacqua’s preparation of the Boisset/Gallo feast (see page 52)—an endeavor she says had special meaning beyond the fact that the dishes represented the iconic foods of France and Italy. “Gina and I love to cook and are good friends, and I know the recipes they passed on to me are near and dear to hers and Jean Charles’ hearts,” Passalacqua explains.

The menu’s diversity—lighter, simply assembled fare paired with rich, more indulgent dishes—makes for a meal that will appeal to varied palates, tastes and even ages, she says, a reflection of the large gatherings for which they were prepared in Gina and Jean Charles’ time growing up.

In addition to offering a fun, family-friendly menu to guests, Passalacqua also says to consider the surroundings. For wintertime holiday gatherings, “consider what’s in season,” not only in the dishes, but in your décor, too. “Set your table by bringing the seasonal outdoor inside,” Passalacqua says. That can be in the form of leaves, branches, berries or fruit. “The ambiance you create is so important and it complements the food and wine you are serving.”

Passalacqua also suggests capturing the delicious flavors of summer at your holiday table by pickling peppers and vegetables while they’re in season. “I use my larder so that I have dried beans, sundried tomatoes and even fennel pollen for dishes throughout the year,” she says. The novelty of warm weather vegetables adds a thoughtful flair to a festive party or dinner.

Cooking for a holiday meal needn’t be a chore, the chef points out. The collaborative nature of cooking makes it a great way to bond with family and friends. Every year Passalacqua and her father make tortelli— a stuffed pasta whose recipe was passed down from her Ligurian grandfather—to be eaten with the Christmas morning coffee.

“In my family, Christmastime is the high point of our season and we make everything ourselves,” she says. “Pasta, rack of lamb, cookies and candy to fill a tabletop….but we all love to cook so it’s not a burden, but a celebration.”

For anyone eager to create an abundant holiday meal without the accompanying stress, Passalacqua says early preparation is key. “Create an environment where you can enjoy the process.”

The following recipes were chosen by Jean-Charles, Gina and Gia for a traditional holiday meal thrown at the Boisset/Gallo home in San Francisco.

Bob Gallo's Roasted Almonds 

“Everyone in our family loves Dad’s dry roasted almonds,” says Gina. “They are perfect in little bowls in a few different places in the room for guests to have with the apéritif when arriving and before the appetizers have come out from the kitchen. Today, you will always find my dad’s almonds in our library room where we gather on all occasions.”

32 ounces of almonds
1 cup water
¼ cup salt

Preheat oven to 260°F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet Roast almonds for 50 minutes. Mix salt and water together. Remove the almonds from the oven and pour mixture over the almonds. Shake cookie sheet to coat all the almonds.

Roast almonds for 50 minutes. Mix salt and water together. Remove the almonds from the oven and pour mixture over the almonds. Shake cookie sheet to coat all the almonds. Roast almonds in the oven for another hour. Remove cookie sheet from oven and let almonds cool. Yields 2 pounds.

Wine recommendation: Salt and lively acid strike a fresh and delicious balance when pairing the almonds with NV Louis Boillot Grande Reserve Crémant de Bourgogne.

Grandma Aileen Gallo’s Frittata

“This recipe definitely takes me back to my childhood in my Grandmother Aileen’s kitchen,” says Gina. “I remember the great pride she took in preparing this recipe as she did with all of her recipes. Frittata was always included as an appetizer before our holiday meals. Today I have often substituted the vegetables in the recipe to include fresh vegetables from our garden.”

12 cups red onions, sliced and braised in olive oil*
3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1½ cups fresh asparagus or string beans, cut in 1-inch pieces and steamed
5 medium zucchini, sliced in 1-inch pieces and steamed
2 cups Swiss chard stems, steamed and then chopped*
3½ cups Swiss chard, steamed and then chopped*
12 cloves garlic, cooked and pressed
2 teaspoons. black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups pimentos, chopped
20 eggs
4 cups parmesan cheese, grated
*Add a pinch of salt, if desired.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook onions in olive oil, remove from heat and add oregano. Steam vegetables with a little salt and cut them up—be sure to squeeze water from Swiss chard before chopping. Over medium heat, sauté garlic and press. Mix together the steamed vegetables, black pepper, salt, pimentos, garlic and onions; set aside.

In two large bowls, beat the eggs. Ladle vegetable mixture evenly into the 2 bowls of beaten eggs and stir together. Add parmesan cheese, then stir again. Ladle mixture into 2 medium glass baking dishes (9x13) and 1 small glass baking dish (11x7) bake for 20 minutes or until firm. When firm, broil a few minutes until golden brown. Yields 36 bite-sized pieces.

Wine recommendation: With its elegant balance of fruit and minerality, the 2009 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris is a poised accompaniment to the starting frittata dish. Crisp but expressive, it marries well with the fresh herbal notes as well as the olive oil and cheese in the dish.

Claudine Boisset’s Country Terrine
 

“This is a dense and aromatic dish from my mother, Claudine.” says Jean Charles. “It prepares the palate for what’s to come and I used to adore watching her make it.” It is best to make this terrine the day before your party.

2⁄3 cup minced onions cooked until translucent in 2
tablespoon butter
2 pounds (4 cups) rabbit, with some fat, cut into chunks
½ pound (1 cup) liver
1 cup lightly pressed bread crumbs
1 large egg
1⁄3 cup cream cheese or goat cheese
1 medium clove garlic, pureed
2 to 3 tablespoons E&J Brandy
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon ground bay leaf
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Purée all the ingredients together in a food processor; or put them through a fine blade meat grinder, then beat in a large mixing bowl to blend. To check seasoning, sauté a spoonful in a small frying pan, let cool, and taste it; correct as necessary, exaggerating the flavors since patés are served cold.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pack ingredients into a well-buttered loaf pan, cover with buttered wax paper, then with foil, allowing only 1 inch overhang. Bake in a bain-marie (the loaf pan sitting in a larger pan of boiling water) for 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 hours, or at a meat thermometer reading of 162°F—when the meat is pressed, the juices are pale yellow with just a trace of rosy color.

When done, let cool for an hour, then weight down with a twin pan or a board and a 5-pound weight. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Let the paté mellow overnight before serving.

Set the terrine over heat for a few seconds to loosen the paté; pour out fat and juices, and unmold the paté onto a platter. Scrape and wipe off the surface, Decorate the top with parsley, pimiento strips; or whatever seems appropriate. Serves 6–8.

Wine recommendation: The fresh, silky, Chablis-style 2008 Gallo Family Vineyards Two Rock Chardonnay offers weight and complexity with a steely spine.

Gia Passalacqua’s Ravioli di Porcini 

Fragrant and bursting with flavor, Passalacqua’s ravioli, made with Gina’s mother Marie’s tomato sauce, makes for a delicious side dish or entrée.

For the filling:
1 ounce Porcini mushrooms
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
6 shallots, peeled and finely diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped, divided
1 pound wild mushrooms, such as Chanterelles, fresh
Porcini, black trumpets or fresh cremini
Salt
½ cup Gallo Family Two Rock Chardonnay
½ cup whole milk ricotta
1⁄3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
2 egg yolks
Grated Parmigiano for garnish

 

For the pasta:
3 cups all purpose flour
4.5 large eggs
For Marie Gallo’s tomato sauce
1 quart homemade canned, chopped tomatoes
1 peeled yellow onion, cut in half
3 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste
1⁄3 cup cream

Prepare the filling: Submerge the Porcini mushrooms in water and let soak for half hour; reserve liquid. Squeeze dry and finely chop the soaking liquid through a paper towel. Clean the wild mushrooms, then thinly slice and coarsely chop. Set aside.

Place the butter, chopped shallots and garlic in a sauté pan. Place over medium heat and gently simmer until the shallots are translucent, approximately 8 minutes. Add half the chopped parsley and the finely chopped Porcini. Stir for 30 seconds and then add the reserved porcini soaking liquid and turn heat to high. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated and add the wild mushrooms. Add a generous pinch of salt. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated and then add the white wine. Continue stirring. Cook until the wine has evaporated and remove from heat.

Scrape ingredients from the pan into a bowl and allow to cool. Once cool, add the remainder of the chopped parsley, ricotta, Parmigiano and egg yolks. Stir well and taste for salt.

Make the pasta: Mound the flour in the middle of a large work surface such as a board or counter. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs. Gently beat the eggs. Begin incorporating the flour into the eggs, starting at the inner rim of the well. The dough will begin to come together. Work the dough until all the flour is incorporated.

Once all the flour is incorporated, knead the dough until the dough mass is completely smooth. Wrap the dough in either waxed paper or plastic and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 parts. Work with one piece of the dough at a time and leave the others wrapped. Using a pasta machine and one part of the dough, roll out the pasta to the thinnest setting and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut the sheet into rectangles 2 inches by 1 inch. Place a large teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the rectangle and fold the pasta over to form asquare, pressing the edges to seal. Continue untilall the dough or stuffing is finished.

Prepare the sauce: In a medium-sized pot, add tomatoes, onion, butter and salt. Turn heat to medium and cook 15–20 minutes, until onion is soft. Discard onion and add cream—just enough to make the sauce pink. Cook slowly for another 10 minutes. Do not boil. Taste for salt. Put sauce through a food mill.

Finish the dish: Bring a large pot of water (approximately 10 quarts) to a boil and add 6 tablespoons of salt. Drop the ravioli in and cook until tender. Meanwhile, place tomato sauce in a sauté pan and turn on heat to medium high. Drain the ravioli, and reserve half cup of the cooking water and add to the sauce. Add the ravioli to the pan and toss a few times. Serve at once and garnish with grated Parmigiano. Serves 6-8.

Wine recommendation: Consider the 2008 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot Noir or 2007 DeLoach Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir for their concentrated red and black fruit flavors and food-friendly minerality.

Claudine Boisset’s Braised Rabbit a la Moutarde
 

“Also from my mother, this dish is also fantastic with Pinot Noir,” says Jean-Charles. “It has a creamy sauce but is still light and not too filling."

A rabbit of about 2.5 pounds,* cut in pieces
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup flour, or enough to coat the pieces
of rabbit
¾ cup Dijon mustard
2 to 3 shallots, minced
Laurel
Thyme
Rosemary
Salt and pepper
Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos Blanc de
Vougeot (or Russian River
Chardonnay)
5 tablespoons crème fraîche (or
substitute sour cream)
Parsley, chopped

*Available through Devil’s Gulch Ranch

In a Dutch oven, preheat olive oil. Lightly coat the rabbit pieces with flour then thicklywith mustard.

Brown the pieces in the Dutch oven, a few at a time to be sure they are evenly browned, and not crowded. Turn often so that they do not burn. Once all are browned, place them all into the Dutch oven and add minced shallots. Add herbs (and salt and pepper if needed). Add a little water so that it will not burn.

Cook, covered, for approximately 20 minutes then check and turn the rabbit pieces delicately over. Add some white wine if you wish, but not so much that the rabbit becomes washed off and white. Simmer for 15 minutes more and remove rabbit onto a warm dish; cover to keep warm. Slowly add the cream to the drippings in the Dutch oven, stirring to create a sauce. Ladle sauce over rabbit just before serving. Decorate with chopped parsley. Serves 6.

Wine recommendation: Delicate but layered, this dish pairs well with Pinot Noir or bigger wines such as the 2005 Gallo Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or 2005 Raymond Vineyards Generations Cabernet Sauvignon.

Gina and Jean-Charles’Nutella Crepes Flambé with E&J Brandy 

This dynamic dessert joins Jean-Charles’ French heritage with the brandy for which the Gallo family is famed, and makes a fitting finale to a lively party. 

1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Nutella
½ cup E&J Gallo Brandy

Whisk flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add the eggs, and beat to combine. Add the milk slowly, 1⁄4 cup at a time, until well combined. Stir in butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla. The batter will be thin. Set aside and let rest for 30 minutes.

Place a nonstick pan over medium heat. Ladle in batter, 1⁄4 cup at a time, and swirl into a thin pancake. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then flip and repeat on the other side. As each crepe iscooked, and add about 1 tablespoon Nutella and using the back of the spoon, even the Nutella throughout the crepe, roll into a tube shape and place on a heat-proof serving dish.

In another small saucepan, heat the E&J Gallo Brandy until small bubbles form around the edge. (Do not boil or the alcohol will boil out, and it will not flame.) Ignite the liqueur with a long-handled lighter or fireplace match and pour flaming E&J Gallo Brandy over the crepes at the table. Serves 6–8.

Tamales Bay Oysters on the Half Shell with Mignonette Sauce

2 medium shallots, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
½ cup NV Louis Bouillot Grande
48 oysters in shells, well chilled

To make the mignonette sauce: In a small bowl, combine the shallots, vinegar and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours to marry the flavors. Just before serving, pour in the Champagne. 

To clean the live oysters, using a stiff brush, thoroughly scrub the shells under cold running water. Drain the shells, upright with the flat shell on top, on paper towels. It is best to open the oysters right before they are going to be eaten, but they can be opened up to 30 minutes before serving.

To serve, arrange each of the oysters on a half shell on a serving plate. Serve with mignonette sauce. Makes 8 servings.

Dungeness Crab Legs with Butter, Garlic and Parsley 

1 pound Dungeness crab legs, thawed if necessary
¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons dried parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Cut a slit, length-wise, into the shell of each piece of crab. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then sauté cook the garlic in the butter until translucent. Stir in the parsley, salt and pepper. Continue to heat mixture until bubbling. Add the crab legs and toss to coat; allow to simmer in the butter mixture until completely heated, 5 to 6 minutes. Serves 6.

Wild Colossal Shrimp and Bay Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

½ cup chili sauce
½ cup ketchup
1 lemon
2 pounds large shrimp in the shell (about 30)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon hot sauce

To make the cocktail sauce: Combine the chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Serve with the shrimp. Makes 5 servings.

To prepare the shrimp: Cut the lemon in half and add it to a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the shrimp and cook, uncovered, for only 3 minutes, until the shrimp are just cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cool water. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel and devein them. Keep cold until ready to serve.

Jean-Charles Boisset’s Frogs Legs

12 frog's legs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon parsley
½ stick butter
1 cup Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos blanc de Vougeot (or Russian River Chardonnay)
Salt and pepper

Melt butter to bubbling. Add garlic and pepper. Sauté frog’s legs until they just begin to brown. Add wine, bring to a boil, then lower the fire and simmer covered until tender, about 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve in warmed casserole dish. Makes 6 servings.

Pére Louis Deschamps Escargot

6 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup butter, softened
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
Salt
2 (4 ½ ounce) can large snails
48 snail shells
2 cup white wine, divided
Bread crumbs

Combine the scallions, butter, parsley, garlic and salt, then seal the snail shell with butter mixture. Rinse snails. Place a small amount of sautéed onions and butter mix in each snail shell and add a snail. Fill the remaining space with more garlic butter mix. Place shells in escargot pan. Add 1 tablespoon wine to each pan and sprinkle shells lightly with bread crumbs. Bake in preheated 400°F oven for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with fresh French bread (to soak up the butter). This may be prepared several hours in advance, adding wine and bread crumbs just before heating. Cover lightly with plastic wrap; place in refrigerator. Makes 8 servings.

Grandma Aileen Gallo’s Bread Stuffing for Turkey

Bread should be purchased two days before stuffing is prepared and three days before holiday meal. The stuffing should be prepared the day before.

5 loaves of extra sour long French bread
4 or 5 heads celery, depending on size, to make 12 cups
5 cloves garlic
1½ lbs. butter
10 cups chopped onions
1 teaspoons poultry seasoning
3 teaspoons sage
3 teaspoons thyme
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
5 teaspoons salt
4½ cups very finely chopped parsley

Cut off (and do not use) the bottom or end crust of the bread. Cut each loaf into slices no thicker than ¼ inch. Stack as you slice and then cut stacks lengthwise, turn and cut crosswise, in order to make ¼-inch cubes of bread. The celery should be washed and allowed to dry the day before preparing dressing as you do not want any water on the celery. Put celery in food processor to slice and then change blade and chop it fine, strain and discard juice.  Slice onions the same and put through food chopper, strain and discard juice.

In a large pan, melt the butter and slowly cook the cloves of garlic in the 1½ lbs butter by turning burner off and on at lowest heat to keep butter from burning. When the garlic is translucent, remove pan. Add all the chopped onions and then the dry chopped celery a little at a time. After these are translucent, add the combined seasonings, sprinkling lightly over the vegetable.

* Press the sautéed garlic through the fine garlic press. Mix well with celery and onion. Turn heat to the very lowest. Add bread 2 or 3 handfuls at a time, tossing gently with long tongued forks as you would salad. Continue until all the bread is added and remember to toss it lightly so dressing will not be too heavy. (As the dressing sits overnight the flavoring comes out more strongly so season with a light hand. If your pot is not large enough, you can transfer the onion and celery to a large roasting pan placed over the very lowest heat and then add the bread by handfuls, remembering to toss very gently.) Evenly distribute the 4 ½ cups finely chopped parsley and toss gently. Stuff the bird very lightly with no packing. Makes 24 servings.

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