A Tuscan-Style Christmas

How to host a festive dinner in the style of one of Italy's most prestigious wine regions.


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Sparkling sunbursts from overhead icicle lights spread a golden glow throughout the chilly pedestrian alleys that lead to Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. Shoppers crisscross the stone square and elaborate nativity scenes are featured in the window dressings. The mood is set: It’s Christmas in Tuscany. But wherever it is you’re celebrating this season, adopt the Tuscan traditions of elegance, finesse and understated celebrations spent around the dining room table.

Brasato Natalizio al Nipozzano (Red Wine Rib Roast)

Recipe courtesy the Frescobaldi family, of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi

1 beef rib, approximately 5 pounds
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 small carrots, cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ (750-ml) bottle red wine (the family recommends Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva)
2 cups tomato purée
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoon flour

Season the beef with salt and pepper, and place it in a large roasting pan set over medium heat. Braise the meat, turning it over to brown on all sides. In another pan, sauté the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until soft. When the vegetables are soft, add them to the roast beef pan, pour in the wine, and lower the heat. Add the tomato purée and tomato paste to the pan, stirring the ingredients to form a sauce. Cover the roasting pan and slow cook for two hours. To prevent the meat and sauce from drying out, add a few tablespoons of water if necessary.

When the meat is very tender, after about 2½ hours, remove and set aside, keeping the sauce in the pan covered. In another saucepan set over low heat, stir together the flour and 3 tablespoons of water. When heated, add the mixture to the saucepan. Mix well to produce a thick gravy. Slice the beef and pour the gravy on top before serving. Serves 4.

 

Monte Bianco

Recipe courtesy the Antinori family, of Marchesi Antinori

1½ pounds fresh chestnuts, peeled
2 cups of milk
⅔ cups sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon bitter chocolate powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ ounces rum
2 cups fresh whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon bitter chocolate powder
2 tablespoons bitter chocolate, in chips or small cubes
½ cup marrons glacé, cubed

Using a knife, cut an X into the outer shell of each chestnut, then let them boil in hot water for 10 minutes. Remove the chestnuts, and peel off and discard the outer shells. Place the chestnuts in a pot, add the milk, sugar and salt, and let cook for 20 minutes. Mash the mixture into a paste. Add the chocolate powder, vanilla extract and rum, and mix until a dough is formed. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Run the dough through a pasta machine turned to the setting used to create spaghetti. Place a small pile of the chestnut spaghetti on a serving platter, and cover the sides of the spaghetti with the whipped cream. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar, chocolate powder, chocolate chips and marrons glacé. Serves 4.

Tabletop Décor

You have already prepared the perfect meal, poured delicious wine and shaken up some seriously tasty cocktails, but there’s one more thing to ensure that your guests are in high holiday spirits—Christmas decorations. Colleen Mullaney, New York-based lifestyle expert and author of Fairy Parties: Recipes, Crafts, and Games for Enchanting Celebrations (Chronicle Books, 2010), among other books, suggests a simple, yet stylish tabletop setup with a splash of color.

Stemware Adds a Splash of Color

Festive stemware at a Christmas dinner is a must, according to Mullaney. Instead of your everyday glassware, pour libations and wine into goblets made from pewter, silver, mercury glass or ruby-stained crystal. Don’t hesitate to serve beer in the goblets, too; their wide rims will allow aromatic Christmas beers to fill the room with scents of sugar, spice and everything nice.

“I bought my red wine goblets in Ireland while visiting one of my dear friends,” Mullaney says, and she uses them on Christmas every year.

Turn to Your Stash

Mullaney is a big fan of “using what you have.” There’s no need to dish out cash for new holiday decorations if you already own some. Make the old look new by arranging the tabletop slightly differently, with a new, simple centerpiece: a crystal vase filled with fresh red and white flowers.

Red and White All Over

“Finish your table with mats in vibrant hues and linen napkins in coordinating tones,” suggests Mullaney. Shiny white plates can provide a crisp accent to the mats’ and napkins’ lush colors. Ornamental napkin holders that match elements of your centerpiece will tie the look of your entire tabletop together. “Chargers, china and glassware in bright colors all make for a holiday table to remember.”

Ornaments, Not Evergreens

Evergreen branches and wreaths may be classic Christmas pieces, but who wants to clean up all of those needles? Use your Christmas tree beads to decorate the tabletop by bunching them up around the centerpiece, or fill a bowl with ornaments in red, gold and green, and place them on either side of the table for an extra touch of color. You’ll have all of the evergreen’s merriness with none of its messiness.

Playlist

“Deck the Halls,” Vic Damone; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Frank Sinatra; “O Holy Night,” Al Martino; “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” James Taylor featuring Natalie Cole; “Christmas Time is Here,” Diana Krall. Get Wine Enthusiast’s Ultimate Holiday Entertaining Guide playlist on Spotify.
 

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