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Show & Tell: Gastronomic Olympics

December 27, 2008
Ravioli pin with homemade Christmas ravioli

Christmas to me is synonymous with homemade Italian cooking. Our tradition growing up was either to have homemade lasagna or homemade ravioli on Christmas day. My Grandma Cookie’s lasagna recipe is to die for. As with all Italian cooking, every recipe is very specific to the town and family that makes it. My grandmother Guiseppina’s lasagna takes two days at a minimum to make, with three days being more comfortable, hence the reason it is only made at Christmas. I have made it several times on my own, and everyone who has had it has never had anything as wonderful like it.

When I made the decision two years ago to go completely gluten-free and dairy-free for the sake of my health and fertility, I though my Italian traditions were dead. Last year, there was no Italian homemade lasagna or ravioli for Christmas. My SIL made Christmas dinner, but I brought lavish homemade appetizers as I missed my Christmas tradition of spending two days in the kitchen cooking. We stuffed ourselves so much with appetizers that we could have skipped the Christmas meal entirely!

A couple of months ago, my supervisor told me about a book signing her neighbor was having for her new book, The Gluten-Free Italian Cookbook. I went to the author’s house and got a demonstration on how to make gluten-free pasta. I think I had three helpings of homemade gluten-free fettucini, it was so good! Mary, her sister and I swapped stories of our families and their recipes, and they were remarkably similar. The pictures in Mary’s cookbook of her Italian relatives cooking looked just like my relatives! I felt like I was at home.

Visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago was the perfect opportunity to try out these recipes. I packed all my odd arrangement of flours in my suitcase, hoping they wouldn’t be confiscated by airport security. My Mom watched and told stories while my Dad and I played with the unfamiliar gluten-free dough. Surprisingly, my Dad had never made ravioli before, so he was learning as I was. We sat down to a dinner of our beginner’s ravioli, and my Mom and Dad gave their “pretty-good” seal of approval, proving the experiment as a success! The menu for Christmas dinner was set.

As for dairy, the only cheese I allow myself to eat now is from sheep’s milk. I discovered that sheep cheese is the oldest type of cheese in Italy and probably what my genetics are adapted to digesting the best. I grew up with big jars full of grated pecorino romano to season our Italian meals, so it works out pretty good for my traditional Italian recipes. I carted home 3 pounds of pecorino romano in my suitcase from Florida because it was so cheap there compared to here. The things I will do in the name of Italian cooking!

Christmas Eve morning found me searching for ravioli recipes on the internet. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the recipe my Dad had given me and I needed an additional vegetable ravioli filling for the less carnivorous of our guests. I found a reference to this book, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, which isn’t so much of a cookbook as a quest to find the authentic family ravioli recipe. By noon, I had a copy of the book and a newly bought ravioli pin in hand, which is shown in the picture above. The first roll of the ravioli pin and it’s perfectly pressed squares of ravioli brought shouts of, “that’s so cool!” from me, my stepson who was the designated pasta machine cranker, and Magic. To watch Laura Schenone, author of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, use a ravioli pin to make ravioli, click here to watch her YouTube video. I’m more partial to the gigantic round ravioli that fills you up after eating about four of them, but you eat double that because they are so good.

In my last post, my friend at Geeks in Rome suggested I order gluten-free pizza and skip the two day cooking extravaganza that is required of the traditional homemade Italian Christmas dinner. Christmas without Italian just isn’t quite right to me, and no, store bought pizza will not do. Spending two days or more in the kitchen to make Christmas dinner for me is akin to salmon swimming upstream to spawn and geese flying south for the winter. It’s a behavior that is deeply imprinted in my genes. I knew waking up Christmas day that I wasn’t going to have time to change into my holiday attire, let alone put on makeup, but no one seemed to care. Once I started rolling out the steaming ravioli to the dinner table, it was all about the food. I also made the best meatballs and braciole in my life. Everyone had fun saying their new Italian word braciole, pronounced bra-zjole (like hole, but with a z as in Zsa Zsa Gabor), which is basically a meat roll stewed to perfect tenderness in the tomato sauce for two days.

The tradition of Italian holiday home cooking yanked me out of my holiday funk. During my two days of gastronomic olympics, I listened and sang to the Messiah so many times that I’m happy if I don’t sing another Hallelujah chorus for another year! My back was so sore the day after Christmas from all the cleaning, cooking, rolling of dough, and cleaning dishes that I truly felt like I had been through some kind of athletic event! Many of my relatives have given up this tradition because it’s too time consuming. Would I do it again? Heck yeah, it was worth it (but not for another year)!

And what Jewish-Italian-Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Hanukkah bush?

Mel’s Show & Tell

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 'Murgdan' permalink
    December 27, 2008 7:43 pm

    Oh YUM! Gluten free or not–those look and sound great! I’ve never seen a ravioli pin before…but my husband just sent me pictures from his Christmas in ITALY with his family (I’m so jealous but just started a new job and couldn’t go along).

  2. JuliaS permalink
    December 27, 2008 8:44 pm

    Yum – when do we eat? :0)

  3. Lost in Space permalink
    December 27, 2008 9:40 pm

    Once again, I come here and am suddenly hungry. (-; I am amazed at your patience and impressed with your love for doing this the “right way”. It sounds like your family very much enjoyed all your hard work too!

  4. Kristin permalink
    December 27, 2008 11:36 pm

    Wow…you put a lot into that meal. It sounds delicious.

  5. Cassandra permalink
    December 27, 2008 11:41 pm

    That ravioli rolling pin is so neat! The only person I know who makes ravioli does it entirely by hand, but the pin looks like more fun.

  6. WiseGuy permalink
    December 27, 2008 11:53 pm

    Wowwa…it really looks so yum!

  7. Tarahville permalink
    December 28, 2008 12:04 am

    Sounds devine! I’ll be over with some Red wine. 🙂

  8. G I N A L O U permalink
    December 28, 2008 12:14 am

    Way to put a new spin on old traditions. Nice work!

  9. Another Dreamer permalink
    December 28, 2008 12:26 am

    I’ve never made pasta of any sort before… you have me intrigued. It all sounded so good too…

  10. Duck permalink
    December 28, 2008 9:14 am

    yummy, that looks so great. And i agree I love the big cooking leading up to Christmas, it never quite feels like Christmas unless I spend a few days in the kitchen baking and cooking.

  11. Cara permalink
    December 28, 2008 11:12 am

    Ok – I’m totally in! My daughter has been gluten free for seven months. She’s five. We are ITAL.I.AN! It’s been a bit of a transition. I’m adding you to my blogroll (in hopes of many future gf receipies!) and to see how your Jewish/Italian GF living evolves!!!

  12. holly permalink
    December 28, 2008 11:25 am

    Hi,I found via Show ans Tell. To answer your question, we give Miles 125 ml of subq fluids every day. He’s on metoclopremide for nausea, pepcide ac for acid reflux, mirtazapine as an appetite stimulate, and 4ml lactulose for constipation. He seems to be doing OK. He’s a sick kitty, but we love him. You ravioli looks awesome! I’ve always wanted to try making it.Holly (

  13. Denver Laura permalink
    December 28, 2008 1:57 pm

    I’m so glad your gf Christmas was great! I’d kill to have some of your recipes though 🙂

  14. Sam permalink
    December 28, 2008 3:23 pm

    I have never seen such a rolling pin before!! But then I don’t make ravioli!! I love the fact that you can still enjoy your favourite foods even though they are gluten free.

  15. Geohde permalink
    December 29, 2008 3:30 am

    Oh, I just wish I could cook.Sadly, I can not.J

  16. geeksinrome permalink
    December 29, 2008 7:51 am

    brava!! i love that rolling pin. I’ve never seen that here. my neighbor uses a handheld serrated rolly thing like people use to cut pizza slices. Now I know what to ship back to you via your bro… a gigantic wheel of pecorino! i can spray the outside with something to fool the sniffer dogs at the airport. fresh sheep cheese is pretty killer, too. and sheep’s milk ricotta… mmm it tastes like a barn.

  17. DAVs permalink
    December 29, 2008 8:19 am

    There’s nothing like cooking so much and hard that it feels like you had a workout! It all sounds delicious and very appreciated!

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