Contini Christmas Traditions – Keeping it local
I love tradition. Is it inherited from our migrant background as anchor in time or is it family ties that holds a thread from one generation to the next.
Christmas has more tradition for us than any other time of the year. Those Catholics are quite good at tradition too.
I’m also a very loyal shopper. And at Christmas time I get great pleasure in buying the same things from the same people often with the same conversations around the family or how we going to cook this year.
We start with our Christmas tree from the family at Liberton Trees. This year as every year it’s a 8 ft Noble Fir, majestic as ever. The children take charge of dressing the tree with many of the same decorations that we’ve had since they were babies. Most of the decorations having been bought from the shop at National Galleries, long before we ever opened The Scottish Cafe.
Next don’t forget to order the turkey. Many of the artisan suppliers we buy from for the restaurants can’t supply a turkey large enough for my family, yes we love our leftovers, so it’s a Copas Turkey, Cookham from Berkshire (feel a little guilty about that) but bought via a very old family butchers, Matheson’s the Butcher in Causewayside. A real old fashioned business where you can loose a whole afternoon just placing an order at the counter but it’s worth it. And I’ll sneak in a few pieces of boiling beef and some oxtail to stock up the freezer.
Then there is the wreath. My mother never had a wreath. She always said it was like a funeral arrangement but I disagree. I love the warm welcome that a spruce green fresh entwined decoration waiting for you when you arrive home, reminding you after a long day of work, that Christmas is coming. Each year the team at Narcissus on Broughton Street make mine. This year, like every year, I’ve chosen dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cones and berries all finished with a deep burgundy double silk bow. Beautiful.
My fireplace is scattered with a few leftover branches of the Christmas tree with a sprinkling of candles and a few sprigs of eucalyptus that have been sprayed with gold paint for a little sparkle.
The extra candles this year came from Vintage Reclaimed, the lovely shop also on Causeway Side, our side of town!, always has lovely extras that you won’t find in the usual high street stores.
Assuming I get enough time I’ll be driving down to Cockenzie to get a side of smoked salmon from James Dickson & Sons. James and my dad were great friends and the taste of their cold old smoked salmon, hand sliced, is very special and just what you need to have either as your Christmas starter or as that essential fridge snack for glamorous, no fuss, fast food occasions.
A few treats from Fortnum & Mason has been a tradition started by my grandmother. Chocolates and stem ginger delights ready for after dinner. Supplemented with the obligatory Thorntons Dinner Mints that I’ll be fighting over with my boy.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Italian fix so a trip to Valvona & Crolla will provide the torrone (almond nougat), mostarda di frutta (beautiful candied fruits for the turkey), Fonteluna sausages for the sugo that will go with the homemade pasta and the best anchovies in olive oil by Rizzoli used for the Boxing Day homemade pizza, the savoury fix that we can’t do without when chilling in front of the telly. Yes I’ll be making the pizza but I love feeding my family. It’s as much of a Christmas gift for me as a little gucci under the tree….. (Victor I hope you’re reading this!) No gucci for me. Victor’s learnt the hard way. After picking the wrong gifts year after year he now refuses. I’ll just get loads of brownie points they’re even better.
Our own Panettone will start the proceedings on Christmas Eve after midnight mass with a lovely glass of supper chilled Bellavista. The panettone although super fresh is best warmed in the oven. The smell of the spices, vanilla and candied fruits swirl all around the house. It’s heaven and it only happens at Christmas.
A trip to Lucas is essential for that tub of vanilla ice cream probably with a dozen snowballs on the side. Again for those extra treats in front of the telly.
Home roasted almonds, spiced or salted will be on hand for those pre dinner drinks matched with a little cosmopolitan or campari fresh orange depending on the mood.
Victor, naturally, has the drinks covered. We drink relatively little. One or two glasses each so Victor will tend to choose something special as he’ll savour every drop. His birthday treat Coravin wine preserver is an amazing gift for the man who needs nothing other than something that can help him drink less of the good stuff. If you’re stuck for an idea it’s not a bad one. A fine needle enters the cork and when the wine is poured, argon gas is injected back into the bottle, keeping the wine good for several months, although a bottle has never lasted that long. We use the restaurant system in the venues and at Contini George Street it allows us to keep our full list of over 50 wines served by the bottle and the glass. A treat indeed.
Victor is also in charge of logs. I’ll make a yule log for Ariana’s birthday, yes my daughter has her birthday on Christmas Day, I always say it’s the only day we close so of course it was the day to have the baby! But Victor loves keeping the fires stocked. A visit to Kevin the Treeman in Bonnyrigg will keep us supplied, stacked and cosy until 2018. A few bags of dried acorns too will have the house smelling beautiful too.
The supermarket shop is essential for all the household basics. For the children, Christmas is the only time of the year when we have fizzy drinks. Yes we’ll have some Coca Cola but it’s the ginger beer that will be finished first. Enough vegetables and fruit to keep us healthy for the two days that we’re off, although it will feel like we’ve bought enough for an army that haven’t eaten for several months on that march through the desert!
It’s vital to have a few tricks up your sleeve just incase the doorbell rings and you have to rustle up a cup of tea and a treat. A christmas cake is always a showstopper and as everyone needs just a little it tends to last forever. Homemade mince pies can be made upto a week in advance and can be popped in the oven for a few minutes to bring them back to life.
Our family ham and egg pie or pastone is always a winner. Savoury, mourish, dinner to drinks it’s delicious. Rather than making the whole pie you can make tiny parcels with pre rolled puff pastry that just need to be baked off. These with a glass of sparkles and you’re guests may not leave until the morning. Your decision. This is a variation of the ham and egg pie:
unsalted butter or extra virgin olive
oil, for frying
4 x 100g fresh ricotta
100g thick-cut ham (preferably the trimmings from the ham on the bone), cut into small cubes
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only, very finely chopped
sea salt flakes and freshly ground
unsalted butter, softened, for greasing
500g ready-made puff pastry
flour, for dusting
egg wash made from 1 egg, beaten
Fry the spinach in a little butter or olive oil over a medium heat until wilted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When cool, squeeze out any moisture. It’s vital that you get it all out even if you bruise the spinach.
Chop the spinach very finely and set aside. In a large bowl, crumble the ricotta until it is loose. Break in the eggs and mix until they are incorporated. Add the spinach, ham and rosemary. Adjust the seasoning and mix well. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6 and grease a 30cm pie tin ( preferably one with a loose bottom) with the softened butter. Roll the pastry out on a large floured surface so you have enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tin.
3. Ensure there is also just enough pastry hanging over the edge of the tin so the mixture does not slip over the rim and stick the pie to the tin.
4. Line the tin with the pastry. Place the filling in the pastry-lined tin. Trim the edges,
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. The pie will start to colour. Reduce the heat to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4.
6. Bake for 10 minutes more. The pie will have a bounce like a quiche on top to the touch, a lovely golden brown, and will smell heavenly. Allow to cool for 10 mins then remove from the tin and allow to cool on a wire cooling rack. Cool for
15 – 20 minutes before cutting. This pie easily lasts for two days if you cover it with tinfoil as soon as it is cool.
Olives, a beautiful wedge or truckle of Stilton and you really can’t go wrong for visitors or for a lazy tipple.
My last little top tip. I bought self tying gift bags off of QVC – Christmas wrapping done in the time it takes to say Have a very merry Christmas.
Christmas Lunch at family Contini
Homemade Pasta with Fonteluna Sugo
Turkey, apricot stuffing, piggy’s in blankets, chestnut chilli and garlic sprouts, dauphinois, creamed nutmeg carrots and Italian peppers stuffed with parsley breadcrumbs
Nonna’s Christmas Pudding with hot custard
All in time for STV Christmas special….. Victoria. I love Christmas.